I was prompted to look at Arnold Newman’s photographs this week. Arnold Newman is widely thought of as the ‘Father of Environmental Potraiture’, contributing photographs to all major publications from Life to Scientific American and everything in between. He got his start in portraiture by taking photographs of artists. At the time the artists he photographed were neither rich nor famous and Newman himself was an unknown, honing his craft. His approach of using the camera to explore the world of the person he’s photographing, to show something of their character by placing them in their surroundings began with his work with the artists.
He has said that a good portrait must first be a good photograph. For me the most iconic of his photographs is that of Stravinsky shown above. Stravinsky propping his head on his arm neatly echoes the way that the lid of the piano is propped open. It is a strongly graphic, minimal image that appeals to me greatly. Looking at many of his other portraits you start to see how he has stripped away all but the essentials that he needs to tell the story of the artist, celebrity or statesman.
An exhibition of his work ‘Arnold Newman – Masterclass’ is now showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Fransisco. If you’re not able to Make it to the show you can watch a gallery tour given by the shows curator William Ewing here. There’s also a catalog to accompany the exhibition that can be had here.
Finally check out the interview with Newman below for insights into how he worked and a behind the scenes look at how some of his most famous images were made.
A section in a book that I’m reading at the moment provided a twist to the ‘you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most time with‘ idea that has been circling the internet for several years now. Specifically it said that if you’re the smartest person you know then you need to get to know some more people, if you’re the most creative person you know then you need to get to know some more people and went on like that for quite a bit. It’s funny that the Ninety Degrees Five group is five people – all are very talented and successful, if the alphabet soup of letters that they are able to append to their names is anything to go by – I wouldn’t mind being the average of this group by any means!
Of this group Christian Fletcher recently won Western Australian Landscape photographer of the year and International Landscape photographer of the year. He’s based in Dunsborough in South Western Australia, which looks like a fantastic part of the world if his photographs are anything to go by and is now on my list of places to visit. Christian seems to work predominantly with digital medium format cameras, which allows him to create large prints of his work, working with photoshop to fully extract the potential in each of his images. Check out the videos below to hear more from Christian himself.
My introduction to the ND5 group was actually through Peter Eastway. I’ve been a subscriber of Better Photography, the magazine that he edits and publishes, for a very long time now and have enjoyed his various online tutorials. In fact as I was thinking over the summer about the options we have as photographers to express our voice Peter’s work came immediately to mind. I essentially decided that there were two places in which your voice can shine through – in the subjects you choose to photograph and then how you choose to process those images. Peter has a really unique style that, to my mind at least, is largely achieved through his post-processing work. In particular I feel that he has developed a a distinct and unifying color palette, perhaps not intentionally, through the consistent use of a particular set of tools in photoshop. The masterclass tutorials show you his process in detail and are worth a look. For single image processing check out his photo atelier series which give a behind the scenes look at Peter’s thought process.
I found the interview below to be a fascinating look at how Peter thinks and works. Check it out:
It seemed appropriate, given where my head has been in the last few weeks, to look at the collaborative group Ninety degrees Five this week. One of the questions that I’ve been asking is ‘as a beginning photographer how can you accelerate your improvement’ and realized that being part of a working group can greatly help. While I was thinking about that I was also wondering once you ‘make it’ whatever that means to you then what. Does the group that you’re a part of still work for you, do you move onto a new group that are more aligned with where you’re currently at? Where do the modern day masters go for feedback?
One of the things that came out of the Impressionists was a group sensibility within which the individuals still had a indue voice. I think that could also be said for this group too. The work hangs together as a whole and yet they clearly have distinct voices. Check out the videos below for more about the Pilabara project and South West Light.
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.
One of the things that I continue to struggle with is ‘why do I photograph’?
There are of course many reasons to photograph, having your photography being in service of something larger is awesome, being able to tell stories with your images and to capture a moment in history is clearly important. Doug Eng is someone who does this incredibly well.
Doug is a Florida native with a background in structural engineering and software programming who works in both the natural and urban landscape. In fact some of his projects have involved bringing the natural landscape into the urban environment.
