Posts Tagged ‘indelible image’

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

FOTOFORUM: THE INDELIBLE IMAGE

December 7, 2009

We asked photographers this month to select an indelible image –– one photograph they encountered early on as a photographer that still lingers with them today.  We’re especially pleased to include an indelible image from Darius Himes, one of the country’s foremost experts on the photo book, who is also a photographer, writer, and publisher.  And thanks to everyone who submitted an indelible image. Because we had so many responses to the column, we’ll run THE INDELIBLE IMAGE II next month. –– Alex and Rebecca

DARIUS HIMES ON HARRY CALLAHAN

Harry Callahan, Aix-en-Provence, 1958

One of the first photographers I was introduced to, as a young teenage boy, was Harry Callahan. The introduction came by way of the cover of Henry Horenstein’s Black and White Photography. My father had purchased the book at the suggestion of a colleague, and while the technical language was still far above me, I was deeply impressed by the work chosen. Callahan’s graceful black-and-white image of barren trees in winter not only spoke to me due to the subject matter—I grew up just across the Mississippi River in Iowa, a mere 3 hours from Chicago, where I presume Callahan made this photograph—but also because of the graphic power of the world rendered in shades of black, white, and gray.

But the photograph of Callahan’s that I most responded to, then and now, is his photograph of 1958, Aix-en-Provence, France. Actually, that statement is a bit of a falsehood. There are so many photographs of Callahan’s that I respond to, that to narrow it to one particular image is like asking for a favorite passage from Shakespeare! There are so many that are appropriate for so many situations. But nonetheless, what moves me about this image is the wildness of the underbrush and the seeming impenetrability of the scene. And yet, the more you look, the more things are revealed, by which I mean, the more deeply it impresses itself upon you, untethering your own inner eye along the way. Merely informational facts are not what I’m talking about; what I’m hinting at are the multitude of ways that the outer world has been transformed into a powerful two dimensional, abstracted image. I’m talking about the very transformative power of photography in the hands of an acutely sensitive artist.

There is a concept that is a clarifying one for me that relates to my attraction to this photograph. In both Eastern and Western cosmology is the notion of the mirror-connectedness of the Book of Revelation and the Book of Creation. Here is one exemplary, brief passage that speaks to this subject, from Persian-born Baha’u’llah. “Look at the world and ponder a while upon it. It unveileth the book of its own self before thine eyes and revealeth that which the Pen of thy Lord, the Fashioner, the All-Informed, hath inscribed therein”* John Ruskin, the 19th century British writer and social commentator expressed it this way.

There is religion in everything around us,

a calm and holy religion

in the unbreathing things of nature.

It is a meek and blessed influence,

stealing in as it were unaware upon the heart;

It comes quickly, and without excitement;

It has no terror, no gloom,

It does not rouse up the passions;

It is untrammeled by creeds….

There are a great many photographers and artists who have approached the world around them with awe and wonder. In this image, I see a precursor to photographers like Hiroshi Sugimoto and Thomas Joshua Cooper, as well as echoes of artists as varied as Nio Hokusai, Kandinsky, and the darker aspects of Whistler’s painting oeuvre. What Callahan seems to have mastered, to me at least, was the ability to gaze, with deep intent, at his “immediate” surroundings, without feeling the need to either exoticize nor degrade what he looked at and what he ultimately decided to photograph, allowing “the book of its own self” to reveal itself in all of its own inherent beauty. This is a powerful role that the arts can play in our society and in helping us advance our fledgling, world-embracing civilization.––Darius Himes

* (Baha’u’llah: Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 141-142)

Darius’s websites:

http://www.dariushimes.com

http://www.radiusbooks.org

For more about Harry Callahan:

http://www.stephendaitergallery.com/dynamic/artist.asp?ArtistID=25

To see Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work:

http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/

To see some of Thomas Joshua Cooper’s work:

http://artnews.org/artist.php?i=735



ALEX WEBB ON HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Valencia, Spain, 1933

My father, when he was struggling with writer’s block––which, unfortunately, was all too often––turned to photography, and as a result had a fine collection of photographic books.  At about the age of fourteen, I started to sift through these books in his study.  As I pored through The Decisive Moment, I remember coming upon this Cartier-Bresson image from Valencia, Spain.  I’d never seen anything quite like it.     As I marveled at the echoing rings of the mismatched spectacle lenses and the half-target on the door, set against––in deep space––that slightly twisted, ambiguous figure in the doors behind, I remember thinking: How can someone see this way?  How can someone find such an enigmatic moment in the world and bring it back as a photograph? I began to sense something about perception, about the moment, about space, and about the unique possibilities of the photograph. I’ve never forgotten this image.––Alex Webb

