Posts Tagged ‘John Masters’

FOTOFORUM: Indelible Image II

January 11, 2010

Because we had so many responses to last month’s FotoForum: The Indelible Image, we decided to run a second column this month.  So for January, we are featuring the indelible image choice of noted Aperture editor Denise Wolff, who has worked with some of the world’s most widely acclaimed photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, and Eugene Richards.  Originally a photographer herself, Denise is joined by six other photographers from five different countries around the world for this column, all of whom have chosen to write about a photograph that they responded to strongly as young photographers –– an indelible image that still lingers with them today. –– Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

DENISE WOLFF ON SARA MOON: “Shooting Blind”

Sarah Moon, "The Clock, 1999," from her book, Coincidences

When I first learned to take pictures, I was struck that a photograph doesn’t look like what the eye sees in reality or even through the viewfinder. Technical decisions, such as depth of field and shutter speed, are made largely in anticipation of what the picture will look like. The camera freezes moments that the eye could only glimpse in the fluid nature of continuous time and motion. The mirror pops up to block the view on most 35mm SLR cameras at the moment the film is exposed; something similar happens with a view camera once the film holder is in place. Essentially, at the critical moment the photograph is taken, the photographer is at the height of not seeing. I have always been fascinated by this idea of shooting blind.

I bought Sarah Moon’s Coincidences the same summer I learned to shoot. To me, Moon’s photographs seem not so much guided by what she saw as by what she imagined. It is as if she was shooting with her eyes closed, dreaming rather than seeing. Indeed, in the book, she refers to the moment she takes the images as more of a recognition or calling than a function of the eye. “I believe in miracles when I hear an echo between me and what I see, a resonance … the eye hears before it sees.” Her pictures seem to play with this idea by consistently presenting what can only be seen in photographs. Though often highly staged, her images remain utterly open and dependent on chance. The Type 55 Polaroid film lends another layer of unpredictability to the process as the emulsion leaves traces of the photographic act on the images, highlighting their mediated existence as well as their dreamlike quality. Though the subjects of her images are never clearly defined, one, nonetheless, gets the sense that she captured a moment that can never be seen the same way again.

The Clock, 1999 is the image I remember most from my early days of photographing.  The geometry of the circles and the arrows – always pointing ahead into the future – reference a kind of continuous time. The numbers, removed from the clock (as well as from the faint time line at the center) are near the floor, displaced by the beautiful architecture of the triangle dress. These elemental forms remain quite stationary, permanent, frozen. Amidst them, the motion of the woman/clock’s hands creates a visual impossibility as the circle and axis line appear drawn over her arms. Her dark fingers form a stunning band as they run together with the marks, tracing a new arc. Here, the woman is both time itself and timeless, outside of linear measurement and numbering systems (the basis of our knowledge) through embodying, and thus subsuming, such systems. She represents the physical experience of time that cannot be fully measured or suspended. Here, Moon touches upon a central problem of knowledge and science: how to divide/measure a continuous magnitude into discrete units, how to define something constantly and infinitely evolving. She seems to offer the photograph as almost a proof, acting not unlike the woman/clock. All of this is collapsed into one, discrete image, which acts somewhat like memory itself, lifted up out of the infinite fluidity of unbroken time and reality. At the same time, this photograph will outlast the moment and woman it captured, creating its own kind of continuity, one that also resists being revealed or easily quantified, remaining ultimately mysterious. I think this paradox is at the heart of human understanding, as well as photography.––Denise Wolff

A selection of Sarah Moon’s work at Howard Greenberg Gallery.

JUSTIN PARTYKA ON JOHN COHEN

John Cohen, Mr. and Mrs. John Sams, Combs, Kentucky, 1959

Music brought me to photography. After a few years of being immersed in the music of Bob Dylan, I wanted to know what came before. I discovered the raw authentic tones of bluegrass, early country and blues, and the strange sounding folksongs from what Greil Marcus called “The Old, Weird America” entombed in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. I also encountered the work of John Cohen. A musician, sound recordist, photographer, filmmaker, and folklorist, Cohen literally linked all of my musical discoveries together, and his work showed me the way.

