Tag Archives: American Photography
We live in a big damn country. We can lose sight of this basic and obvious fact because generally the world we move around in is pretty small. The house we live in, the yard around the house, the neighborhood and then the wider, yet still easily managed world we see everyday. I like to think that driving long miles, and occasionally stopping, gives me insight into the people and the country, but that can’t be true. How much can you learn when you are just passing through? I am a tourist. If I could I would stop at every house and store and speak to everyone at least for a minute. As it is, I did manage to connect, albeit briefly, with a number of citizens from here to Mississippi and back. And as always I am reminded of the sheer stupendous size of America.
…that my photograph The El Cortez will be offered to clients by Ellis and Samuels at Sunset Interiors, Tucson. The photograph of this exposure is a 23 x 13 inch custom print made by Dalmatian Black and White of North Carolina, certainly one of the premier photography labs in the country. The experts at Dalmatian use the finest printers loaded with Cone Edition Piezography K7 inks. The subsequent photographs are made using seven shades of black pigmented inks, printed on the finest acid-free papers and are rated archival with a longevity of 200 years or more. The quality and deeply rich continuous tonal range can exceed the best traditional custom optical fiber prints and have to be viewed to be believed. These are truly exceptional photographs.
Not only that but 4 other color prints of mine will hang with the El Cortez and I am simply busting with pride. The selected work represents literally thousands of miles of effort. Thanks to my friends in Tucson for this opportunity.
Las Vegas as we all need it to be. A wind swept rain, the police in action across the street and the gamblers warm inside keeping their demons at bay. It’s always just after midnight in Vegas.
I usually go out to shoot in the mornings but I had a very long (and excellent) working Saturday so I planned to stay in today. Of course the sky began to get interesting as afternoon came on. I decided, perhaps a little late, to get out and have at it. Inspiration as motivation to do something is nonsense. Ask any writer how much work they’d get done if they only wrote when inspired. Photography, or any other artistic discipline, is exactly like that. If you want the work you have to do it, period. A photographer makes photographs and to wait for inspiration is to do nothing. So out I went.
Besides, I had rediscovered an area a short time ago and wanted to get back there. A bit far for a late afternoon drive but why not? So I’m off on a blustery March Sunday having a fine time, making some exposures. The sky was ideal, the trees were still bare, traffic was light and suddenly I was very happy with my decision to do some work. See how that happens?
I took New Jersey 49 back towards home. Up off to my right I saw the looming Salem water tower and began to look for someway to incorporate it into a photo. I turned a corner looked to my right and there it was, laid out perfectly. These moments happen to every photographer sooner or later. A scene presents itself to you. A scene so perfect you can scarcely believe it. Of course, sometimes we are presented with a perfect scene and the resulting photographs don’t measure up. Somehow we missed whatever it was that made us stop in the first place. I was determined not to let that happen. I parked and began to work the scene.
There are very rare times when I am filled with exhilaration when I am shooting. When every element has been placed just for me, and if I act quickly and smartly I can have what I want. I used every lens, walked every possible path, shot from every possible vantage point made use of every angle using every sensible exposure combination and after 30 minutes or so came to the conclusion that I had what I needed. I made a few more stops on the way home finally parking in the driveway after dark, much later than I had intended. All in all a perfectly worthwhile shoot. I made the time to practice my craft, and brought home some exposures that I think really hit the note.
Busy night here at ABW as we run through the files searching for the answer. We are reminiscing about beautiful Zelda and that rascal Gatsby and driving fast through the midnight woods around Princeton. Don’t tell Gatsby but we didn’t all go to Princeton. He likes to think he is surrounded by Ivy League stock but it just isn’t true. My family wintered in the hinterlands of Southeastern Pennsylvania, not Palm Springs, and we vacated in Atlantic City.
Big cars, fast cars, cars with fins, cars with stripes, cars with music, muscle cars, cars with girls in the front seat on a summer night with bare feet on the dash. Cars that take you away even if only for a little while
A car in the night gives us something. A way out, if need be. A break from the madness. The mystery of the night can engulf us, sweeping away the dull of the day. Time stops when the moon is full and the highway is clear. We are free, if only for a little while.
