Determination or Selfishness?

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

“Depth of Field”; © Ian Poole, Vancouver 2016

At a time of the year when considered wisdom would be to produce an opinion piece about planning, goal setting and collation of ideas, it was a chance encounter at a great photographic exhibition that generated alternate thought processes.

The Vancouver Art Gallery presented Walker Evans – Depth of Field.   Co-organised by the Josef Albers Museum Quaddrat in Germany and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; in collaboration with the Vancouver Art Gallery, the exhibition featured more than 200 black and white and colour prints.  The photographs had been curated from many worldwide sources and was a comprehensive survey of Evans’ output.  Exhilarating to view on every level, including the contemporary digital prints hanging happily side by side with vintage gelatin photographs.

But it was whilst digging deeper into Evans’ background that his determination was clearly on show.  His troubled relationship with Roy Stryker, head of the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration, (FSA)  was a case of two determined men butting heads.  In a sense, the FSA gave Evans the opportunity to create some of his best images and Evans gave the FSA some of their best images.  His ex-wife Isabelle Storey describes him as shallow, selfish and heartless.  Evans described Edward Steichen’s major work The Family of Man as overrated sentimental rubbish.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 10.39.03 AM

Robert Frank’s Stove; © Walker Evans, 1971

Yet one of the gentle lyrical photographs from the Vancouver exhibition was titled Robert Frank’s Stove, which would indicate that Evans and Frank were close friends late in Evan’s life.

Pablo Picasso’s seven female muses were but the tip of the iceberg of a self-indulgent lifestyle that he required to maintain his artistic output.  Picasso is famous for telling one of his mistresses, Françoise Gilot in 1943, that ‘…for me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats’.

This politically incorrect behaviour is not uncommon in the art world.

The photographer Tina Modotti managed to, eventually, reverse the male sexist treatment of female partners.  But it was only after a six year relationship with Edward Weston that Modotti was able to pursue a similar life style.  Although she made no attempt to describe her male partners as her muses.

Edward Weston managed to come close to the Picasso style with his string of models and muses whilst married to Flora May Chandler.  His four sons with Flora, included Brett, who would go on to become both his father’s assistant and eventually the protector of the Edward Weston legacy.  Brett went on to marry and divorce four times.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 11.00.01 AM

Charis Wilson; © Edward Weston

Other than Modotti, Edward Weston’s most famous mistress/muse/model was Charis Wilson, eventually marrying her in 1939 and then divorcing in 1946.  The relationship produced some of Weston’s most recognised photographs.  Creatively the process worked for Weston but there is little documentation to say whether the relationship was as productive or rewarding for Wilson.

Garry Winogrand, despite being married twice, was not so much a womaniser as a driven photographer.  His photographic legacy on death was 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, 6,500 rolls of developed but not proofed exposures, and about 3,000 rolls only realised as far as contact sheets being made.  His feeling was that photography was all about creating (exposing) the image and the post-production was of little interest to him.  Winogrand taught briefly at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in the early 1970s, but this period in academia was driven more by financial necessity than a desire to mentor students.  His clear aim was to continue to create photographs.

It is this mission that drives many artists, in every art form and therefore including photography, and delineates the character mores of these people.  For some of them it is a dogged determination to succeed, but it is at all times tinged with more than a touch of selfishness.

Dare we call that apparent selfishness the mark of a great artist?

Or is that too long a bow to draw?


Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 3.09.22 PMThis essay first appeared in
February 2017 edition of
f11::for photographers and aficionados,
page 160.

Walker Evans – “Depth of Field”

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

Vancouver Art Gallery #1; © Ian Poole, Canada, 2017.

In my thought processes, the photographic output of Walker Evans (1903-75) was over-shadowed by the mid twentieth century photographers Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander;  the Farm Security Administration (FSA) members like Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, and Gordon Parks.  Whilst Australian heroes in Dr Michael Coyne and Tim Page piqued my visual interest.  The paucity of names on this list is a clear indication of my lack of knowledge of the genre.

