Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Thatcher Cook’

Leaning in to wisdom.

In Creativity, Literature, Music, Nature, Philosophy, Photography, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom, Writing on February 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

I’m writing an interview with the photographer Thatcher Cook . He just published his first book, Black Apple.  We’re wrapping it up and in a couple of weeks the interview will be published at Obscura Press.  I’ll let you know when it goes up. Thatcher is a thoughtful and reflective individual. Those interested in the creative life will, I think, appreciate the interview.

I mention this because one of the questions I asked him–Who are your influences?–got me thinking. An artistic or intellectual influence is a profound thing. There is that quote by Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” An influence is a connection to a tradition, like the old-world apprenticeship but perhaps without the hands-on mentoring. I think about the artistic and intellectual influences in my life this way. It seems a fashion of constructing meaning in an otherwise (potentially) vacuous arena. The writing life, the wanderings of the documentary photographer, the hours of studio work the artist puts in, or the musician alone in her room practicing. These are painfully lonely pursuits. If for nothing else, reaching back affords a sense of community.

If you’ve been following these dispatches you know there are a handful writers and thinkers who have left their mark on me, inspired me, who have taught and guided me–and continue to do so.  I think it is good to reflect deeply toward those who have traveled the path before us. I say “reflect deeply toward” and not “reflect deeply upon” for a purpose. It’s only a turn of phrase, but when I think about, say, Henry David Thoreau, or E.B. White, I picture myself leaning into them, listening to them. It is an image that links us, like Plato leaning into the circle as he listens to Socrates at the Agora. This is my teacher. What is he saying? Last summer I spent some time in the north woods of Maine. I was on the trail of Thoreau. I camped at Lilly Bay, a spot he mentions in The Maine Woods. He was my guide and inspiration and it seemed his voice clearer while in his footsteps, as I leaned in.

And there are others. There is Montaigne and Nietzsche for their thoughts, Schubert and Beethoven for their guts, Wallace Stevens for the art of the word and Audubon (and Thoreau) for a life of meaning in nature. E.B. White teaches me the art of the essay (so much to learn) and, more contemporarily, Jim Harrison shows me what a life lived large should look like. My point is, it is important to draw upon wisdom and example deeply if you wish to experience and perhaps build upon what has come before you.

I am getting preachy, and I don’t care for that. I must climb down off this box of soap. To cite one of my mentor influences: But what do I know? (Montaigne)

Writing, Photography and Bliss

In Creativity, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on February 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I’ve read that if you have to write every day, you’re a writer. Conversely, if you are not compelled to write every day, if you don’t have to write every single day, then you’re probably not a writer. I recall seeing somewhere that Tolstoy said the writer, like the musician, must practice every day.

There is a passage in the book On Being A Photographer about Josef Koudelka. One of the authors, Bill Jay, relates that


Josef Koudelka (1983)

Koudelka was visiting him. Koudelka was “shooting pictures around my cabin. I couldn’t understand what he was seeing, as the images seemed to have no connection with his known work. He said ‘I have to shoot three cassettes of film a day, even when not “photographing” in order to keep the eye in practice.’ ” Jay goes on to say, “That made sense.  An athlete has to train every day, although the actual event occurs only occasionally.”

One my photography mentors, Magnum photographer Constantine Manos, a friend of Koudelka’s, told me that Koudelka had once been flown to Paris to accept a prestigious award. He was put up in a fancy hotel, but left it to go sleep on the floor of a friend’s apartment. Koudelka only cares about photography, Manos told me. Everything else is foreign to him.

Funny, Koudelka’s name came up in conversation recently. I was having lunch with my friend, documentary photographer, Thatcher Cook and was bemoaning the winter chill that had set it. It had killed street life in Portland, stalling my Portland project. (Not to mention that some days were so cold I could not feel my shutter to release it.) Thatcher said that Koudelka used the winter months to develop and print what he had previously exposed, presumably in the warmer seasons. I like that idea and find some solace in it, as it keeps the photography spark alive during the dark winter months of less activity. (Another good reason to shoot film!) But, I also know that when Garry Winnogrand died he left behind more than 2500 rolls of unexposed film. Imagine, 100,000 exposures he made but never saw (good reason to shoot digital, eh?).

The point being, photographers shoot. Writers write. Athletes train. Musicians practice. Joseph Campbell famously stated, “Follow your bliss.” It is a luxury, you say? No, if you want to be alive it’s a necessity. Go do what you do. Listen for the drum beat, follow it. Go. Do it.