I made this image on a summer night not long ago, standing in the road, camera mounted on a tripod, making exposure after exposure. I thought I had what I wanted, but I tend to over shoot to make sure. It was after midnight, nobody around. I had passed the Sunoco station and thought that the tower would fit and the image would speak. Brought the car around, parked and 20 minutes later drove away.
Some things we see everyday all the time. We use them and never see them. And then one day years later we see a photograph and gaze in awe at what had been there all along.
“See the present as past”
Let’s face it, often we are just searching for the past. My Dad bowled. He was a serious bowler, with a great average and the discipline to really do well at that odd game. And when we were kids he took me and my brother out with him to bowl. So now, in an obvious attempt to recapture that feeling of doing something with my Dad, I photograph bowling alleys.
And when I make these photographs and then work the files it is always with a feeling of melancholy, and happiness.
Sometimes I know exactly what I am photographing.
I was driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood on the way home yesterday after picking up scans for some client work. Off to my right out the car window I saw the flag (I always see the flags) and the fence and instantly the photograph formed in my head. I turned around, parked the car, grabbed the camera and went to work. A teenager was playing basketball on an adjoining driveway to the house. I smiled (always smile) and asked if he lived there, pointing at the house with the fence and the flag. He responded no and kept on shooting. I am always careful when approaching and entering private property in pursuit of a photograph. I stood on the sidewalk looking at the house, listening to hear any sign that anyone was in the yard or visible in the windows. There wasn’t. I set the exposure, walked up the path and clicked 4 or 5 times, recomposing slightly every time and opening the aperture from 5.6 to 1.4, changing the shutter speed appropriately. I was on the property less than 45 seconds. I was not surreptitious or sneaky, just quick. I stopped and shot a few baskets with the kid (I actually hit a few modest jumpers) and tried to convince him to try out for his high school basketball team. He had a nice little shot and could clearly play the game but had no interest in playing as the coach was a jerk. Okay then.
I am very pleased with the resulting photograph. I was thinking of two images as I stood out in front of that house yesterday, the Bresson photo of an old woman draped in a flag, and a photo by Paul Strand: The White Fence, Port Kent, 1916. I have always overlooked the Strand image until recently when I had the occasion to view a print made by the artist. Simply brilliant.
Incorporating the American flag in any photograph adds quite a bit, as everyone feels or thinks something when they view it. The combination of the picket fence (Mark Twain) and the flag proved irresistible. So this is the process, sometimes.
It’s a crap shoot, mostly. We seek wisdom, some of us, from the culture around us. Certainly THAT guy knows the answers, look what he can do, did you see the film read the book listen to the music? I am comforted by knowing we all doubt. We all look at the things we do and wonder. I know many extraordinarily talented photographers. The thing they all have in common is doubt about the work they make. Sometimes I am searching, and when that proves silly I just look at what’s around me and try to fit it into the viewfinder. Some days I am the king of all that I survey, and other days, most other days, I am smothered in doubt. But something I have learned is that to move forward we must insist on the work. That’s all. Just insist. If I don’t, no one will. If you don’t, no one will.
So today: Insist. Gently with humility or harder with gusto, whatever fits. Just insist.
Robert Frank made lists of the things he wanted to photograph way back in the 50’s when he started his run. He intended to make a statement about America, and so he did. What that statement is depends on you, dear viewer, although there are plenty of people that will be happy to tell you what they think he meant. Jack Kerouac had a pretty smart notion of what it was all about.
Kerouac. He was somebody’s idea of a hipster, and then he died drunk. Robert Frank, the always changing artist that he was, stopped making photographs after The Americans.
Steidl, the top shelf book maker, recently published Robert Frank in America, a pretty fair collection of mostly previously unpublished work made on that Guggenheim run.
America is too big to be nailed down in a book of photographs, or even two books of photographs, and I’ll bet it was pure hell trying.