Being ‘geographically restricted’ for the last 18 months or so has forced many of us to either stope making photographs or shift our thinking. For me that has been a deeper dive into subject matter that is close to home. What I have come to realize of course is that I would make the same photographs regardless of whether I had travelled 5 miles or 5,000. It’s just how I’m wired.
I’ve also been thinking about how people work close to home but make stunningly original work. One person I came across was Lori Vrba. Originally from Texas, Lori moved to North Carolina about 14 years ago. With that move came a shift in perspective and some really imaginative photographs.
I often think about the subject matter and process and how they inform one another. Does Lori make the images she makes because she uses film and traditional darkroom processes? Would she be off in a different direction if she were to switch to digital? I suspect we’re not likely to find out any time soon, the magic of film and the darkroom (her new darkroom!) pull too strongly.
Check out the flip through of Lori’s book ‘The Moth Wing Diaries’ below and see more of her work on her website here.
I’m looking at Jan Töve’s ‘Faraway/Nearby’ book the image above stood out to me. I was surprised that this image wasn’t on his website as part of the portfolio for this work. Hence the wonky image above snapped from the appropriate page in the book.
What goes on in this building? At first glance I thought that it looked like a grain silo but then there seems to be more going on.
I’m still working on articulating why this caught my eye. Certainly the color palette – I like the muted red and especially the blue. I find that I’m drawn to blues like this more broadly. The graphic form is also something that appeals to me, both the shape of the building and also the negative space that it makes. The diagonal line to the upper right and lower left give the image a bit of movement. Finally the mix of textures is also appealing to me.
Why did Jan take this picture? What do you make of it?
My days are packed, I’m sure yours are too, which means that I often find myself wondering is this the most important thing that I can be doing right now. Prioritization is both a chore and something that I find painfully difficult because I don’t like saying no.
I was recently reintroduced to Ikigai a Japanese term meaning ‘having a direction or purpose in life, providing a sense of fulfillment and towards which they the person may take actions, giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning.’ Take a look at the graphic below for a sense of what were talking about but also realize that this isn’t quite ‘it’. See here for an explanation.
If you’re interested in digging into your own purpose check out this work sheet from Dandy People here.
Being clear about my sense of purpose has really helped remove some of the big items from my plate leaving me clear to focus on a smaller set of things where I can really make a difference. How about you? How do you make sense of the myriad of things that you could do?
Susan Bein is a teacher, graphic designer and photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I first came across her work on Instagram, although how I found her there I’m not sure. I think I was following links from one person to another to another. On Instagram Susan is @Wizmosis – check out her work!
In her bio she says:
I was an art kid who began photographing as a teen because I couldn’t paint or draw what I could see in my mind’s eye. I took classes from many of the photo giants of the time; Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Caponigro. I used black and white film and large format cameras.
What an amazing opportunity to learn from the masters of photography a veritable who’s who.
Susan drifted away from photography and into graphic design and teaching. Falling in love with photography again with the advent of the iPhone.
I love her iPhone work that is on Instagram and featured in her book Slightly Bonkers. The book is more magazine-like which gave Susan an opportunity to include a large number of the images that she made during the craziness that was 2020. I’m glad she did. Take a quick look in the flip through below.
Check out Susan’s presentation in the video below and learn more at her website here.
In my poking around on the web I recently came across the photography of Josef Sudek. Sudek was based in Prague and actively photographed until 1976 when he was 80. He had lost an arm to shrapnel in the First World War which makes his work produced with a large format camera all the more impressive.
Sudek is often referred to as the poet of Prague and I can understand that. I find his images to be quiet and contemplative. I get a sense of loneliness or melancholy from many of the images. Perhaps that’s just me. The images shot in and around his studio reminded of Saul Leiter’s photographs – largely because of shooting through the condensation on the windows.
I’ve been enjoying finding photographers that are new to me and exploring their work. I recently came across Gerry Johansson, a Swedish photographer known for his black and white photographs of what would otherwise be unremarkable places.
Gerry has a ‘geographic’ focus have produced books of work from photographs taken in America, Sweden, Germany, Antarctic and Tokyo. I like his thinking in that the book is really the tangible product of his work because exhibitions are too fleeting. Gone after a couple of weeks.
