Friday, August 13, 2010

Recent Reading

Recently I watched the BBC series, "The Genius of Photography", an excellent potted history of the different movements and debates in the history of photography.  The series takes a very "art" driven view, with limited discussion of technology and technique, an ideal companion to the OCA courses.  Although clearly not totally comprehensive the DVD's yielded much food for thought and exposed me to  number of historic and contemporary artists.  The latter part of the series looked at Street Photography and the work of photographers such as Stephen Shore, Robert Frank, and Martin Parr.

The deadpan style of Parr and Shore intrigue and excite me, but I need time to think about their work and place it in the context of my own interests.  Of immediate interest, however, were the on screen interviews with Joel Meyerowitz, and these inspired me to obtain a copy of "Joel Meyerowitz" by Colin Westerbeck.  I was first exposed to a photograph by Meyerowitz in "The Photograph" by Graham Clarke, the textbook for my first course the Art of Photography.  My reaction then was a lack of understanding of how to even look at this image of a busy New York Street packed with colour, shadow and multiple people (Broadway and West 46th Street, New York, 1976).  Now when I look at the image I find I am looking at it differently, enjoying the complex layering and the splash of colour - this is also helped by the far superior reproduction (in the textbook much of the photo was black due to poor printing, losing much of the detail of the image).  The photograph in question is #42 in the book below.

Meyerowitz's work attracts me because it is suffused with a gentle sense of humour and whilst many photographs are quite personal they rarely appear to be intrusive, as perhaps Winogrand can be.  The use of colour is also appealing and unusual for the time most of the photographs were made.  In the 60's and 70's the prevailing view was still that art photography was Black & White, which seems strange to me now.  How can anyone state so emphatically what is and is not art?  He still uses much B&W in the images in the book, the reason seeming to be that B&W provided control over the capture to final print process whilst colour required use of a 3rd party lab.  The B&W images , however, seemed rather flat to me especially in contrast to the vivid saturation of the colour images.  My preference in B&W is more for the stark contrast that WeeGee created with his flash or that Avedon achieves even with natural light.

His move to use of 8x10 view cameras for later colour work to ensure quality and detail was also an interesting move for someone who is ostensibly a street photographer.  What is remarkable is that many of the 8x10 prints still retain the feel of street photography, capture of what is found rather than looked for.  Both the choice of B&W or colour with a view finder camera were made for reasons of quality and control.  This leads me to wonder where Digital Colour sits in modern art photography, it offers great control and potential for experimentation, however, the 35mm or smaller framing will never deliver the quality that an 8x10 negative can achieve.  I do not even want to consider what an 8x10 Digital back would cost even if it could be made! 

The key impression I have from his work is the observation of the world around him and his ability to see and capture the odd little episodes in everyday life.

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