A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frank’

Oblivious

In Creativity, Photography on March 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

While All About Me

I continue to develop film exposed a year or so ago, discovering pleasant surprises, along the way. As a writer, I know that putting a manuscript away for a while, letting it breath, is a good thing. Coming back to it weeks, months or more later, affords perspective. The same holds for photography, perhaps is true of all creative efforts. (This begs the question, obviously, of how one goes about getting that perspective while working in the immediacy of digital and its instant feedback. But that is another matter.)

So, as I said, I’m developing film I exposed months ago. This image, taken at the Old Port Festival, was made about ten months ago. I made three exposures of this scene. I remember composing it, knew there was a good shot here as I was making it. (In looking at my photographs, no matter how old, no matter how many years ago I pressed the shutter, I remember taking it. It is the only aspect of my memory I truly trust. Susan Sontag said that photography is the single creative discipline where the viewer experiences the perspective of the artist (ouch, that word–artist–makes me flinch). I understand that.)

I like this image for a number of reasons. My aesthetic leans to the complex, reflecting my opinion of the modern existence. That is to say, creative efforts, from literature to photography, are the more satisfying the truer they track (modern) experience. To this end, the panoramic format is my current tool of choice. The panoramic works like the eye, like our experience: It lets in vast amounts of information, giving the viewer the opportunity to scan a scene, of having an experience, not just seeing an image.  That is the first thing. Secondly, given the type of photography I choose to practice, I want to see something of the human experience expressed. “Above all,” said Robert Frank, “I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.” Also, I want depth of field. When the eye looks over a city street or into the window of a crowded cafe, it sees everything in focus. Yes, shallow depth of field can direct the viewer to a subject with precision. But for the photographer of the urban dynamic, the subject matter is everything and everywhere. The image should exact a toll upon the viewer-reader, not letting the eye rest easily. (Again, reflecting modern existence.)

It’s not in my nature to wax on in theory. With respect to visual aesthetics, I tend to either like a thing or not like a thing. I am shallow that way. But after many years, I am slowly beginning to understand why I like a thing, or think otherwise. There is some pleasure in knowing a thing or two truly.

To Transform Awareness…

In Creativity, Family, Memoir, Photography, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Travel, Writers on August 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm

“I recently asked some friends what they would grab from their house if it was on fire and they had only three minutes to escape. This question has intrigued me for some time. I can’t remember when I first thought of it—or maybe it was put to me at a dinner party by a host desperate to get things rolling. Regardless, I am curious about what people find important, and this question speaks directly to the issue. It is, too, I confess, a self-serving question, as I am trying to figure out what is important to me and am hoping someone will help me down that path. Anyway, my friends on this afternoon answered typically. Of the four, three said they would grab the family photographs. The holdout said he’d reach for his guitar. Guitars aside, in my unscientific poll, most people say they would most miss their photographs if all their belongings were irretrievably lost.”

To read the rest of my meditation on photography (among–too?–many other things) and why we take pictures please go to Obscura Press.

…the meaning of doing a thing seriously…

In Creativity, Literature, Music, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on May 16, 2010 at 5:26 am

I was considering an application to grad school last week. I’m 54 and too old (or disinterested?) for school. Maybe. I dropped out of graduate school three times. That was many years ago, when the kids were younger. I think, really, I used them–the kids–as an excuse. Actually, I’m not very good at taking direction. I like to do what I want to do. I’m spoiled that way. And I have authority issues. Graduate school was too confining. But as I was explaining to a friend recently, I’m scattered, I’m all over the place and think some focus would serve me well. He took issue with my logic. He’s a recently retired academic, so he has some perspective. He argued that there are not enough people who simply are curious and pursue their curiosities, wherever they may lead. Academia is good at giving people direction, sometimes too good, he suggested. He has a point. I am a genius at self-imposed discipline. But I am a rebel at other-imposed discipline. I am curious and want to chase my curiosities down the rabbit hole. As I confessed, I’m spoiled that way.

I was saying, I was considering an application for a graduate program and one of the questions asked that I list my influences, intellectual and scholarly influences specifically. It was a good question. It gave me pause. I read a lot and always have. But, as I said, I’m all over the place. As an essayist, I’d have to list Montaigne, E.B. White , and Guy Davenport, as influences. Thinkers include Nietzsche and Thoreau. I’m a photographer too, and in that discipline I consider Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Eugene Smith as top drawer influences. Years ago, I studied classical music and counted Villa-Lobos, Sor and Segovia as influences. No matter the activity, I’ve attempted to recognize who has gone before me and learn from them.

Aside from the list making, the question gives one a chance to think about the meaning of doing a thing seriously–to write, or read, compete, compose, study, invent, discover–and how to measure that activity. If history is a progressive continuum, we are all subject to being measured against it. Has history made itself known personally? If you’re a photographer, whether you realize it or not, you take pictures with an established image-making knowledge. You’re a landscape photographer: Ansel Adams. A journalist: Cartier-Bresson, And so forth for all the disciplines. The application made me take notice of the voices whispering through the fog of the past.

For me, books are the most visual reminder of history’s influences. When I look at my shelves, the names and titles comfort me, like a friend’s hand on my shoulder. Above I used the phrase,  if history is a progressive continuum. When I see books on a shelf, or listen to a Beethoven sonata, history becomes the present, the wafer becomes the body and the wine the blood. If history is a continuum, I am, in these moments, one with it, one with the river in which I am wading. That is the nature of art. That is what makes a thing lasting and the opposite of the ephemeral. The influences of history, when we recognize and manifest them, cease to be passed. They become present. When we embody them, they are the end of history.