In 1998, I purchased Cohen’s CD, Mountain Music of Kentucky. This was a re-release of an LP originally released in 1960, and is a collection of field recordings he made in 1959 in the rural communities around the mining town of Hazard in eastern Kentucky. The haunting songs and tunes I heard pierced me with their melancholy and harsh metallic sounds. This was music out of the mountains from which the livelihoods of the people depended, music that became known as “the high lonesome sound.”

To accompany the recordings, Cohen included detailed notes about the music, people, and places he discovered, and he also included a series of photographs. The photographs show the people and the places, but they go further than that. As the image above reveals, Cohen suggests the sound of the music in these photographs, creating an intimate window into the world of eastern Kentucky.

Like the music, these images are haunting, mysterious and timeless; they embody the endurance of this rural culture, and left me wanting to know more about it. Through John Cohen’s work, I experienced for the first time the powerful impact that a photograph is capable of having.––Justin Partyka

Here is Justin’s website and a link to the trailer of Justin’s film, “My Friend Eric,” about a 99-year-old farmer from East Anglia, UK, and what remains of his traditional agrarian world.

ANIMESH RAY ON HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Athens, 1953

I grew up in India, in not a very affluent family.   Though I did have an Agfa Isopan 120mm uncoupled rangefinder camera, which used to belong to my father, it was difficult to afford to shoot more than one roll of film in six months.  Getting access to serious books of photography was even more difficult.  When I was in college, in 1971 or 1972, I came across in a used bookstore a large hard-bound book of photographs by a man with a double-decker last name.  I am quite sure that it must have had most of his famous photos, but there is one I remember distinctly.  I suppose at that time I was too youthful to worry about time’s irony, yet somehow I found the photo profoundly moving.  It is a rather simple photo, but for me it distills the essence of life’s evanescence.––Animesh Ray

Click here to see a selection of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work.

Click here to a selection of Animesh’s photographs.

ERICA MCDONALD ON WALKER EVANS

Walker Evans, "Negro Church," South Carolina, 1934

I’ll never forget seeing one of Walker Evans’ images, “Negro Church,” for the first time. I was in high school on a weekend field trip to New York. My class had a museum day, and I was just moving along looking at images and chatting with friends when somehow I came to this image. A surge of energy ran through me, and I felt my body rooted into place, while emotionally and intellectually, I felt transported away. I recall silently saying to myself over and over, “I get it, I understand what he is doing, I think I might be able to do that, too.” What I saw wasn’t just a building, or just a church, it was one man’s connection to a place and a time and a people, and his particular perspective also allowed space for my own experience.

I had been interested in photographing from the time I was very young, but seeing this image was an awakening and a calling to work towards using the medium to create relations amongst the viewer, the viewed, and myself as photographer.––Erica McDonald

Click here to see a selection of Walker Evans’s work.

Erica’s website

RICHARD MARAZZI ON ERNST HAAS

Ernst Haas, Venice, 1955

Here is a shot that inspired me. Back when I was starting out as a photographer, my local library in Canada had few photography books, but one that I kept going back to was by Ernst Haas. I found his images to have a mood and ethereal quality to them, and I especially like the way he used color. This particular shot actually inspired me to begin a long-term project of Venice, a place of my family’s origins.––Richard Marazzi

Click here to see a selection of Ernst Haas’s work.

Richard’s website

DAVID BACHER ON ELLIOTT ERWITT

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

This iconic photo by Elliott Erwitt is one that lingers in my mind and never grows old. It suggests the simplicity of discovering one of life’s magical moments that can unfold on the sidewalk anywhere, even on the sidewalk in your own neighborhood. I have come to appreciate surprising photos like this one that evoke a sense of humor, two elements that embody much of Elliot’s work. I love this chihuahua and always find myself wondering what the rest of the large dog and the owner might look like.

Ahhh…like a nice bottle of red wine or a Mozart sonata, this photo is one of life’s simple pleasures.––David Bacher

Click here to see a selection of Elliott Erwitt’s work.

