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.
I’ve been taking a dive into the world of JMW Turner in recent weeks. I still have not managed to see the new film although hopefully I’ll get to see that soon.
I’ve seen Todd Henry of ‘Accidental Creative’ fame discuss a model that describes the phases of creative growth – discovery, imitation, divergence and crisis. The phases are just what you would expect: A growing awareness of an interest in an area; copying of the masters; making work that is their own; and finally a recognition that to move forward the old techniques will need to be abandoned.
There are clear echoes of this pattern of growth in Turner’s work. A major inspiration for Turner was Claude Lorrain, born Claude Gellee, 1600-1682, and sufficiently famous to be known just as ‘Claude’. John Constable described Claude as ‘the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw’. The book ‘Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude’ explores the relationship between the work of Turner and that of Claude from a century or more earlier and provides many examples of Turner’s recreations of Claude’s images.
There is a distinct evolution in Turner’s style with time. His early work closely resembles the paintings by Claude but slowly he drifts away from the precision embodied by Claude to something much looser. Eventually of course Turner’s work becomes very loose indeed, perhaps the result in his passing into the crisis phase?, which gave us work that was in turn to inspire generations of artists to come including the Impressionists and the case is made in ‘Turner, Monet, Twombly’ that the reach of Turner extended to Cy Twombly.
In this dive into the work of Turner I was struck by some of the comments on his use of color and in particular incorporation of ‘new’ colors into his work that gave it a sense of vibrancy bordering on gaudiness. As an earlier adopter of new paints that set him apart from his contemporaries I couldn’t help but wonder whether Turner over did it a bit with these paints in the same way that early adopters of HDR technology did initially (and still do in some cases!).
I do find it amusing that for someone like me who has largely ignored history I’m finally coming around to the recognition that there is much to be learned from those that have gone before us. Spending time looking back at the work of the masters can indeed help to propel us forward. Or as Mary Oliver put it in ‘A Poetry Handbook‘:
‘To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.’
I’ve been working through how to give meaningful feedback to other photographers about their work and in the course of that I realize that our reaction to work tells us more about ourselves and less about the photographer. That was certainly the case with my initial intersection with Wynn Bullock. Bullock is generally regarded as one of the most significant photographers of the mid-twentieth century. He was a close friend of West Coast photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and a peer of Minor White, Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer. I remember seeing his famous photograph Child in the Forest from the 1955 Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen and dismissed him as not doing something that I was interested in.
I was recently given a copy of ‘Wynn Bullock: Revelations‘, a comprehensive look at his entire body of work that was produced to support the exhibition now showing at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Of course there are a good number of nudes included in the book which was where he was as a photographer early in his career but then there are a large number of images such as the one above that reflect his interest in how to represent time in a still image. There are a large number of abstract color images that I also find very interesting.
In listening to the interviews with Bullock below much of what he has to say about his photographic explorations resonated with me. Well worth a look.
I was pleased to find out recently that the image above ‘After the Storm’ was selected to be included in the on-line annex portion of the Black and White: 2014 exhibition at the Black Box Gallery in Portland. The show opens Friday Sept 5, but images are up on the web now.
This is one of those images that almost never was. There are times when I ‘see’ images that I have to make even though they don’t fit follow the ‘rules’ of photography. In fact, depending on how quick or slow I am there is an internal battle that happens prior to taking the photograph that argues whether this image is interesting and why and whether I should even bother. If I’m fast enough I just take the shot and move on. If I’m too slow, fiddling around with a tripod, getting the right lens etc. there’s time for the doubts to start to take hold. With time, I’ve learned to listen to the doubts, acknowledge them and then take the shot anyway.
I find that I frequently return the work of photographers that have previously caught my attention. Edward Burtynsky is one such photographer. I had previously highlighted the retrospective of his work called Manufactured Landscapes and was pleased to see that he has recently completed a new project called Water.
One of the things that I am curious to see when I’m looking at new projects from familiar photographers is to see how their process has evolved, if at all. With Water, Burtynsky is no longer considering gravity as a constraint and uses a variety of tools that allow him to get the shot that he’s imagined, regardless of the vantage point. I’m not sure that I would be up for putting a Hasselblad on a model helicopter, especially after seeing Chase Jarvis’s experience, but sometimes you’ve got to do whatever it takes. Click on the link below to see a behind the scenes video of the making of Water.
I was thrilled to be accepted into the exhibition ‘What I did on my summer vacation‘ curated by Jim Fitts, Founder of PhotoWeenie.com and Anne DeVito, Co-Owner of Panopticon Gallery. The exhibition opened in the private room at the Panopticon Gallery September 12 and runs until Jan 14. So there’s still time left to look at the selected images.
I really liked where the photo was placed in the room, in a little alcove as shown below.
The opening was quite a scene. A couple of artist talks and tons of people. Really overwhelming.
My intersection with Bill Brandt came by way of Michael Kenna. In a number of places I’d read that Michael Kenna was deeply influenced by Bill Brandt and yet when I looked up his work, much of what I found was nudes. Being very English and uncomfortable with all that nakedness, I left it at that. More recently I steeled myself for another look and found, in addition to the nudes, an eclectic collection of photographs from portraits to a look at society life to miners of the North of England to landscapes. It seems to me that Brandt’s later photographs became darker and more extreme in contrast, something that I assume he pushed in the darkroom. A good example of this is shown below:
For fun click here to see Michael Kenna’s rendition of this image.
Many of Brandt’s images can be found on his website under the licensing section. Well worth a look. Also worth a look if you’re in or around New York is the exhibition of Brandt’s work at the MOMA ‘Shadow and Light’ that runs until August 12.
To hear Brandt talk about his work check out this 1983 BBC interview:
I was quite excited to find out that the image above ‘Three Beach Pilings’ was selected to be included in the South Shore Art Center exhibition ‘Photography Now‘ curated by Karin Rosenthal. The exhibition opening is April 12 from 6pm – 8pm. Please do stop by and say hello if you’re in the area.
The last few weeks have been more hectic than usual for a number of reasons, not least of which being getting reading for the exhibition at the RMSP gallery. I basically had a list of things that needed to get done and worked my way down the list until I was done. If I’d wanted to do anything evenly vaguely creative in that time I couldn’t have because I didn’t have the space I need to think. I find that I need some breathing room to have and to develop new ideas, that if I’m flat out busy I just don’t have. How to get that space can require a shift in thinking and attitude. For me whenever I’m feeling that I’ve lost balance and perspective I rely on David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
to get back in control. Typically this involves taking an inventory of all that I have going on, all the projects that I have underway and the associated ‘next actions’. More often than not once I’ve done that I realize that I have more going on than any sane person would commit to and begin saying ‘No’ to any new things that show up until I’m back in a place where I have some time to catch my breath. That’s where I am now, enjoying a break until my next adventure. I’d be interested in how you get back under control and in a place where you can create.
With thanks to the guys at RMSP for pulling it all together, one of the things we did during the opening of ‘Going Coastal‘ was to prepare a timelapse video of the first hour or so of the opening at the RMSP Gallery. I had a fun evening buzzing around talking to people about the photographs as you can see in the video below.