Today I expanded that knowledge by a quantum of 100%!  Whilst others in my travel group were heading to Whistler for skiing – I was aiming to catch the final days of this block buster exhibition Walker Evans – Depth of Field at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  I was not disappointed.  Gathered with the skill that only a good curator possesses, from a multitude of sources, this exhibition documented some of Evans earliest work right through to his late output using Polaroid materials.  Colour even!

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-7-26-26-pm

Road Side Stand near Birmingham Alabama, 1936; © Walker Evans

I got to see personal favourites (the old reliable house mover) and discovered many new and ironic photographs (damaged).

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-7-27-30-pm

Truck and Sign; © Walker Evans, 1929-30.

These further fed my interest.  Of the monochrome photographs, there was a delightful mix of gelatin silver prints (both vintage and later printed) and ink jet.  The difference of printing techniques was never a consideration, such was the quality of both old and new.  The viewer concentrated on content not on technique.  I suspect even Evans would have approved.

dscf2960_blog

Robert Frank’s Stove, Cape Breton Island; © Walker Evans, 1971

Another intriguing find was a photograph of Robert Frank’s stove.  Such a personal insight into Frank’s personal space seems to indicate that the two great photographers had a knowledge of each other (albeit late in Evan’s life).

Evans trip to Cuba produced some delightful photographs including another of my personal favourites.  It was a joy to see three variants, including a large inkjet print, all side by side for the viewer’s pleasure.

Such curatorship is wonderful when it is carefully crafted to seduce and educate the viewer.

 

dscf2995_aaa_blog

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-42-50-pm

Citizen of Downtown Havana; © Walker Evans, 1933

A pleasant gallery interlude and totally worth a trip around the world to view.  Thank you Vancouver Art Gallery.

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

Vancouver Art Gallery #2; © Ian Poole, Canada, 2017.

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

Vancouver Art Gallery #3; © Ian Poole, Canada 2017.


 

 

 

 

Previsualisation

A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera…’ – Dorothea Lange

How could an early twentieth-century photographer be so aware and conscious of the power of photography without possessing any of the knowledge we now have at our fingertips, in our case thanks largely to the information age of the internet?

Lange was from that famous school of American documentary photographers during the early twentieth century which included, amongst many others, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, James Nachtwey, W. Eugene Smith, Nan Goldin and Mary Ellen Mark.

Seeing without a camera is also described as pre-visualisation. Ansel Adams was a great proponent of getting the image clear in his head before exposing a sheet of film.  There might have been monetary constraints behind such a process, but I like to think it was then, and still is now, all about searching and finding the photograph before letting the camera perform its very mechanical and technical thing, the job of making an exposure.

At this time of the year when the photography calendar has started with the WPPI convention in Las Vegas now completed, the various Australian state professional awards commenced, nominations for entries into the New Zealand professional awards having been called, and mumblings already starting about the Australian awards later in the year; discussion is rife about creativity, and the creation of great photographs.

Whilst some photographers maintain that a good photograph can be created via careful post-production of an image (either digitally or in the darkroom) I am strongly of the opinion that great images have their genesis in a process involving careful thought.  That superb reaction shot taken by a wedding or documentary photographer is more than just the tangible evidence of good reflexes, it is the sum total of years of experience, of getting into the right position, of thinking about new angles or approaches and having the presence of mind to be ready for the unexpected.  Luck plays very little part in it.

Migrant Mother

Migrant Mother; © Dorothea Lange, 1936

The power of Lange’s photographs is as strong and compelling today as they were when she worked for the US Farm Security Administration and created the iconic photograph, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936).  This image has little to do with technique and a lot to do with the gentle but determined desire of the photographer to observe and then capture a scene that she felt needed to be seen by a wider audience.

The focal length of her lens, her choice of film type, or the length of time it spent in the developer are rendered irrelevant by the choice of angle, the humanity contained in the eyes of the subject, a poverty-stricken mother, and the fact that her children, huddled in their tent do not make face contact with the camera.  Their eyes are unseen.  The power of the back story to this photo is compelling but it is the photo that takes you to that place in an unwavering way.

