I have been exploring inspiration, influence and the “masters” of photography for a while now. It all began last week when I went gallery hopping here in LA…
First stop was a big exhibition of Richard Avedon’s work at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. A huge exhibition of prints ranging from actual 6x6 contact prints to 15+ foot prints of some of his most famous images. I spent a good 2 hours looking and plan to return before the exhibition ends in January. So much better in person than any book I’ve ever seen. An I have a LOT of books.
The second stop was Fahey/Klein Gallery on La Brea in LA to see the Von Unwerth exhibition. Her exhibition was good. I am a fan of hers but I felt that the work shown was good but not, in my opinion, her best work. The printing was solid but it didn’t knock my socks off. HOWEVER, in a side room right next to her exhibition was photographic heaven. There were original prints from so many incredible masters that it was easily the most incredible photographic experience I have ever had. They had original works from Newton, Ritts, Bassman, Horst and so many more. Including a signed edition 1 of 14 from his Around the Clock series. Wow. Just wow.
I was thinking about inspiration, influence and the “masters” of photography while in the car (Sitting in traffic in LA. Good time for thinking.) and I discovered a few things that make this clearer for me.
“Pillars” or “masters” is a relative term based on your personal perspective. Some of the traditional “pillars” I find inspiration in and others I don’t. I can often find just as much inspiration on Flickr as I can at a gallery show. It just depends on the images.
I personally don’t look at others work as a “catalogue” but rather a chance to learn. I see images that I like and I try to determine why. I look at light, composition, subject, process and any other detail that I can determine and take away something that I may be able to “see” in the future and have that learning and knowledge as I’m planning or making images of my own. The foundations of great images are the same, light, subject, composition, content, etc., but it is the way that they’re put together that creates greatness. I also strive to have an element that facilitates an emotional response to me as I make them. All of these tools help me see things and hopefully also help with my continuing education of the ART of photography.
“Greatness” to me is seeing work that makes me want to shoot. That keeps me up at night with a vision forming or project to begin. Images that make me see things in a way I hadn’t previously. Not all great photographers are great all of the time. Some are great more often than others. Some are really great but nobody has noticed them yet. That, to me, is the true beauty of photography. To be consistently great is one of the hardest tasks of all. To be original and creative in your perspective is also a big challenge.
All of this comes to the idea of WHY you make photographs. Do you photograph for commercial gain? Do you photograph for your own personal edification or inspiration? There are so many variables to this question to the point that there is no hard and firm answer. Photography is what you want it to be. Photographs are what you make them. Photographs are WHY you make them.
There is a great quote attributed to Jay Maisel that was his reply to a young photographer about advice he has for getting into photography. He said “Quit…if you can”.
I can’t. This feeds me. Pushes my buttons. Makes me think. Inspires me. All of this began with those before us who made good photographs, bad photographs, depressing photographs, inspirational photographs. We all have our road and find the drive and inspiration to travel down that road in different places for different reasons.
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Henri Cartier-Bresson
I have a long way to go…