Knowing What’s Come Before Us

When I was first starting to look at being an artist/photographer, I was extremely fortunate to develop a friendship with and be mentored by Stephen Shore. Stephen is quite well known now, but when we first connected I was 15 and Stephen was 16. I learned a lot from Stephen about different photographers, photographic art, print quality, cameras and more.

One thing that has stuck in my mind to this day was Stephen’s saying that as artists, it incumbent upon us to know what’s come before. We should know the history of photography up to what’s being done today. We may be influenced by what’s come before us, but we should not copy it, whether consciously or inadvertently.

Stephen and I were both street shooters, so I learned about Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Andre Kertesz and others. With digital photography and the internet, it’s very hard to know all of what’s being done in our field, but the blatant imitation that I keep seeing is disturbing.

What’s more disturbing is that I see jurors not following Stephen’s directive. I find it mind-boggling when blatant imitators constantly win contests. Recently when looking at a distinguished juror’s nature photograph selections I was disturbed to find a photo of the Namib desert. The photo was very striking, like most Namib desert photos I’ve seen, but photographers have been photographing the Namib desert for quite some time. Was this image uniquely different from so many of the others? The same goes for slot canyons. I’m not saying that these locations might not be absolutely fascinating from a viewer’s (let alone a photographer’s) viewpoint. I’m just asking if these images are saying anything that hasn’t been said before.

There are so many great images out there that we’ve never seen. Let’s see more of them.

~ by danbaumbach on February 23, 2014.

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