That’s what I wanted to do. Of my three greatest influences, two are painters. Only one is a photographer. Ernst Haas. The painters are pretty well-known. Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe are known even among folks who don’t have much interest in art. Haas is well-known to the older photography community. The younger photographers don’t seem to know or care about the history that brought us to this time.
I started thinking about this as I was reading the catalogue for the exhibition, “Van Gogh & Japan,” being shown now in Amsterdam.
To my eye, what looks complex is very simple. The complexity is built in layers. That’s painting.
I’m a photographer.
Try as I might, I have no talent for actually putting the brush to paper, or canvas. So, I studied Ernst Haas as much as my painting muses. He was a photographer who was represented by Magnum. He worked for Life Magazine. He had advertising clients. He was a “special photographer” on movie sets. That meant that he made a lot of pictures that are not what he would call portfolio work. We all do that in order to pay the bills. Even the great ones.
Haas also published books. Not the self-published, self edited, self designed silliness that seems to be clogging up reader lists. No. Books that were edited and published by professionals. The book that first caught my eye was, “The Creation.” It caught a lot of people’s’ eyes. It showed me what photography could be. It taught me that photography could stand next to the painted works of Van Gogh and O’Keeffe. Those of us who work with cameras, lens and all sorts of mechanical devices didn’t have to be second or third class citizens. I’d just wish that we’d learn to raise our prices like painters do.
More importantly, all of this work taught me that we didn’t have to be documentarians. That we could make images that stood on their own, without an event to back them up. For as long as I’ve known this, I’m finally just starting to understand it.
That is one reason that my “New Orleans culture” productivity has been down. Pictures that more-or-less look the same from year-to-year aren’t fulfilling to me anymore. I come out for those events because I like being with the people. I like talking to my brother and sister photographers. I like talking to the Indians and social clubs. Most of all the rhythm of the music and the street seems to make my hip and back feel much better. If I could figure out a way to make a picture that was more art than documentary I’d stay on the streets for as long as they’ll have me.
This picture. For a distance, this picture looks fairly simple. Just like my three muses work does. Move in closer. The photograph starts looking more complex. More complicated. Very detailed. That’s the positive side of it. There are many negatives. Not the least being the basic subject matter. I made this picture this morning. Because I had to. I’m running out of new work. I don’t seem to be inspired to make new, meaningful work.
I don’t know why.
It’s not a block.A block usually means that you try and can’t. I haven’t really been trying. I can’t find a subject or project that excites me.
Oh well. I know this one truth. Don’t force it. It will come.