Category Archives: Inspiration

Memorable Quotes- Jerry Uelsmann & Duane Michals

There are a many thoughtful photographers out there who speak eloquently about their work and photography in general, but few are as inspiring as Jerry Uelsmann and Duane Michals. (I could list more, like Kip Fulbeck, for instance, but will limit myself for now.)

Last month I attended the Society for Photographic Education’s national conference, where 82-year old Uelsmann was a featured speaker. Here are a few of the more memorable things he said:

“I asked an historian, “What IS history?”, and he answered, “History amounts to those things that you choose to remember.”

“The camera is a license to explore.”

“The viewer always completes the image.”

“Art is one of those areas where there is more than one right answer.”

“Once you think you know everything, the questioning stops.”

And perhaps my favorite: “I don’t want this presentation to be a snore-fest with yawn-sauce on the side.”

Michals, who is now 85, was equally entertaining and challenging when I heard him speak at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2000. Here are some of his most memorable lines:

“Do not try to be perfect, please. Perfect is boring. Your humanity lies in your vulnerability.”

“Pay attention to your mind. You put crap in your mind, you get crap in your life. You put good things in your mind, you get good things in your life.”

“I think about thinking.”

“Don’t come crying to me because nothing happened. Nothing happened because you didn’t make it happen.”

“You have 2 choices in life: doing and bullshit. Don’t tell me what you are going to do. Show me what you have done.”

“Guess when you were born? You were born now.”

When golfer Arnold Palmer died in 2016, it was written of him, “People loved him because, in a world of sullen superstars, Palmer radiated joy and delight in the treasures of his life… He had a wonderful time being Arnold Palmer and squeezed every drop of juice from the experience.”
The same can be said about Uelsmann and Michals, both giants of 20th century photography.

Artists I Like- Hiroshi Sugimoto

I was fortunate to have been able to visit Amsterdam, Netherlands, recently, where I saw an unbelievable amount of art. But the first place I visited after arriving was FOAM, the city’s museum of contemporary photography. I discovered that three new shows had opened there only a few days before, and one of them was work by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

I have been familiar with Sugimoto’s work for a long time, but had never had the pleasure of seeing it in person. The experience left me literally speechless, and I know that I will never be able to put into words what it was like.

In summary, the show consisted of pictures from 5 different series that Sugimoto has created over the course of the past few decades. Each series was represented by 5-7 photographs, which was enough to give the viewer an idea of the concept of each. Each series was in its own room so that the viewer could take the work in without it competing with other pictures. Although the size of the prints varied, they were all relatively large. I would guess that the smallest was @ 3ft. by 4 ft. All were framed, covered in non-glare glass, were lit beautifully, and hung on medium-to-dark gray walls.

The effect was mesmerizing. Sugimoto is a technical master, something that is becoming rare in today’s photographic world. But his technical mastery is always in the service of the ideas he has, and these ideas include some of the most basic that photographers can ask (What is the nature of light? How can it be controlled- or not?) as well as some that go far beyond what a lens can record (What is the nature of time?) His approach to photography is spiritual in nature, which is underscored in this interview.

In each series, Sugimoto had me wondering if what I was looking at was real- but “real” in what sense of the word? It didn’t matter if what he photographed was a seascape, electric sparks, wax figures, or museum dioramas. I could look at his pictures for endless hours and always find something new in them, as they cause me to ask questions about what I am seeing. The beauty of it is that I come up with different answers each time.

Seeing his work was sublime, spiritual, mesmerizing. His work is about so much more that the actual objects being photographed. If you ever find yourself near a gallery or museum with his work in it, do not miss it.

 

Acknowledging Influence in Your Art

Teju Cole is a photographer, author, teacher, art historian, and critic. He is one of today’s  most complex, thoughtful and articulate critics of photography, and I always enjoy the articles he writes for the New York Times Magazine.  They are hugely thought-provoking. He recently published a book, Known and Strange Things, which was reviewed by Claudia Rankine in the Sunday New York Times Book Review in August.

In the review, Rankine refers to a section in which Cole has a conversation with writer and critic Aleksandar Hemon. Rankin writes: “Hemon is … interested in what happens when influences are constantly shaping and reshaping the imagination. For Cole, visual artists, especially painters, are least affected by that anxiety of influence and “know that everything is a combination of what’s observed, what’s imagined, what’s overheard and what’s been done before.” He argues that to acknowledge influence is to let go of notions of “literal records of reality” and cultural or racial ownership of content. All Cole wants is to be “dragged down into a space of narrative that I haven’t been in before.””

I love that Cole embraces the notion of artists being influenced by external forces. I know so many artists who shy away from, if not openly fear, the idea that their work might be influenced by someone or something else. Young artists in particular, but older artists, too, often want their work to be born only from themselves. They actively refuse to read about others, to go to museums, to expose themselves to anything outside of the narrow parameters of their own lives as they have lived them to date.

It is deluded to think that we can go through this life not being influenced by something other than ourselves. We don’t live in a vacuum, even when we try to. I don’t think it matters what our influences are as artists. What matters far more is what we do with the influences we have. Do we take that information and create something unique out of it? Or do we use it to rehash what others have already said and done before? I think that the prospect of the latter is what makes people fearful. But if you use that which influences you to create something fresh and new, something that makes people like Cole sit up, pay attention, and say “I haven’t seen that before.”, then there is no reason to fear your influences.