Whilst I now own up to looking for more books about photographs than I do for books of photographs, it was through my early career period spent studying photographs that I started preparing my eyes for seeing without a camera.  This was a difficult period because I was hooked on the mechanical process of creating photographs.

A period of time we all must pass through in order to reach the other side, I hasten to add!

But it slowly dawned on me (cheerfully admitting to being one of the world’s tardiest learners) that the content, the construction, and the creation of the photograph was more important than the delivery of the image.

This applies equally to the commercial image sold for money, and the fine art print created for aesthetic and stylish reasons.

The brain behind the eye behind the viewfinder is more powerful than any of the metrics we use to measure the calibre, quality or resolving power of the lens.

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

Outside Portrait Gallery; © Ian Poole, London, 2016.


Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 6.10.45 pmThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp156, issue 53 :: April, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 


 

New Books in the Library

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

Author’s Hand; © Ian Poole, Christchurch, 2015.

Whilst my photographic library is now consisting of more books containing words about photographs, than photographs themselves; it is with some excitement that I note two new additions made over the past couple of days.

DSCF0497_Doc2_BW_blog

Doc Ross Signs his Book; © Ian Poole, Christchurch, 2015.

On my final night of a short visit to New Zealand Louise and I were invited to dine at the home of local wedding/portrait photographers Johannes van Kan and Jo Grams.  Also sharing a delicious meal were photographer Doc Ross and his wife Liz.  Whilst the purpose of the evening was convivial company, animated discussion about photography and sharing some great wines (New Zealand, American and Spanish), my selfish reason for attending was to take delivery of edition #1 of Ross’ latest book – Fragments of Other Peoples Lives.

Doc-Ross-Christchurch-Photographer

Johannes van Kan; © Doc Ross, Christchurch, 2015

Documenting a two month stay in London last year, this set of photographs illustrates the people inhabiting the streets that Ross observed.  Working in a style that is reminiscent of Garry Winogrand, these self-printed, self-published monochrome photographs present an unobtrusive observation of what was happening around him.  There is no confrontation from his subjects and it is almost as though Ross is invisible – no mean feat in this much more alert and aware twenty-first century.

DSCF0500_IDP_BW_Blog

Yours Truly (+ Wine); © Doc Ross, Christchurch, 2015.

Whilst still coming to grips with my new camera (see New Landscape, New Camera, Same Old Eyes), it was an opportunity to work the 56mm f1.2 lens doing what it was designed for – portraits.  All the photographers got a chance to play.

I mentioned two books to add to the Library.  The purpose of my New Zealand visit was to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Queenstown Centre of Creative Photography.  It was here that I was offered a new copy of Gregory Heisler’s epic volume 50 Portraits.  This volume is to contemporary portrait photography what One Mind’s Eye by Arnold Newman was to mid Twentieth Century portrait photography.  Newman had been my mentor in my early photographic years and after seeing Heisler speak in Brisbane many years ago and again in New Zealand last year, he had become my current portrait mentor.

A great night, with superb food and wine and superlative company.

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer.

Doc Ross, Christchurch Photographer; © Ian Poole, 2015.

 

A Review

Ian_Poole_Soho_Moment

Soho Moment; © Ian Poole, Brisbane 2014.

A simple request to a photographer friend has led to a recent photograph of mine being given an incisive review; accompanied by a passionate essay on documentary photography.  Tony Bridge is a Kiwi, based in the South Island of New Zealand.

Tony has offered two of his photographs for me to analyse.  This is a rare treat.

Brisbane #2; © Tony Bridge

Brisbane #2; © Tony Bridge, New Zealand.

Garry Winogrand on 5th Avenue; Jonathan Brand, 1967

Garry Winogrand on 5th Avenue; © Jonathan Brand, 1967

By my own admission, I am not an experienced street or documentary photographer and instead of the expected landscape shot to critique, Bridge has supplied two documentary photographs.  Additionally, they are not taken in the verdant rolling hills of Central Otago, but have been shot in the centre of my home town, Brisbane!