For an example of this work check out the ‘Beyond the Facade’ project where Doug installed huge prints on the east facade of the old Barnett Bank building. The behind the scenes section (click here) gives a fascinating look at how art on this scale is created and handled.
I was fortunate to recently hear Doug present his project ‘On Fertile Ground’ which captured images of the last property of his family’s truck farm providing a record of his family’s successes for future generations. I was profoundly impacted by these photographs, they made me really feel that the farm stopped while the world moved on.
I came out of Doug’s presentation thinking that everyone with a camera, which means almost all of us now, should spend some time documenting their family history.
I’ve been thinking a lot about aging recently – are my best years behind me? They very well could be! In the physical sciences such as mathematics or physics people seem to have made their important contribution in their early 20’s. Perhaps because they’re less contaminated by dogma at this stage in their career. In the biological sciences scientists are generally older, when they have had an opportunity to amass a broad and deep understanding of their field, when they make their most important contributions. What about in the arts?
It was interesting then, with this as a back drop, to see an exhibition of Jasper Johns recent work ‘Regrets’ at the MoMA. Unusually this wasn’t a career retrospective, or a themed retrospective as one might expect fitting for 83 year old Johns who is referred to as America’s greatest living artist but rather a new body of work completed in the last year. The work caused such excitement among the MoMA curators that they rushed the whole body of work into the museum for an exhibition in a matter of months. They tell the story here.
For an able description of the work check out this article on ArtSpace.
It is interesting to see how the work evolved and spiraled out from a single photograph. An approach that might not work for all of us but is worth having in mind when it comes to exploring options to extend and deepen a body of work.
“Inspiration Is for Amateurs—The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Get to Work”
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how small changes in habits can have a profound impact in what we are able to achieve across all aspects of our lives.
Mason Currey‘s book ‘Daily Rituals‘ is an interesting collection of observations of the daily routines of many of the great creators and provides an interesting insight into the lives of people who need to develop a body of work. What is apparent across almost all of these examples is commitment to showing up and getting to work. Not too much lolling around waiting for the muse to visit, just simply a matter of putting in the time whether they feel like it or not.
This attitude of ‘show up and do the work’ makes me realize that doing something every day, regardless of how small it is will could eventually yield substantial results. The simple act of writing 500 words everyday will mean that you will have written over 25,000 words for the year. Not too shabby.
A photo a day projects were very popular a year or two ago and seem to be unsustainable to me but doable for a month or one photo shoot a week for a year would both result in a body of work that you could do something useful with.
Changes in other parts of your life would also mean potentially useful changes. 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up had a big impact on my weight loss. Meditating before your day gets going or journaling at the end of the day could lead to more positive changes in your outlook and getting more done.
What small change could you incorporate on a daily basis that would move you in the direction of your goals?
Jump to minute 19:00 of the video below to hear Mason Currey talking about his book ‘Daily Rituals’
When I first saw Hobie Porter‘s work I wasn’t sure what I was looking at – a ‘straight’ photograph, a digital mash-up or what. He is of course a landscape painter, and his work is a juxtaposition of the grand landscape with artifacts that he’s found. Perhaps not surprisingly what caught my attention are his seascapes in which he incorporates old ropes, propellers and a variety of other things that he’s found at the beach. One of the advantages that painters have over photographers is that they are able to paint what ever they imagine and so I had assumed that these beach artifacts were figments of Porter’s imagination. Not so. While there may be an element of interpretation he actually collected these objects for use as reference and then for the exhibition shown in the video below displays them as part of the exhibition. Check out the videos of Porter at work and of him discussing his art below.
As I was thinking about British artists that I remembered seeing when I was younger Richard Long came to mind. The stone circles that I remember him making resonated with me at the time, and I still find that I’m drawn to simple geometric shapes, his sculptures, lines made by walking, was more of a mystery to me. I find some of his recent ‘mudworks’ to be quite interesting. Long considers these to be two dimensional sculptures having originally started this work on the ground before progressing to working on walls at quite a massive scale. The mud that is used in the work comes from the river Avon, a choice that reflects his upbringing on the banks of this river. As can be seen in the image above he’s brought some of his stone work indoors, making both mudworks and stone circles that interact with each other for some of his exhibitions.