He clearly has a love of photography books as you can see in the video below of Gerry in his studio going through some of his photo book collection.
I wonder whether the books that he selected to discuss influenced his decision making about his own books which are often relatively small by some standards. I think that these smaller books, smaller prints and images call for a closer engagement with the work and for a more intimate experience.
Gerry talks about his work in the video below. The audio is in Swedish, if you don’t speak Swedish there are captions in English so that you can follow along with the conversation. Check out Gerry’s website here to learn more.
I first came across Robert Adams when I was looking for the answer to the question ‘why do people photograph’ and found his book ‘Why People Photograph‘ and then later I came across his book ‘Beauty in Photography‘. These small books are collections of essays covering topics such as collectors, humor, teaching, money and dogs and discussions of Photographers such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Meiselas, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. I have enjoyed reading these books and get something new out of them as I reread them with a deepening understanding of photography as an art.
Why People Photograph must have been on my bookshelf for almost as long as I’ve been taking photographs, almost 10 years now, and yet it was only last year that I realized that Robert Adams can not only write but he is a well know photographer too! How many other holes in my appreciation of the history of photography could you drive a truck through?
I’m at my beginning of my exploration of his work, and I’m doing so by starting with his most recent projects first. Photographs taken around his home near the Oregon coast of the forests, coastline and meadows, very different subjects to the photographs of the American west increasingly spoiled by the urban sprawl that brought him to prominence. This work can be found in ‘The New West‘ a new edition of which will come out in the summer.
Over the last week or so I’ve been making a list of my top 12 influences, visual artists and their work that influence and inspire me. Consistently over the years Hiroshi Sugimoto has made this list. Born in Japan, Sugimoto moved to the US to study in the mid-70’s eventually settling in New York. While he’s returned to a number of subjects repeatedly over the years, including ‘American Theatres’ in which he photographs old movie theaters and drive ins using long exposures in an attempt to show time in his photographs; ‘Dioramas’ which are beautifully executed photographs of exhibitions in natural history museums and more recently of wax-work figures; ‘Architecture’ in which he photographs structures slightly out of focus which gives a sense of the form that the architect had in mind without you getting lost in the details and my personal favorite ‘Seascapes’. His seascapes, such as the one above, give a real sense of the vastness of the ocean that particularly appeals to me.
Check out the documentary below for more about Sugimoto’s life and work.
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.
After thinking a little bit more about mastermind groups it dawned on me that artists have been meeting in groups to discuss their work for centuries. Perhaps the most famous, and most written about of these artists groups, or friendship groups as I’ve seen them called, is the Impressionists.
The Impressionists found each other as kindred spirits who were working outside of the traditional French Academy system. As they worked closely with one another they developed a group sensibility of what they thought art should be. They experimented with techniques that would allow them to realize their ideas that were then shared with one another, providing support and validation for paths that might have otherwise been abandoned had they been working in isolation. In regular weekly meetings the artists would discuss successes and failures in the context of the group’s values, work through conflicts and anxieties and share contacts with dealers or masters. I can only imagine such a regular meeting would have been profoundly energizing.
Of course visual artists are not the only ones that go through a period of intense involvement with this kind of group. In a recent webinar that Dane Sanders hosted to support his Weavewriter product there was talk of ‘writers workshops’ that sound just like the kind of meeting that the Impressionists were having. My research into writers workshops lead me first to Pat Schnieder‘s book ‘Writing Alone and with others‘ and then to Peter Elbow’s book ‘Writing Without Teachers‘.
‘Writing Alone’ appears to build on the work by Peter Elbow which provides a framework for group interactions where there isn’t a ‘master teacher’ in the room. In this model the writer is hearing real world feedback from other members in the group about what’s working and what needs additional clarity. It is an interesting process for me because I had it in my mind that without a master in the room mediocrity would reign. Perhaps not.
Both examples above provide me with support for my ideas about the importance of a small group for artistic development, not necessarily to instruct in a formal way but to provide ‘real world’ feedback, encourage and to share resources that could be of help. They also make me realize that this is in essence a ‘solved problem’. There are existing groups that fit this model that you may be able to work with if you look hard enough, the Artist’s Round Table that Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry have organized looks like it fits this model almost perfectly. The resources are also there that could help you to develop one organically yourself if that is a better option for you. The only question is what’s stopping you?