Understanding Influence and the Emergence of Style (Or Getting Back to Work)

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The kids are back to school, which makes easier for me to get fully back to work.  I spent most of the day at the Eastman House in Rochester, NY, looking for images to use for illustrations in my upcoming book with Oxford University Press.

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My book promotes the use of chemical photographic processes in a digital age, using techniques from the beginning of photographic time in today’s photographic world.  The text primarily focuses on “alternative processes” in photography, mostly handmade photographic papers and surfaces.  Part of the text provides history of each of the processes, and I am using photographs from the Eastman House collection to illustrate some of the history discussed in each of the chapters.240264

Finding pictures was a bit like shopping with somebody else’s money.  I found 7 different photographs for my text – and put myself in a better position to finish selected photographs from the collection in the future – photographs by Betty Hahn, Stephen Livick, Frank Gohlke, Adam Fuss, and Abelardo Morell.8908_Gohlke_Landscape_LosAngeles_croppedDeSat

The best part, however, was looking through several boxes of photographs by Frank Gohlke.

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There were two primary boxes of photographs of Frank’s work, and then some random pictures mixed into other boxes and collections.  One of these boxes held pictures dating back to the 1960’s, and stretched into the early to mid 1970’s.  Seeing these pictures was an incredible treat, and I learned a great deal about his work.  The pictures were far from his best, but that is beside the point.

Betty Hahn, "Morning Mum, 1979", brown print with pastels, 1979

Looking at this box of photographs, I was able to see Frank’s style and voice as a photographer emerge.  Back in the day, Frank worked as an assistant to American photographer Paul Caponigro, and then later, in the 1970’s moved towards the documentary style for which he most well known.

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In some of these pictures, you could see Frank imitating Caponigro’s sentimental, mystical style.  And then when first began his studies of the midwestern American landscape, Gohlke continued to work with this rich, abstract style of printing.  Even in these early attempts, however, you could see the ideas forming that eventually became his first notable work, Measure of Emptiness:  Grain Elevators in the American Landscape.fg1

It was all visual learning, and that doesn’t always translate into words.  But trust me, it was a wonderful moment, and a clear opportunity to see an artist learning – really in just a handful of prints.

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And then on my way out, I made a quick visit to the great Lewis Hine exhibition.

 

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