Long before cell phones and Instagram, there was something we called photography books. They were books filled with pages of gorgeous photos printed on equally gorgeous paper. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Glenbow Museum in Calgary to view Vivian Maier’s photography. Mainly black and white, the framed photos were massive and expertly printed. Standing in front of each one and absorbing the fine details and appreciating the tones, composition and subject matter is something you really don’t get from looking at art on a tiny screen.
Today I want to share some of the photographers that have shaped me, whether they have helped me define my style or I just appreciate their raw talent. The following are some of the many people I consider the original influencers.
Ansel Adams - An easy choice for a young budding photographer. Adams was the master of black and white photography, his zone system is the standard for black and white printing. Although generally known for his landscape, he also dabbled in some portraiture work as well. He is most famous for his photography of the American West, in particular Yosemite National Park.
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” - Ansel Adams
Dorthea Lange. As part of the photography crew of the Farm Securities Administration, Dorthea documented life during the Great Depression. Her photographs of people tell an intimate story of the hard times during that era. The Migrant Mother is one of my favourite photographs. The look of despair on the woman’s face, the hidden baby in her arms, and the shame of one of her children who buries their face in the mother’s shoulder conveys the suffering faced during Great Depression in a single photograph.
Lange explained the story behind the photograph saying, “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”
Richard Avedon- A fashion and portrait photographer based in New York. His studio portraits are amazing, but I’m particularly fond of his “In The American West” series. He traveled the West shooting on and 8 by 10 view camera portraits of everyday people standing against a plain white background.
“Camera lies all the time. It’s all it does is lie, because when you choose this moment instead of this moment, when you... the moment you’ve made a choice, you’re lying about something larger,” Avedon said. “‘Lying’ is an ugly word. I don’t mean lying. But any artist picks and chooses what they want to paint or write about or say. Photographers are the same.”
Diane Arbus. When I was 18, I met this couple on a beach somewhere in interior BC. We were chatting and I mentioned my goal was to become a photographer. She told me to get a book by a woman named Diane Arbus. I’m glad I took her advice. Arbus worked to normalize marginalized groups and highlight the importance of proper representation of all people.
“My favorite thing is to go where I've never been.”- Diane Arbus
Annie Leibovitz. Due to her celebrity portrait, Leibovitz is one of the more well known photographers in the world. The woman can get people to do exactly what she wants, and the creativity and posing are just exceptional. Her portraits are not what tells a story, instead she creates the story herself.
“One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.” – Annie Leibovitz
Vivian Maier. Maier was late to the photography world. Her personal belongings including her negatives were bought at a Chicago Auction. One of the purchasers John Maloof, scanned a few of the images and soon discovered what a treasure he had. Maier was one of the many photographers who liked to take street photographs. A documentary was made about this called Finding Vivian Maier, and if you haven’t seen it you should.
“We have to make room for other people. It's a wheel – you get on, you go to the end, and someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end, and so on, and somebody else takes their place.- Vivian Maier
These are just a few of the photographers who influenced me during my career. Local photographers like George Webber, Fred Herzog, Steve Simon are photographers whose work I admire and that also show me a different way of thinking. The thing about photography is you never stop learning and seeing. I can see my career winding down at some point, but I may then head into the fine art photography world, as I never really want to stop. I know there are many photographers worldwide who are doing incredible things. Let me know who has influenced you!