Posts Tagged ‘Diane Arbus’
The lives of the great photographers can be an inspiration to even the lowliest amateur snap shooter. People have not just dedicated their existence to photography, but have died for it. I’m not suggesting that’s a good idea, but when you know what people have gone through to put their hearts and souls on film it can change your relationship with your camera.
I am suggesting, however, that reading a biography of a legendary photographer is a good idea. Here are four that I’ve read and they’re all wonderful. I can practically guarantee that at some point in the course of reading any of these books, you’re going to want to grab your camera and go take a picture.
I’m old enough to remember the great nature photographer Ansel Adams on TV making Grape Nuts commercials. He was a cuddly, bear of man with a Santa Claus beard, but those were the late years. As a young man he was a wild mountain man of an artist and he changed the way people photograph the outdoors forever. Mary Street Alinder’s Ansel Adams is wonderful. I haven’t looked at an Ansel Adam’s picture since I read the book years ago and not thought about this very real portrait of one of the world’s greatest photographers.
Blood and Champagne, Alex Kershaw’s biography of our greatest war photographer, Robert Capa, is a bigger than life look at a movie star-handsome, dashing, daring man walking hand in hand with death until in finally came to end when he was the first photographer killed in Vietnam in 1954. It’s an absolutely fascinating story.
Diane Arbus was a sensitive woman who began her career as a photographer shooting schlocky fashion layouts for women’s magazines and finished it as an incredibly perceptive artist documenting lives at the fringe of society. It’s a tragic story that has inspired millions of photographers world wide. Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth puts the story in perspective and breaks your heart.
Just Kids by the rock singer Patti Smith tells the story of her relationship with the photographer Robert Maplethorpe. It’s incredibly well-written and actually won the National Book Award. Amazing. This could very well be the best-written of the four books I’ve recommended here.
Even if you’re not interested in the art side of photography, these are all fascinating stories of fascinating people and you can’t go wrong getting lost in their lives and pictures.
You only need to spend a little time with a camera to know what Modell was talking about.
Photography is a two-way street for sure. Everybody can do it and almost nobody can do it. You barely have to read the instruction manual to get a decent picture and you could study the art for decades and never take a truly great one.
It’s the deceptive ease of the medium that keeps toying with your head. Just when you think you got it, it slaps you back down. But it’s also accessible and welcoming to anyone who is willing to look through a viewfinder. It will always be there when you decide to come back to this finicky lover.
Lisette Modell (1901-1982) was a Viennese-born photographer and teacher who spent most of her life living in and photographing New York City. She loved the social commentary created by photographing “the haves and the have nots”. She always told her students—the great Diane Arbus among them, whose career she profoundly influenced—to “photograph from the guts”. Modell is as well-known as an inspirational teacher as she is a photographer.
No wonder Gordon Parks felt like he was just beginning. He must’ve been energized by his own accomplishments. He was some kind of creative Jeffersonian genius. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do.
I love that photography was woven through so much of what he did.—he understood the power of the printed and moving images. He was Jackie Robinson with a camera. He cracked Life Magazine and Hollywood and did it all with a sense of activism.
Parks said that freedom was the theme of all his work; he described it as “Not allowing anyone to set boundaries, cutting loose the imagination and then making the new horizons.” him —Nick Kelsh
Gordon Parks (1912–2006) was a groundbreaking American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, and film director.
He is best remembered for his photo essays for Life Magazine and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft.
A 1948 photo essay on a young Harlem gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life. For twenty years, Parks produced photos of subjects including fashion, sports, Broadway, poverty, racial segregation, and portraits of Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali, and Barbra Streisand. His 1961 photo essay on a poor Brazilian boy who was dying from bronchial pneumonia and malnutrition, brought donations that saved the boy’s life and paid for a new home for his family.
He was the first African-American to work at Life Magazine, and the first to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film. He was profiled in the 1967 documentary, Weapons of Gordon Parks.