David’s website

JOHN MASTERS ON HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brussels, 1932

I have been looking at Cartier-Bresson’s images for decades.  Of all of them, this one has always intrigued me.  There is a surreal quality to this image, and it can be seen as being abstract.  It reminds me that when I remove the subject from its context (through the viewfinder) it becomes something else, something more expressive than the possibly banal event it had been before.––John Masters

John’s website

TWO QUESTIONS: On Returning and On Street Photography; On Magic Realism and On Paradox

October 24, 2009

For October, we decided to include TWO QUESTIONS from two photographers, Magdalena Sole and John Masters (find out more about them below).  In this same vein, please feel free to leave TWO COMMENTS –– one about one of Rebecca’s responses, one about one of Alex’s –– after this posting. ––AW and RNW

MAGDALENA SOLE:  Rebecca, you talk about returning to a place like Cuba some eleven times. How do you keep that initial fresh eye –– that untainted first impression that helps one see the image? What changes when you return again and again to the same place?

RNW, Remedios, Cuba, 2008

RNW, Remedios, Cuba, 2008

RNW:  Good question, Magdalena.  You know, I’ve never really thought about it, but I think, for me at least, I tend to discover fresher and more unique images in a place the more trips I make.  It’s somewhat akin to love.  You can fall in love at first sight, but it takes considerably longer to understand the nuances, the strengths and weaknesses, and the uniqueness of that person you’re in love with.

So for me, I don’t tend to have the experience you mention my first trip to a place – the fresh and untainted impression you mention.  I find it’s only after at least two or three or perhaps more trips to a place that my vision tends to deepen and I begin to see the place in a more unique and complicated way, perhaps echoing my experience of getting better acquainted with a place.

MAGDALENA SOLE: Alex, you once told me that you walk for miles every day to find your pictures, but then you also remain put in one place for hours. When you stay in one place, do you start talking to the people and connecting with them, or do you remain on the periphery? Later, do you go back to people and places you know?

AW:  Every situation is different.  In some situations it works for me to just walk through the situation, photographing and rarely talking to anyone.  But in other situations, especially when I end up hanging out for extensive periods of time, I certainly will talk — as well as of course watch and wait.  If I sense the possibility of a picture, but it doesn’t happen that day, I may return another day — or even, occasionally, another week, another month, or another year.  I try to work with whatever the world gives me.

JOHN MASTERS: Alex, does the philosophy of magical realism allow you to see something through the viewfinder or in an image that perhaps others do not see or feel?

AW, Paratins, Brazil, 1993

AW, Parintins, Brazil, 1993

AW: When photographing in the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon I sometimes felt as if I was stepping into the background of a magic realist novel.  In the Amazon, the fantastic often seems to encroach on the mundane:  at festivals people build immense floats depicting Amazonian creatures, children dress as huge fish for Earth Day, and monkeys and coatimundis are kept as household pets.  Would I have responded differently to such phenomenon if I had not read Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa?    I would guess the answer is both yes and no.  My fascination with such phenomenon may well be more attuned, more intense, because of my readings.  On the other hand, irrespective of any knowledge of magic realism, it’s pretty hard not to be taken in by the spectacle of fifteen-foot-high paper mache and plastic anacondas, tarantulas, and mermaids  at the Boi-Bumba Festival in Parintins.

JOHN MASTERS:  Rebecca, do you try to convey any specific emotion that you may have towards one of your images to the observer or would you rather they interpret the image in their own way?

RNW:  Like poetry, what I love about photography is its suggestiveness, how an image –– whether in poetry or photography –– will resonate in different ways for different people.

That said, I am especially intrigued with people’s complicated response to the natural world –– emotionally, politically, philosophically.  The challenge is how to visually convey the philosophical paradoxes and emotional tensions that define our experience of this complicated eco-political terrain.  Each project I’ve worked on is a variation on this theme.  For instance, in my current work-in-progress, My Dakota, my most personal project to date, I only recently realized that this project is about “looking for a contradiction to inhabit,” as the poet, Rilke, once wrote.  For me, that contradiction is trying to photograph South Dakota’s “geography of hope” (as Wallace Stegner once famously called the West) and “geography of loss,” my brother’s death and his eternity.  For me, the contradiction I’m trying to inhabit is My Dakota.

