I’m continuing to dig deeper into the work of some of the photographers that were part of the New Topographics exhibition curated by William Jenkins in 1975. These were a group of photographers working to find ‘beauty in the banal’, making ‘photographs of a man-altered landscape’. In many ways it’s easy to dismiss this work as having a ‘snap-shot’ aesthetic and for some of this work I really struggle to connect with it. This week’s project has been Stephen Shore. If you read his biography one of the first things that is pointed out is that he sold his first photographs at age 14 to Alfred Steiglitz and that at 24 was only the second living photographer to have a solo show at the MoMA.
His work in the New Topographics exhibition was in color whereas the other 7 photographers were shooting in black and white. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that at that time in the early ’70’s shooting in color was not what you did if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Color was okay for magazines but not for ‘art’. Perhaps this further adds to the sense of these photographs being snapshots. In looking over this work and some of the subsequent work that arose out of these early projects I can’t help but think that this would be a great instagram feed and indeed you can find Stephen Shore on Instagram although I was surprised to find that I don’t connect with these photographs in the way that I do with the images in his books.
I often feel like I’m missing the joke when I look at contemporary photography and so it’s been useful for me to listen to Shore talk about his work in the videos below and lift the veil, at least a little.
I first came across Robert Adams when I was looking for the answer to the question ‘why do people photograph’ and found his book ‘Why People Photograph‘ and then later I came across his book ‘Beauty in Photography‘. These small books are collections of essays covering topics such as collectors, humor, teaching, money and dogs and discussions of Photographers such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Meiselas, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. I have enjoyed reading these books and get something new out of them as I reread them with a deepening understanding of photography as an art.
Why People Photograph must have been on my bookshelf for almost as long as I’ve been taking photographs, almost 10 years now, and yet it was only last year that I realized that Robert Adams can not only write but he is a well know photographer too! How many other holes in my appreciation of the history of photography could you drive a truck through?
I’m at my beginning of my exploration of his work, and I’m doing so by starting with his most recent projects first. Photographs taken around his home near the Oregon coast of the forests, coastline and meadows, very different subjects to the photographs of the American west increasingly spoiled by the urban sprawl that brought him to prominence. This work can be found in ‘The New West‘ a new edition of which will come out in the summer.
It’s always surprising to me how there is a common thread between the things that catch my attention. I’d been looking at the work of Turner in recent weeks and in the course of that exploration read of his influence on the Hudson River School painter Thomas Moran. I was recently fortunate enough to be in a position to have access to to a couple of great books, ‘Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains’ by Thurman Wilkins and the National Gallery of Art book ‘Thomas Moran’ and was able to spend some more time reading about the influence of Turner on Moran’s work. The Wilkins book is quite dense and was something of a labor to get through, even though I only had time to read the sections on the intersection of Moran and Turner’s work. Moran spent time in London studying the work of Turner, learning the fundamentals of Turner’s technique such that he was able to make high-quality copies of the masterworks. This exploration of the use of light and color that began with emulating the work of Turner remained with Moran even as he developed his own distinct style.
Moran is perhaps most famous for his paintings of the american west and particularly of Yellowstone which were instrumental in making the case for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t these images that caught my eye but rather the ones that represented Shoshone Falls. The Shoshone falls when Moran painted them were considered to be unexplored by painters, although long recognized to be second only to Niagara Falls in magnificence. The section on the falls in the National Gallery book is particularly interesting. I was surprised to read that the painting of the falls at the top of the page was the last of his large panoramic landscapes and remained unsold at his death. My interest in the Shosone falls was piqued because it was the subject of another one of my favorite photographers Thomas Joshua Cooper. I’ve mentioned Cooper on the blog previously in a couple of posts first here and then here. His interpretation of the Shoshone falls can be seen in his book Shoshone Falls. A book that I’m going to revisit soon.
Check out the discuss of Thomas Moran’s work in the video below: