“No one is immune to human contact; Art is not made in a vacuum.” -R. B. Kitaj.
When I was a student at The Art Institute of Seattle my favorite professor, Raymond Gendreau, would paraphrase the above quote during each class. Although I can only speculate on his reasoning for the repetition and whatever his motivation, I am grateful for the wisdom and encouragement.
Inspiration as an artist can come from a variety of sources. As a visual artist its important to be nourished with a steady diet of imagery that is profound, enlightening, and challenges perception. In fact, I would to go as far to say that the habit of digesting quality images regularly will do more to improve your own photographic work then any piece of equipment, editing software, or seminar. We live in a society bombarded with photos. Today Facebook holds tens of billions of images (if not more) most of which lack dynamic composition, proper exposure, and serve only to documenting history. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe all images are of value in one form or another, but most are not created with the skill and depth of purpose that goes into a photographic work of art. Instead I suggest that those that wish to create a masterpiece with a camera surround themselves with as many quality images as possible.
May I suggest a novel concept? (pun intended) Visit a library or a museum today and begin your search for the most wonderful images you can find. If you know nothing about the history of photography these venues are a good place to start searching. If you’re library is closed, pick up an expensive magazine. (Tabliods do not count.) Then, if all else fails, browse the catalogs of images from a high end stock photography agencies like Getty or Corbis. I suggest starting with the classics (libraries and such) to gain a perspective of where photography has been so you can more fully understand where it is going. Below are some of my personal favorite photographers just in case a trip to your local book depository is out of the question today.
W.Eugene Smith was the first photographer I ever fell in love with. He’s been called the father of the photographic essay. Even if he didn’t invent the concept, he surely mastered it. From Smith’s work in Life Magazine I discovered the true story telling potential that a photograph (or series of photographs) can have. Often Smith would dedicate himself to a project for years. His images became the evidence of social injustice and the catalyst for change. He work proves that one person can change the world.
Richard Avedon taught me me to blur the lines between reality and fiction. His portraits of real people speak to the complexity and value of each individual and his work with celebrities granted a level of access few have rivaled. I love his use of white backgrounds. Today his images look as modern as any work being produced.
Vivian Maier, unlike Smith and Avedon, was no public figure. Her personal history is as mysterious as it is well documented. Driven by compulsions that only the soul of an artist can comprehend, Maier documented everything. Most of all I love her ability to “see the light” and I mean that in a literal and non-religious sense of the word. The people and places she photographed immortalized the mundane and beautiful simultaneously.
Joe McNally is the most modern of my inspirations. His blog is a joy to read. I’d happily pay to be his assistant for a day! McNally’s work is more reminiscent of classic paintings then photographs. Light is bent, shaped, and contorted in fabulous ways to lead the viewer on a journey of discovery. His use of texture and place, in my opinion, have shaped most of the current trends in photography. Last year I got to shake his hand during the Seattle stop of his Flash Bus Tour with David Hobby. I have to admit, I actually swooned.
Now I must clarify that in no way am I advocating piracy, copyright infringement, or blatantly reproducing the work of another. Instead I am suggesting you act as a detective and study the “evidence” left behind for the clues you need to make your own vision a reality. I’d love to know who inspires you and why? Please add links and comments about your favorite photographers below.