March 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment
In conjunction with my exhibition Scenes of the American West at the LightRoom Gallery in Berkeley, California, in January and February of 2016, I prepared an artist's statement, set forth below. As a genre, the artist's statement is usually pretty boring. Its primary purpose is to inform the reader that the photographer has been passionate about photography since birth and is inspired by something (nature, flowers, what have you). In my statement I tried to put into words what I am actually trying to accomplish with my photography:
Why black and white? To anyone who started making photographs in the 1960s, black and white is the default setting. Color film, paper, and chemicals were more expensive than their black and white counterparts, and color processing was more difficult. I shot some color transparencies and tried my hand at making color prints, but I always came home to black and white. When the digital revolution came along, I clung to the darkroom, but circumstances forced my hand, and I put my view camera on the shelf and joined the throngs of DSLR-toting tourists crowding the national parks. But I still make black and white photographs. When I click the Photoshop button that turns a color image to black and white, I get a tiny burst of delight. Black and white is the format that nature intended for landscape photographs. It's magical.
Last year I had occasion to reread Tony Hillerman's mystery novels. As Hillerman recounted the adventures of his Navajo detectives, he imbued his stories with the Navajo world view. In his first novel, The Blessing Way, Hillerman described the Navajos' ceremonial chants as “the old songs to the Holy People—not prayers of humility or supplication, and not pleas for forgiveness, but songs which sought nothing but to restore man's harmony with all that was elemental.” It struck me that Hillerman’s description of Navajo chants describes what for me a good photograph should do: it should heighten the viewer's feeling of harmony with the world.
I try to keep my photographs uncomplicated. The Shakers valued simplicity, which was reflected in their spare, unadorned, but elegant furniture. “ 'Tis the gift to be simple,” their song tells us. I try to make photographs the way Shakers would have made photographs if they had had cameras. To that end I try to avoid letting my equipment, my processing, or myself come between the viewer and the subject. Nature has already created the perfect aspen. I cannot do better.
Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, “The world is falling to pieces and all Adams and Weston photograph is rocks and trees.” My view is that you cannot have too many photographs of rocks and trees. That’s what you will find in this exhibit. And cacti, water, and clouds.
Since writing this statement, the world has become uglier. In times like these, I feel the need for art in any form that restores man's harmony with the natural world.
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