To see more of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work:

http://www.magnumphotos.com

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB ON WRIGHT MORRIS

Wright Morris, Clothing on Hooks, 1947

Formerly a writer, I was attracted early on as a photographer to two books that combine text and images:  Walker Evans and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Wright Morris’s God’s Country and My People. Both bodies of work expanded my way of looking at the photo book, and eventually led to my intermingling the two in my own work.  Yet, there was something about the lesser-known, Nebraskan-born Morris’s photo-text book –– in which he interweaves his writing and his photographs –– that touched something deeper and more inexplicable in me. Morris’s work is aloof yet engaging, bare-bones yet mysterious, spacious yet intimate –– it is work that suggests the many paradoxes that make up the Great Plains itself, where, like Morris, I also grew up,

I’m not sure exactly how his work manages to evoke all of this in me.  Perhaps it’s because Wright Morris’s objects are often photographed so sparely, yet with such intensity, it creates a kind of space around them.   And this space creates a kind of suggestiveness, ripe for poetic reverie in the viewer, not unlike the experience of driving across the Nebraska or South Dakota prairie with few if any trees or houses to fetter the mind, the memory, the imagination.  So, for me, Morris’s spare objects suggest the Great Plains –- like this photograph of the tattered coats and hat –– as well as evoking a different kind of landscape, a kind of private and interior Nebraska, one that suggests what all that emptiness feels like to an insider, someone who grew up on the Great Plains, and the Great Plains “…grew up in you,” to quote Morris.

And, lastly, there are his accompanying texts that somehow speak to –- or perhaps I should say, speak for –– the photos, texts that are as spare and distilled and intense as the photographs themselves.  I find the text pieces as plainspoken and mesmerizing and mysterious as a Weldon Kees poem, a poet who also grew up in Nebraska.  Reading Morris creates a kind of expansiveness in me, a kind of ache and a kind of delight, which is often my response to the Great Plains.  And, I’m not sure why, but as soon as I finish reading one of his more luminous pieces  (like the one I’ve included below), I find myself starting the process all over again –– a sign, they say, of truly poetic writing.––Rebecca Norris Webb

The man who lives his own life, and wears it out, can dispense with the need of taking it with him. He dies his own death or he goes on living, and where the life has worn in the death will come out. Skin and bones, jacket and shoes, tools, sheds and machines wear out; even the land wears out and the seat wears off the cane- bottom chair. The palms wear off the gloves, the cuffs off the sleeves, the nickel off the doorknobs, the plate off the silver, the flowers off the plates, the shine off the stovepipe, the label off the flour sacks, the enamel off the dipper, the varnish off the checkers, and the gold off the Christmas jewelry, but every day the nap wears off the carpet the figure wears in. A pattern for living, the blueprint of it, can be seen in the white stitches of the denim, the timepiece stamped like a medallion in the bib of the overalls. Between wearing something in and wearing it out the line is as vague as the receding horizon, and as hard to account for as the missing hairs of a brush. The figure that began on the front of the carpet has moved around to the back.––Wright Morris

For more about Wright Morris:

http://monet.unk.edu/mona/first/morris/morris.html

For more about Weldon Kees (including my favorite poem of his “1926”):

http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/Ncw/kees.htm

TWO VIEWS: Santiago de Cuba

November 11, 2009

It’s nice to see that the New Yorker is featuring one of Alex’s photographs this week.  It is one of those amazing and complicated and beautiful street photographs of his, one that I think captures the feel of the streets of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s “second city,” a vibrant, one-of-a-kind Cuban city that is often overshadowed by the larger and more frequently visited Havana.

One memory I have of this remarkable coastal city is that it is so hilly that instead of having “bike taxis” like most of the cities of the eastern part of the island, it has “motorcycle taxies.” If you’re a passenger, the driver hands you a helmet, you hop on the back of the motorcycle, and off you go.

Below the New Yorker link, you’ll also find another photograph of Alex’s from Santiago de Cuba from Violet Isle.––Rebecca

Link to Alex’s photograph in the New Yorker

Santiago, Cuba, 2008

Alex Webb, Santiago de Cuba, 2008

NOVEMBER’S FOTOFORUM:  The Indelible Image

For November, the FotoForum topic will be “The Indelible Image.” For this column, we are inviting former workshop participants and other photographers to send us a jpg (72 dpi; 6 inches on the longest side) of one of the first images by another photographer that you remember seeing as a beginning photographer, an image that still lingers with you today.  If you’d like, feel free to also include a sentence or two about the photograph and your encounter with it, up to a paragraph in length (250 words max).  To continue this notion of creating an online photographic community, please also include a short bio (100 words max) and link to your website or other link that features your photographs online. ––Alex and Rebecca

Please email your indelible image (and text) to Rebecca at rebeccanorriswebb@yahoo.com