Monday, April 29, 2024

More recent books, mainly Avedon

If you've been following along, you know that photography books have been a big part of my reading over the last little while. 

Photographs 1946 2004 by Richard Avedon. Lots of portraits, mostly against a white or neutral background. They're amazing. Some are famous, both people and photos. 

What's funny, is there is a 2 page spread where Richard and Lee (scroll down a bit) photographed each other. The Lee photo of Richard fascinates me. He is posed with his huge (by today's standards) view camera and his three assistants. Other books about photographers mention assistants, but rarely mention their names. I always wonder what happened to the assistant. Do they move on to a job as a Walmart greeter? Become a famous photographer in their own right? Bask in the reflected fame by embarking on a lecture series talking about their time with the photographer? 

And for those wondering, why the heck does a photographer need an assistant, let alone 3 of them, allow me a digression. Take a look at that view camera. It's huge, taking what I believe is an 8 x 10 inch (INCH!!) negative. No older photographer wants to carry that and the required tripod around. Having an assistant deal with the mechanics of preparing the camera and negative, getting the desired focus, and holding reflectors or shades to control the light, allows the photographer to focus on the interaction with the subject. I watched a documentary about one photographer, using a particular camera. They would work with the subject, capturing photo after photo, and then without looking hand the camera to an assistant, who would hand them another camera loaded and ready to go. In the background there were people managing lights, reflectors, fans, hair, makeup, and any other props that might be needed.

It should be noted that during a recent corporate head shot session, even though I'm using a comparatively tiny camera and natural light, found an assistant (hi Michelle!) to be invaluable. She was a second set of eyes to make sure clothing and hair were flattering. It's much less intimidating for the model, especially women, to have someone other than the male photographer arranging hair and clothing, and helping with the poses.

I've gone through this book several times, looking at the portraits, wondering how he did some of them. I aspire to be able to do portraits this good.

Performance, by Richard Avedon. Richard loved theatre. Loved it! He travelled to see specific plays, and sometimes attended multiple performances of the same show. These photos are all of theatre or cinema people, some posed, some informal. Many of them are posed in ways that express their outsized performance personalities. It's a master class on posing, and catching that moment when the subject is perfect.

Self Portrait Photographs by Lee Friedlander. I cannot remember now where I heard about him. While he was an innovative photographer exploring the social landscape, these particular photos didn't do anything for me. I suspect that were he not a famous photographer, nobody would consider the photos to be worthy of any particular notice. Or maybe that's just me being a philistine.

There's a joke in photography circles. How do you become a famous photographer? Answer, become famous in another field, like acting or entertainment, or have the connections to famous people, and then take up photography.

In 1979 he paid Madonna $25 for a photo session before she was famous. One of those images sold for nearly $40K in 2009, and it certainly wouldn't have happened if she was a nobody. I just wonder how much Lee got, and how much the gallery or auction house got. I doubt Madonna got any of it.

Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker. The world isn't as bad as you think. Really. He dives into the way things are now, compared to the past, like health, sustenance, wealth, inequality, peace, safety, terrorism, quality of life, you get the idea. Yes, there are still problems, but it's much, much better than it used to be. 

Cranky old geezers like me can remember people smoking anywhere and everywhere and how disgusting that was, cars being deathtraps where human shish kabob was a common outcome, and only a few channels on a fuzzy TV. Talk to people of my parent's generation, about a time before the polio vaccine or penicillin. Or think of a time just out of living memory, where millions upon millions died in a futile war, and even more from Spanish Flu. We know better now. It wasn't so long ago that we lived in a world where parents could bury half their children, and being pregnant was quite literally a death threat.

It's not exactly an easy read. There's a ton of data and lots of charts. It's hard to express how much better things are now, but he tries. Part of the problem is that if you try to tell someone else about the progress we've made, they often don't believe it. They're too wrapped up in the here and now, and lack a historical context.

Oh, and last thing. Is "SpiesAreUs" reading this? They left a cryptic comment that I'm not sure about. If you're a real person let me know and I'll hit publish. 

Of the Day
Driftwood (NZ)


Film (new)
On the way downtown for the +15 walk.

Michelle X2
This is what happens when you don't keep track of camera orientation between rolls.

The mood I asked her to present is a haughty high paid model between photos, tired, bored, and cold.

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