Los Angeles International Airport, 1964

Los Angeles International Airport; © Garry Winogrand, 1964

In the rare photograph showing the great documentary photographer Garry Winogrand taken by Jonathan Brand, there is a hint of the style that is replicated in Bridge’s photograph.  With Winogrand still in the centre of the frame and surrounded by swinging arms and disembodied pedestrians, Bridge has a still billboard surrounded by disembodied pedestrians and a swinging arm.  It is Bridge’s use of colour that brings a slightly more contemporary feel to the photograph as opposed to the monochrome of Winogrand and Brand.  Whilst Winogrand does not always stay as the dispassionate observer (as he does in Los Angeles Airport, 1964), on this occasion Bridge also takes the distanced observer role.

It was Bridge’s second photograph that attracted me.

Firstly I recognised an iconic corner within the Brisbane city mall, and it was in monochrome.

Brisbane-1

Brisbane #1; © Tony Bridge, New Zealand

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 5.00.58 PM

© Garry Winogrand.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 5.01.32 PM

John F. Kennedy Space Center; Garry Winogrand.

Whilst the dominant figure has just caught the probing eye of  Bridge’s camera, it is the striding gait of the legs of the other participants in this city tableau that works for me.  There is a dynamic tension that runs through each and every set of legs recorded in the photograph.  They are all walking with a purpose and the photographer is an irrelevance in his recording of the scene.  Winogrand almost achieves the same in this illustration where, despite the piercing glare of the beggar and the disinterested nonchalance of the returned serviceman, the rest of the participants in this tableau are preoccupied with their own business.

In John F. Kennedy Space Center, Winogrand has captured that same dynamic tension of all the eyes focused towards the launch and the solitary figure facing in the opposite direction with strongly splayed legs mimicking the man to her right.  Winogrand’s moment is almost decisive!

I must defer to Tony Bridge in his ability to document the human condition out on the street.  It takes a rare skill to engage and confront strangers in the public domain.   Probabily even more so in these politically correct times.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 5.14.40 PM

From the Aotearoa Series; © Tony Bridge.

Mind you this was what I was expecting when we agreed to this little cross review challenge –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of Heros

A recent visit to some major art galleries enabled me to put into practice a long held conviction that viewing the originals of much loved artworks is important to understanding their value as classic images.

Whilst my interest lies strongly in photographic images, I am also very conscious of the motivating power that other genres of art hold over photographers.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 3.25.08 PM

The Persistence of Memory; © Salvador Dali, 1931. Courtesy of MoMA, New York

A recent visit to New York gave me an opportunity to view art works ranging from Salvador Dali to Garry Winogrand, from Ansel Adams to Matisse, Manet and on to Monet. To my amazement I found that Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, (more commonly known as The Melting Watches) is quite small – 24.1x33cm!

Having documented the human form over many years I was delighted to view Auguste Belloc’s 1858 Nude first hand at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  This small albumen silver print is more delicate showing rich detail, when seen first hand, than is apparent from reproductions in books or on-line.  What can be gleaned from this photograph by contemporary photographers is the tone and colour that sepia can deliver as opposed to the sickly yellow shade conjured up by inexpert software manipulation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 3.46.10 PM

Edith Sitwell; © Cecil Beaton, 1927. Courtesy of MoMA, New York

Cecil Beaton’s 1927 portrait of Edith Sitwell is a masterstroke of rule breaking and quality monochrome printing – showing that a well printed image can still be alive over 85 years later.

Staying with portraits, the penetrating stare of Carl Hoefert, unemployed black jack dealer, Reno, Nevada, August 30, 1983 delivers the power, the quality, and the dominating presence that is the trade mark of the large format, monochromatic skills of Richard Avedon.  It also demonstrates the descriptive power of a title!

The concept of a middle-aged, scarred, corpulent, white, anglo-saxon male doing nude self-portraits resonated with me in a totally unexpected manner.  John Coplans’ Untitled Study for Self-Portrait (Upside Down no. 6) was a confronting monochromatic tryptych of large format Polaroid prints. The vertical construction was unusual, but created a strong and valid story.  This turned the sexist attitude to photographs of the nude on its head – figuratively!

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.29.47 AM

Images de Deauville; © Paul Outerbridge, 1936. Courtesy of MoMA, New York.

