Sunday, June 01, 2008

Leibovitz, Nachtwey and more

This has been a good and busy year for me. But in my spare time, I have been trying to educate myself. In fact it feels like I put the cart before the horse. I learned the practice of photography before learning the history and theory. I am not sure how useful art critique theory is to me, but listening to great photographers talk about their process and thoughts, is very interesting and insightful to me.

I have heard some not so nice things about Annie Leibovitz, with regards to her work and personality. But she has taken some of the most iconic images of our collective memory. I missed the screening of her documentary at the Singapore Film Festival, but managed to get a copy of the DVD off Ebay.

American Masters . Annie Leibovitz | PBS

What is striking for me is that Leibovitz has an early history of image making. Her parents were constantly taking photographs of the family and making videos. She started working for the Rolling Stones magazine when it first started and they kind of grew up together. Leibovitz's style then was more photo journalistic. And then her work became much more stylised with Vanity Fair and Vogue. And then she met Susan Sontag and became lovers. And she was urged by Sontag to add depth to her work. I think it is interesting that Leibovitz is able to conceptualize and orchestrate iconic magazine covers, but the work that she highlights in her latest collection, A Photographer's Life, a large portion of it is personal, of her family and Susan Sontag. There are also iconic portraits and images, but loads of real personal stuff. And I think this is what makes her a great photographer. The ability to be a superb craftswoman, and the concurrent ability to be human. I love this concurrence in Avedon, Penn, Watson and Elledge.

Another documentary I watched was War Photographer. I don't know why everyone says that James Nachtwey is boring. I know he speaks deliberately, but I think his intensity is compelling. I admire his courage and determination to bring to light all the atrocities from around this world. Above all, I admire his humanity, his desire to bring to the consciousness of people caught up in the Capitalist consumer society, the suffering of others. I personally could never do the type of war photographer work. But I am shamed by the superficiality of my own work. I want to work on projects that has more social consciousness. Pretty is not good enough.

I find it hard to reconcile the various parts of my photography. I shoot corporate portraits to pay the bills. I love beauty and make images that are basically eye candy. And I want to make images that speak about the human existence. I am not smart enough to reconcile these needs. I will try and do them all.

I am also reading Dialogue with Photography - Interviews By Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper. So much insight by so many great photographers. The photographers interviewed do tend to be contemporaries or are influenced by Alfred Stieglitz. This idea of equivalence keeps cropping up. I have never heard of it before. But here is an interesting introduction. Stieglitz actually had a series called Equivalent.

And I just bought Edward Weston's nudes. A beautiful book. But what struck me is that such a giant in photography was actually poor most of his life. Apparently, Ansel Adams was not rich either. Once again I have to remind myself that photographic excellence does not equal financial wealth. My own personal strongest work, has little or no financial value. At least not now.

I feel that there is so much to learn and absorb. There is so little time. It is so easy to take a picture nowadays. Our cameras are so powerful. But it is so hard to make a worthy image.

1 comment:

Jules said...

That, is how i feel, especially now, holding G9 in my hands. Tiny box, tinier person. You go boy. :)