“She spent her whole life trying to understand…”

In Books, Life, Literature, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on March 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

My Father

“She spent her whole life trying to understand...” caught my eye. It was a blurb in a New York Time’s obituary. The woman, recently deceased, spent her whole life trying, according to the obit, to understand the problem of poverty. An admirable pursuit, certainly. But what got me was the concept of devotion to an idea as a life-long pursuit. My mother once, many years ago, commented that I like ideas more than I like people. I don’t think it was a compliment. I’m not sure, either, if it is true–but I’m not saying it isn’t. Regardless, the notion of pursuing an idea, a life quest, has always been compelling. Trouble is, I don’t have a nagging singular curiosity. My curiosity is more broad-brush. Or is it?

I’ve been thinking, in this vein, about similarities, if any, between my photography, my reading, my writing and my thinking. Years ago, as an undergrad, I took a class in Joyce. We read Ulysses. Aside from all that suggests–the long sentences, the syntax, the difficulty, the beauty, the song, the brilliance–what I came away with was the understanding that the minutiae of life, observed and rendered by the artist, can be profound. Through the years this notion has only deepened; principally by my reading, Montaigne through Didion, and my study of photography, Cartier-Bresson through Friedlander, and its practice. I think that is why I am drawn to the streets as a photographer. (Or in the case of the image above, the pub. My father at the table, me in the mirror–a brief life moment, profound only in that sense. Or as the Zen Master might say, The world in a single atom.) These moments add up and together they suggest something more. That is why I practice the type of photography I do: I can’t afford to let anything slip by. It is ineffable, if practiced properly.

Which brings me back to the header, She spent her whole life…

I have not spent my life doing one particular thing with concentrated focus. But now, at this place, I see that I have been adding pearls to a strand, as it where. Together, perhaps they will make something beautiful, but that is a high-calling and I’m not sure my ears can pick up that frequency. Instead, I simply desire to stay aware of collecting them, the pearls. That would be good. What would be even better, what would be great, would be to stop collecting and simply stay aware.

Moleskin Notes

In Creativity, Life, Literature, Memoir, Photography, Writing on March 17, 2010 at 8:27 pm
Journals, Diaries, Notebooks

Journals, Diaries, Notebooks

A survey of things I’ve noted:

“I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read me, who I am and where I am and what is on my mind.” ~ Joan Didion, The White Album

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” ~ Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.” ~ George Burns

“Maybe at last, being but a broken man/I must be satisfied with my heart, although/Winter and summer till old age began/My circus animals were all on show./ ~ W.B. Yeats, The Circus Animals’ Desertion (about waning powers)

Robert Frank: he preferred “things that moved.” 767 rolls of film, 27,000 exposures. “The humanity of the moment.”

Waitress: “Pasta, fries, potato salad with your burger?” “Chips?” I ask. “Fries,” she states. “Chips?” I ask again. “FRIES,” she barks. “Fries, it is,” I say.

“It is the only thing we can do, Klauss. I see no alternative. Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.” ~ Etty Hilleson (on her way to her death, at 29, in Auschwitz.)

“There is more to life than increasing it’s speed.” ~ Gandhi

“It’s such a complicated thing to understand what you’re trying to bring out of your own imagination, your own life.” ~ William Kennedy, The Writer’s Chapbook

“Altman never gave up creating his cinematic portraits of people on the margins…if only to shed light on the falsity behind his country’s seemingly indefatigable desperate pursuit of success.” Hilton Als, writing in the The New Yorker (December 2009) of Robert Altman.

“You cannot live when you are untouchable. Life is vulnerability.” ~ Edouard Boubat, 1989

Not for the coffee table.

In Creativity, Photography on February 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

A few weeks ago I ordered some photography books. Not for the coffee table. For the eye. They are:

Robert Doisneau, a Taschen “Icon” series book.

Bernard Plossu, So Long

and two monographs:

Edouard Boubat &

Lee Friedlander

Not a photography book, per se, but I also purchased Clive Scott’s Street Photography, From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. I have not read it yet, but it seems a bit pedantic. Stay tuned. I also reread David Hurn and Bill Jay’s fantastic book, On Being a Photographer. Every photographer should have this on the shelf.

When the books arrived, Carole remarked, “More photography books?” She commented on how big and heavy and thick they are. I said, “If I were a poet, the books I’d study would be small and slim. But I’m a photographer, not a poet.” (I’ve heard it argued, however, that all the artistic disciplines aspire to that of poetry. That seems correct.)

The one I to talk about, because it has been the most thought (eye?) provoking of the group is the Friedlander, properly the Peter Galassi MoMa’s retrospective exhibition book, 2005. Thought provoking because I never much cared for Friedlander’s work, to put it bluntly. Now, though, like so many things in life, I think I didn’t care for it because I didn’t understand it. Not that I “get” Friedlander. At least not everything. Much of his work is Hindemith to  Stravinsky, Pollock to Jasper Johns, if those references make any sense. (Ulysses to Finnegan’s Wake?) I know I don’t get the “landscape” work of the 90s. But here’s another reference that seems to make sense to me. If Cartier-Bresson is Dickens; and Robert Frank is Hemingway; then Friedlander is David Foster Wallace. If you’re not the music or literary type, what I’m trying to say is that Friedlander is an evolution of the discipline in a post-modern sense.

They say that there is nothing extraneous in a Friedlander photograph, which is saying a lot. His most successful work is thick and complex, and not easy. That is largely the late(r) stuff. It’s not as witty, and strikes me as more earnest. But what is to be said about anyone’s work over thirty or forty years? Just the consistency is inspiring.  What I started by saying, that there is nothing extraneous in his photographs, is startling to me–and freeing somehow. It’s as if the (apparent) randomness, at first glance, is to the contrary, order. What a way to look at life! Is that art? I think so.