One of the great things about being ‘self-taught’ when it comes to art and photography is that it is a choose your own adventure type of experience. I have, and continue, to explore the things that capture my attention. I will go on deep dives into particular areas until I hit the limit of my attention span and then move on to a different topic. That’s the great part. The not so great part is that this approach leaves large areas not just unexplored but untouched.
I recently rediscovered Paul Strand. I say rediscovered because I’ve certainly heard the name before but couldn’t think of a single iconic image of his when his name recently came up in conversation. I thought that I would spend a few moments this week to have a bit of a read and exploration and share a bit of that here. As an aside, the Metropolitan Museum has a good set of essays on the History of Photography, important movements and photographers including Paul Strand.
Strand was born in 1890 and died in 1976 and as such his photographic career spanned almost all of the 20th century. His early work was very much in the mold of his mentor, Edward J. Steichen – pictoralist – focusing on life in the city. Fascinating to realize that this was at the time when the use of cars were on the rise and so it would have been a period of great change.
I was surprised, or rather amazed, at the quality of the reproductions in this book. Digging further I learned that Strand was committed to the print and worked hard to be able develop technical expertise that allowed him to capture images with good tonal range. Learn a little more about Paul Strand in the videos below.
Andy Goldsworthy is a ‘land artist‘, a sculptor who uses the elements of nature as the materials for his sculptures. There seems to be a balance between the permanent works done with stone and the more ephemeral sculptures made with fallen branches, leaves, and ice. Thinking about his more transitory work made me think harder about why I photograph, I’m not sure that I would be happy to see my constructions disappear as the weather changed or the tide changed. Perhaps the change that ensues is part of the process and that seeing how the work develops with time is as satisfying as it was to make in the first place.
It was interesting to see Goldsworthy working in the field and to realize how close to the edge he operates. Many times it seems as though he could be 2/3rds of the way into making a work and it collapses, not once but over and over again. I hardly think that I would have maintained my composure in the face of such frustrations as Goldsworthy manages. Persistence clearly wins the day. Check out the videos below to see what I mean.
I’m intrigued by Thomas Joshua Cooper’s work, made with a 100 year old field camera, particularly that which documents the atlantic basin. In this project Cooper is charting the extremities of the land and islands that surround the Atlantic Ocean. As I understand it each photograph begins as a location that he finds on a map, this is then further researched before the trip which because of the typically remote location often involves difficult journeys by air, sea and land. Once on site Cooper makes only one photograph, the product of a lot of gazing and waiting.
Some of this work is captured in his book ‘True‘ that I’m now waiting for to arrive.
Check out the video of Thomas Joshua Cooper below:
I’ve been trying to understand the key elements of ‘Intimate Landscapes’ – I’m still a long way from them making even vague sense to me – but I am looking at as many photographs as I can in this style and reading as much as I can too. Niall Benvie‘s article in Outdoor Photography about ‘Deconstructed landscapes’. You can find a version of the article on his blog here, certainly worth a read.
I enjoyed the article enough to look up his books and came across Outdoor Photography Masterclass. Against my better judgement, since I’m trying to ween myself off ‘how to’ books, I ordered it and spent last weekend flipping through it. The book is broken up as though it were a 3 day workshop. I haven’t gotten deeply into the specifics of workflow, basic processing etc., – it seems like the usual affair, generally solid advice, perhaps a little dated. A minor quibble for instance – I’m using 8 GB memory cards, shooting raw I get about 280 images per card. I generally delete the out of focus stuff and keep the rest. It’s quite possible for me to have at least 8 GB of images from a morning or evening shoot more than will fit onto the DVD recommended for archiving purposes.
What I really liked were the more thought provoking short essays at the end of each chapter, covering topics such as ‘How Should we Critique Outdoor Photography’ and ‘Creativity, Style & Vision’. I would have been happy to have a book full of these and I’m happy to have bought Outdoor Photography Masterclass for these writings if nothing else.
To find more of Niall’s writings, and I recommend that you do!, a great place to begin with is the blog ‘Images from the Edge‘ that Niall collaborates on with Clay Bolt, Paul Harcourt Davies & Andrew Parkinson. Niall is also a regular contributor to the UK magazine Outdoor Photography. This can be hard to find in the US but is available as an iPad app and well worth having a look. Lots of good stuff to dig into.