Magdalena Sole, Venice, 2008

Magdalena Sole, Venice, 2008

Magdalena Solé was born in Reus. When she was seven her family departed Franco’s Spain in the middle of the night. The why is an unrevealed family secret. Life in 1960’s Switzerland for émigré Spanish was like life in 1950s New York City for Puerto Ricans—fitting in was a full time job. By 20 she was long fluent in Swiss German, could pass as a native and graduated as one of only two Spaniards from a University with a degree in teaching.  As a teacher the pay was good and the future was bright, but the world beckoned. In the mid –1980s Magdalena arrived in New York City, illiterate in English and living in a walk-up on the lower East Side. She became married, had a son and found herself poor. Then life veered.

In 1989, when global branding was a little-known field, Magdalena founded and ran a graphic design business, TransImage, that specialized in translating visual and verbal images for different counties. By this time she spoke seven languages fluently and had lived in four different countries, so she understood how confusing cultural idiosyncrasies could be. The business, located in Tribeca with offices in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, thrived for twelve years until she sold it and attended Columbia Film school. She graduated with a Masters of Fine Art in 2002. Magdalena loved making film and wrote, directed and produced her own, A Zen Tale, which had a New York theatrical run. It was such a thrill to see her film’s name on a Manhattan marquee. Her last film, Man On Wire, on which she was the Unit Production Manager, won an Oscar in 2009. Despite her accomplishments, film was just too much business, with too many people, too big a budget and too little art. But she loved that camera and the images she could create. She still wanted to explore the world of image and story.

Photography was the perfect medium. No gaffers, gofers, best boys, script girls or craft services. Just her, the light and a subject. The Leica rangefinder became her partner in this exploration. For the past two years Magdalena has worked exclusively in photography. Her current project, Forgotten Places, is her road to the interior of the cities she loves. These urban environments exist at the edges, in immigrant and working class communities where beauty is found in displaced spirits and peeling paint.

Magdalena’s website: www.solepictures.com

John Masters, Roma family

John Masters, Roma family

John Masters was born in Europe to American parents in the mid-1960s.  For the first year of his life, he smelled the heat of Italy and southern France–limestone, lavender and rosemary bushes mixed with salt and diesel.   He answered to ‘Giovanni’ for several years.  His first camera was a Kodak Instamatic in 1972. Then there were a series of Polaroid devices, until 1990, when he purchased his first film SLR, the sturdy workhorse Canon AE-1. He used this one camera for almost ten years. It once fell a short distance off a balcony in Florence, bouncing off the marble stairs below, yet survived.  Four years later, after suffering from progressive shutter-ping, its internal workings ceased.  This was Bulgaria 1999, and Masters’ life had changed dramatically.

Through a series of fortuitous events, he found a pattern in the world-fabric worth following.  He fell in love again with travel, and those magical places we find ourselves when we go.  In mirrors and windows he discovered secret doorways leading to abstract realms; in bus stations he waited while time shifted around him. He found himself speaking foreign tongues, listening to wild sounds, and relishing the zest of unexplored philosophical cuisine, especially Macedonian charcuterie.  He developed a love of intellectual investigation which also fuels his eye.   Like Jean Cocteau, he believes that “The camera is but the third eye of the person using it.”  With his camera and notebook in hand, he is a visual cartographer; stopping to smell the roses, chat with a shop-keeper, have tea with a friend, and watch the river flow.

