Friday Inspiration: Wynn Bullock

831.624.2801 c. 1960

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.

Conversations With The Masters, rare interview with Wynn Bullock. This interview was conducted by Steve James of the Eikon Gallery

This video highlights excerpts from the 1975 film by Thom Tyson, Wynn Bullock: Photographer.

Friday Inspiration: Carleton Watkins

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I can’t remember where I first read about Carleton Watkins, perhaps it was this article in the Smithsonian magazine.  For someone like me, who thought that photography started with Ansel Adams, it was something of a revelation to read about and see Watkin’s photographs of the American west and particularly of Yosemite Valley.  While many of his photographs are stereograms the views of Yosemite are quite familiar.  It was his series of photographs of Yosemite Valley in the 1860s that helped influence Congress’s decision to make the valley a National Park in 1864.

There’s an exhibition of Watkin’s photographs at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University until August 17.  To find out more about the exhibition see here.  Unfortunately I’m in the wrong part of the country to be able to get to the exhibition but I did get the related book and have been enjoying looking at the photographs.

Recognizing many of the views made famous through the work of Ansel Adams in the Yosemite Valley made me think about what Ansel Adams brought to the table.  Perhaps not his vision but his superior control of the medium and printing abilities?

Check out the video below for more details on the exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.

Friday Inspiration: Johsel Namkung

namkung

When I was planning to go to the pacific northwest, and particularly the Olympic National Park, last year I began casting around for inspiration and to see what others had done in this area. Art Wolfe was obvious since it was his workshop that I was going on. Jay Goodrich too since he was also one of the workshop leaders but who else. That was when I came across Johsel Namkung, a photographer who some have suggested is ‘Seattle’s answer to Ansel Adams‘. I think I would disagree and suggest that Namkung has more in common with Eliot Porter than he does with Ansel Adams. When I think of Ansel Adams I think of the grand landscape captured in black and white, whereas when I think of Eliot Porter I think of more intimate images captured in color. For me Namkung’s most powerful images are color studies of shape, line and texture.

A restrospective of his work was published by Cosgrove Editions in 2012. You can browse the book here and find out more about him at johselnamkung.net. Check it out, it’s worth a look.

In Service of the Print

Winter Trees

‘Not every printer is a great photographer, every great photographer is a great printer’

Ansel Adams

I came across the quote attributed to Ansel Adams a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t help but wonder whether this is really true today. There have been seismic changes in photography and technology in the last 10 or so years – the shift to digital, decent cameras in most mobile phones, great tablet devices and on and on – that makes me wonder what was true when Ansel Adams made his comment is still true today.

How many people feel the need to print? Sure not people who are stock photographers. They deliver their content to the stock agencies digitally and it is further distributed digitally. Wedding photographers? Again another example of a group that are focused on high quality with high productivity, that would most likely today have some if not all content delivered digitally with the remaining photographs and associated wedding books printed by specialty print services. Editorial photographers, similar story – digital delivery to their editors.

Does this mean that these photographers are not ‘great’? Of course not. The successful photographers in these fields have exacting standards that when coupled with creativity and a capacity for hard work has been the foundation for their success.

So is Ansel’s comment still relevant today? I think so but we should modify it slightly – ‘Every great fine art photographer is a great printer’.

It’s never been easier to print your own photographs. Prices of really good ink jet prints have dropped precipitously and are well within the range of most serious amateurs. There are a huge range of ‘substrates’, papers and other specialty surfaces, available for printing. The standard printer drivers and paper profiles give good results without needing tweaking. Finally there are a tremendous range of resources available to help you along the way – George DeWolfe’s Book ‘George DeWolfe’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop‘ is one that I would particularly recommend. It’s quite possible then for us all to make good prints and with a commitment to the craft even some great ones.

Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why

I’ve been thinking a lot about vision, voice and style recently.  Perhaps in part because I’ve been listening to David DuChemin on creativeLIVE.  One of the exercises that David suggests to help develop your vision is to take a look at other photographers work and ask what were they were intending with the photograph.  This and much more can be found in David’s eBook ‘Vision Driven‘.  I’m much more of a techno geek and so delving into this kind of descriptive activity is very difficult for me.  So how to start?

George Barr‘s latest book – Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why is as good a jumping off point as I can think of.  Each of the 52 photographs is first discussed by George and then the photographer also provides a perspective on the image.  This is quite a unique opportunity to get behind the scenes with some of my favorite photographers – David Ward, Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, & Michael Kenna to name a few.  There are also a good number of photographers here that I wasn’t previously familiar with, such as Christopher Burkett & Michael Levin, whose work is quite well worth further study.

I am reminded that there are other sources for a discussion of making of the images.  Many coffee table photography books have descriptions of the photographers intent at the back of the book, along with the technical details.  Additionally there are a number of ‘Making of . . .’ books worth a look.  Perhaps the most notable is Ansel Adams’s Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs but I’m sure there are others.

Recognizing that I have these resources to hand to help me develop the language skills that I need to describe the intent of a photograph I’m off to practice!