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Monthly Archives: January 2010

When I began making a list of ten photographers I admire,  I knew who my top handful of photographers were–and I knew that I had more than ten–but the process has led me to an interesting point–none of the photographers so far have been color photographers–and I do have a few more black and white photographers I want to add to my list–but there is a trio of color photographers I admire greatly–Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Richard Misrach.

Stephen Shore Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975

Stephen Shore , Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975

Stephen Shore is best known for work done in the first half of the 1970’s, when I was in high school, during the first Arab Oil shock, and his photographs from Uncommon Places and American Surfaces are full of gas stations, cars, motels and highways–all in lush color, full of memories.  I remember looking at Uncommon Places shortly after it was first published in the 1980’s,  when I was living in Philadelphia, with two plates from Spruce Street, at 20th and 21st streets, a place I passed frequently,  not that much different than other street corners in the city, what was so uncommon about this place?

William Eggleston

William Eggleston

I first saw William Eggleston’s work while an undergraduate in the late 1970’s, viewing a copy of William Eggleston’s Guide with a bold essay by John Szarkowski, and I have to admit that I agreed with the many vocal critics who thought the work was baffling and that Szarkowski’s judgment was  simply wrong.  Now looking at the Guide again, with the perspective of having seen hundreds more photographs by him over the past 30 years, Eggleston’s vision obviously deserves the attention brought to it.  Watching William Eggleston in the Real World made me wonder, though–how much of his success is due to his excessive drinking, and how much is due to his unlimited budget for commercial photo processing? And now that every photographer with a digital camera no longer is constrained by economics,  will his work still interest us decades from now?

Bomb, Destroyed Vehicle and Lone Rock, Bravo 20 Bombing Range, Nevada

Richard Misrach, Bomb, Destroyed Vehicle and Lone Rock, Bravo 20 Bombing Range, Nevada, 1986

Richard Misrach makes my list (the bottom of the list) mostly for his wonderful Bravo 20 work, which proposes turning an unauthorized bombing range into a national park.

In keeping up the spirit of the posts here, I usually try to find some reflection of the artist I admire in my own work.  Weston’s work is sculptural, his prints are full of volumes, shades rendered in order to create sensuous forms (though some have suggested that his peppers are sexier than his nudes…).   What I discover when I look at my own work is precisely the inverse problem–deliberately using a flat surface as a subject, to be rendered as a photographic print–with sometimes surprising results…

Bottle Pack, Tanana River, 1999

Bottle Pack, Tanana River, 1999

Tire, Tanana River, 2007

Tire, Tanana River, 2007

I can’t even say for sure why I think these pictures reference Weston, except I admire his acceptance of subjects and his commitment to finding form, which he described as the strongest way of seeing something…

Edward Weston is one of the classic west coast photographers, but one I still find myself looking at.  Over the past decade, I’ve made several brief visits to the California coast, and the place felt familiar because of Weston’s photographs–the shape of the hills, the coast, the light, and the trees were as Weston described them.  A friend recently gave me a copy of California and the West, with text by Chairs Weston and photographs by Edward Weston describing the travels they did while on the Guggenheim Foundationbetween 1937 and 1939.  The 96 plates in this book are evenly divided between natural scenes and human influenced landscapes, including a dead man and a stunning fully clothed seductive portrait of Charis.

Edward Weston, Vinyard, Clear Lake

While Weston appreciated the natural landscape, his images of farms, orchards, roads, and towns also reveal a respect for the designs that man places on the land.  His images offer hope that the earth might be beautiful even in places where there are people.

Weston also managed to make photographs that resonate on multiple levels.  One of my favorite images is “Tide Pool, Point Lobos, 1945”, an image that includes a dead floating pelican.

Edward Weston, Tide Pool, Point Lobos, 1945

When Weston made this image, he was approaching 60, and perhaps already beginning to feel the effects of Parkinson’s that would eventually force him to stop photographing and then kill him.  But this photograph is made with a calmness and clarity, an acceptance of death and beauty as both integral parts of the picture.