John Masters lives in upstate New York on an old farm. He uses several different cameras. He still uses a Canon AE-1.
John’s website: www.sidelit.com

FOTOFORUM: On Fear and Photography

October 5, 2009

We’d like to extend the notion of an online photographic community with another new column we’re calling “FotoForum.” For the first column, the topic is “On Fear and Photography,” and we’re featuring four photographers and their responses to our question below. We hope to add the column monthly, depending on the kind of response we get from all of you.  And if you’d like to, please feel free to leave your response to this month’s question in the comment section at the end of this posting, along with a link to your website.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb


What’s frightened or disturbed or unsettled you in the past photographically, and how did you manage to resolve this so that it ended up changing your work in some way, perhaps even enriching it? For instance, this could be something about photographing in a culture very different from your own, or perhaps something a little closer to home, such as confronting a more personal fear or demon.


 

John Trotter. My clothes from the attack, July 1999.

John Trotter. My clothes from the attack, July 1999.

 

Three months after I’d been nearly beaten to death by a half dozen young men, a detective showed me some of the photographic evidence of my attack.  In one of the photographs, I was lying shirtless on a hospital gurney, an oxygen mask strapped to my face, with blood oozing out of wounds all over my head. Though I remembered an old green Chevy Impala stopping and an angry man exploding towards me on the sidewalk (I was photographing for the Sacramento Bee newspaper at the time), after that first blow to my face, almost everything else was lost to me.

My attack had resulted in a severe head injury, and a cognitive fog had settled heavily over my world for three months. At Sierra Gates, a brain injury rehabilitation residence, slowly I had to learn how to walk again and, most frustrating, how to remember and make sense of my experiences.  Amazingly though, because of the blank space in my memory, the extreme violence of my assault was an abstraction to me until I saw the detective’s photographs of my assault.

And that’s when the fear began to settle in. The angry man I’d remembered, a gang member, was being held for a murder he’d allegedly committed later that same week, but my other five or so assailants were walking free because the many witnesses to my attack were too terrified to talk to the police. Having been beaten severely for being a photographer, I was deeply afraid to photograph in public again.

Six months after my release from Sierra Gates, however, I decided to return there to photograph other people with brain injuries. Looking back, I think it was partly because I felt safe there, the first place I’d remembered with any clarity my new, brain injured life. It was like learning to be a photographer all over again.––John Trotter

http://www.johntrotterphoto.com/ 


Annette Nordstrom, Marrakesh, 2009.

Annette Nordstrom, Marrakesh, 2009.

 

This past week was the first time I’d ever photographed in Morocco.  I spent my first day trying to decide how to approach this culture, which is very different than my native Scandanavia (I was born in Finland, and now live in Norway). I decided to try something different from anything I’d ever done before in my work as a professional photographer.  The thought came to me:  Who exactly is the woman beneath the hijab?  And isn’t she, ultimately, not that different than me?  So I decided to wear a traditional costume, and to take self portraits in the streets of Marrakesh, often using a cable release.  I thought I was going to feel somehow diminished as a woman and a person. What surprised me the most is that I was treated with such respect that I felt beautiful, both inside and out. –Annette Nordstrom

Annette is in the process of building a website.

 

 

Miah Nate Johnson

Miah Nate Johnson

 

 

Miah Nate Johnson. From my notebooks.

Miah Nate Johnson. From my notebooks.

 


 

 

One of the hardest things is to set out on a new path, new thoughts, new vision.  During a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown with the Webbs last summer, I laid down a photographic essay very reluctantly.  It was about depression, which is sometimes called the “black dog,” a malady very hard to reveal publicly, since this work is not only the expression of others’ sufferings, but my own as well. I was nervous.  I had softer stories in my box, but this one kept nagging at me.
 

After a week of editing, the “Black Dog” series –– a mix of my photographs and my drawings  –– the work seemed to speak more directly and more clearly.  At the final exhibition, I was surprised and very humbled by the response.  Some people cried.  Some people thanked me.  It made me realize I was not alone. I still search out this mysterious road with its many pains and turns.––Miah Nate Johnson

http://www.orionphotos.com/Site/Intro.html

John Masters. Macedonian shepherd.

John Masters. Macedonian shepherd.

JOHN MASTERS

The work of others intimidates me until I remember that I am not supposed to be taking their photographs––only my own.––John Masters

www.sidelit.com

www.johndcmasters.com




 

 

 


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