A complete change of pace brought me in front of Paul Outerbridge’s 1936 colour photograph Images de Deauville.  This tri-colour carbro print is large, (40×31.1cm) complex, and was one of the first abstract images that I struggled with early in my photographic career.  The interplay of soft colour, conflicting shapes and deliberate shadows, illustrated how sophisticated it was to create a striking visual image using many of the objects used in old-fashioned first year photography classes teaching light and shade.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 3.39.48 PM

The Empire of Light, II; © Rene Magritte, 1950. Courtesy of MoMA, New York

The Empire of Light, II; by Rene Magritte was a strong indicator of how close artists and photographers can be.  This almost photo realist painting would not be out of place in a photographer’s portfolio if it had been created within a camera.  I was struck, yet again and for the umpteenth time, by how important it is for photographers to be aware of great paintings and great artists in order to have the widest illustrative frame of reference possible.

The thrust of this essay is the importance of being aware of the original physical manifestation of the photograph (or painting of course) as opposed to a digital or printed illustration.  And yes, I do recognise the apparent contradiction of including links to the online digital manifestations of the images referred to in this article!

I had to go to New York to re-discover this obvious fact, but you can do the same by looking for original photographs of admired work within your community.  We all have access to galleries, museums and even libraries that hold original photographic pieces.  Make a point of seeking them out and studying their nuances and details.

Then plan a bucket list trip to one of the great galleries of the world and seek out some photographic heroes.  I did – and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Bon voyage!

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.42.16 AMThis essay was first published in f11 :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS AND AFICIONADOS  (August 2014, page 137)  image001

 

BIFB – 120 Photographs and 120 Unnamed Photographers

John-Bodin-Melbourne-Photographer

Shrouded Series; © John Bodin, Melbourne, 2009.

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) has a wonderful idea each year to raise funds.  It invites a group of photographers to supply a digital file and backed by great supporters like Eleven40 Studio/Gallery, Kayell Australia, Epson and Blurb, print (on fabulous Canson Rag Photographic 310gsm Archival Fine Arts Papers, with an Epson Stylus 9900 using Epson Archival Pigment Inks) and hang an anonymous show that is then sold via a pre-purchased red dot scheme.  This amazing piece of complex planning, with huge support from photographers and suppliers, provides a much needed cash injection into the running of BIFB.

From my point of view it enables me to support an Institution that I wholeheartedly endorse, and for a small outlay, I can add to my photographic collection.

This year I have added to the Poole Collection with a piece by a friend whose output does not yet grace my walls.  John Bodin is a Melbourne based advertising photographer whose fine art photography is perceptive, intuitive and creative.  It will be a joy to have this image framed and promptly hung in my collection.

All the submitted photographs and their authors are listed on the Eleven40 Studio/Gallery site – http://eleven40.com.au/photography-exhibitions/bifb-collection-2014.html.  A quick glance at the list will show some of Australia’s better known names.  You will be sorry if you were not part of the red-dot process.  Oh well, there is always next year.

Michael Prior and Jeff Moorfoot

Michael Prior (Photography Collector) and Jeff Moorfoot (BIFB Creative Director)

I should declare that my new best friend, Michael Prior, is now the owner of a Poole original.  We have not yet met, but I will attempt to remedy that in the near future.  Michael is a Melbourne based photographer who was exhibited at 2013 BIFB.  I show him here with BIFB Creative Director Jeff Moorfoot.

For his trouble (and investment) Michael will receive a newly created work that was a result of visiting the Garry Winogrand Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a recent trip to New York.  For me it was one of those transformative moments when what I had read about, finally made total sense to me.  Winogrand had been one of the photographers whose work I would show to students as an example of what could be done by a photographer and a camera and a clear eye.  No complex sets, expensive lighting rigs or esoteric cameras.

Let’s hope Michael enjoys owning this photograph as much as I did in taking it.

Ian-Poole-7220-3aaa_email

Soho Moment; © Ian Poole, New York, 2014.

BIFB Collection 2014

Proof Positive; © Glenn Gibson, Melbourne, 2014