I thought that I would continue my exploration of Urban Sketchers today with Phil Dean, known as The Shoreditch Sketcher on Instagram . By the very nature – Urban – it’s a little outside of what I would consider to be my subject area but I enjoy the images and the process of making them.
I wanted to learn more about how Phil approaches his drawing and hopefully learn something that could help my drawing or photography so I purchased his book ‘Urban Drawing: Sketch Club’. The book provides an excellent tour of materials, how to get started and etiquette for working on the street. Then moves on to a series of lessons and associated exercises covering topics such as composition, perspective, contrast, tone, people and adding color.
I enjoyed Phil’s prompts for subjects with sketching potential: Your environment while you’re traveling; mundanity, locals sitting drinking coffee, students doing their laundry, a dog sitting under a table; architectural mayhem, architecture that tells the story of the city, contrasts of old and new and of course vistas.
The appeal to me of drawing over photography is being able to be selective about what you include in the scene or indeed move things around to suit your composition and intent. Interesting to hear Phil talk about this and that he doesn’t really do that and was shocked when one of his students moved subjects around in her composition. Where do you stand on this?
The discussion of perspective, which of course comes up in almost every book on drawing, has me thinking about how I use perspective or view point to tell the story or add depth and interest to a scene. More on this topic in the future once it has had time to percolate.
I’m continuing to dig deeper into the work of some of the photographers that were part of the New Topographics exhibition curated by William Jenkins in 1975. These were a group of photographers working to find ‘beauty in the banal’, making ‘photographs of a man-altered landscape’. In many ways it’s easy to dismiss this work as having a ‘snap-shot’ aesthetic and for some of this work I really struggle to connect with it. This week’s project has been Stephen Shore. If you read his biography one of the first things that is pointed out is that he sold his first photographs at age 14 to Alfred Steiglitz and that at 24 was only the second living photographer to have a solo show at the MoMA.
His work in the New Topographics exhibition was in color whereas the other 7 photographers were shooting in black and white. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that at that time in the early ’70’s shooting in color was not what you did if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Color was okay for magazines but not for ‘art’. Perhaps this further adds to the sense of these photographs being snapshots. In looking over this work and some of the subsequent work that arose out of these early projects I can’t help but think that this would be a great instagram feed and indeed you can find Stephen Shore on Instagram although I was surprised to find that I don’t connect with these photographs in the way that I do with the images in his books.
I often feel like I’m missing the joke when I look at contemporary photography and so it’s been useful for me to listen to Shore talk about his work in the videos below and lift the veil, at least a little.
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.