Engaging with the Masters

In looking at the work of Peter Dombrovskis over the last few weeks I couldn’t help but wonder about how we engage with the work of the ‘photography masters’. My preference of course is through books. Based on my Peter Dombrovskis experience this is a challenge.

There are of course the exceptions. Access to Ansel Adams’s photographs are readily available through books and calendars. It’s even possible to get prints from the original negatives printed by Ansel’s assistant Alan Ross.

Not every photographer has the kind of machinery behind them that Ansel has. What about the others. Is there space for periodic ‘remastering’ of classic books in the way that classic records are remastered. A very different undertaking but certainly possible.

I feel like one of my favorite photographers, Eliot Porter, received this kind of remastering in 2012 when a new edition of
‘In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World’. was published to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition.

The Getty Museum also published a collection of Eliot’s work at around the same time, ‘Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature’. This book rather than a new edition is a great survey of Eliot’s work and for me is reminiscent of the Peter Dombrovskis book I recently acquired.

I wonder how many of the masters will get this additional chance to reach a new audience through a book, how many will achieve something similar through the internet and how many will fade away.

Friday Inspiration: William Neill

William Neill: Dawn, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada 1995

I’ve been spending sometime with Bill Neill’s new book ‘Light on the Landscape‘ which is a collection of the essays from his column in Outdoor Photographer magazine, paired with his magnificent images. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who are more interested in the creative aspects of photography, the why rather than the how. Have a quick glimpse in the flick through video below.

For those of you not familiar with Bill, he got his start in photography working at the Ansel Adams gallery in the ’80s where he got to know Ansel and some of the people that were in his orbit – John Sexton, Alan Ross and Joel Meyerowitz to name but a few. Although he has been based in the Yosemite area for the last 40+years his photography has avoided the potential cliches of the area and shows what is really possible when you are true to your own sensibilities.

I was fortunate to take a portfolio development class online with Bill a long, long time ago. It was excellent! He was patient, engaging and a wealth of information. I was just starting my journey into photography at the time and was just entering what has been a long and steep learning curve. He introduced me to photographers such as Ernst Haas and the seminal book The Creation and to Eliot Porter and his intimate landscapes. I learned from Bill how much you can get from having subjects close to him that you can return to at different times of the day, different weather and different seasons. How to really work a scene; how to find not just the obvious shot but to really explore what the scene and subject really have to offer.

I was delighted then to come across the recent interview with Bill on Alister Benn’s YouTube channel. Many of these topics come up in the discussion between Bill and Alister and others that I hadn’t heard Bill talk about. So check out the interview below and to learn more about Bill visit his website here.

The Wise Silence

Wise Silence

I quite enjoy looking at photobooks whether they are produced by friends or by icons of photography or both. While I may not be able to own the great works I can live with them through the books.

The quality of photo books has certainly evolved in recent years, the color reproduction being an area of most significant improvement. For instance, some of the Eliot Porter books I have do not come close to the colors of the original prints, I was blown away when I saw an image of his at the Farnsworth Museum, or even to images in the more recent books of his work (see here and here). On the other hand black and white reproduction seems to have been consistently of a high quality, certainly amongst the books that I own.

Even with the relatively high bar that I have for black and white photobooks I was pleasantly surprised with Paul Caponigro’s ‘The Wise Silence‘ that I found recently. A former library book, my copy is a little battered and grubby, clearly having been enjoyed by many before I found it! It is however a great collection of Paul Caponigro’s images, perhaps my favorite of the books of his that I own, printed on a nice heavy textured paper (Mohawk Superfine) and the text is letterpress on the same paper. All this makes for a great package – I wish there were more books like this and perhaps there will have to be if books are to exist as physical objects.

As we move increasingly towards digital formats it seems to me that there will be a real reason for books to exist in a physical format. Physical books will need to have something that sets them apart from their digital counterparts. That something could be size, or high quality fine art paper, a vehicle for letterpress printing, but will need to be sufficient to move people towards paper rather than sticking with there electronic devices.

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.

Friday Inspiration: Eliot Porter

I find Eliot Porter’s style of intimate landscapes particularly powerful.  I recently came across the video below, ‘A Look Back’, a documentary put together shortly after his death in 1990.  I quite enjoyed it and hope that you will too.  You can find out more about Eliot Porter on the web here.  Many of his books can be found used on amazon.com and are well worth looking out for.