Who would you be if you could be any photographer?
Most of us do other things, and use photography for recreation, or part of recreation anyway. But if you were free to do what you wanted full time, who would you want to be like?
Recently I've been thinking about the distinction between artists who are completely "other," outside of ourselves, and artists we incorporate into our own egos somehow, even our own fantasy lives.
I think you could do the same with athletes or actors or any other class of prominent people in any field you engage with. For white males of a certain age, the fantasy of being a "guitar god"—even if you don't play guitar(!)—is an example of the latter sort of ego-involvement. Big fans of certain sports probably indulge in fantasizing about being stars in those sports. Personally I don't think I've ever once fantasized about being a football player! I know my limits.
It seems to me I have a lot of photographers I appreciate or admire but don't at all want to emulate...and then there are just a few who I identify with more closely. As a critic I like to think I have a generous capacity for understanding and appreciation of a wide variety of practitioners. But there are a lot of people I appreciate who I wouldn't want to be. I know I've said on this blog before that I wanted to "be" Henry Wessel, a photographer whose actual accomplishment syncs with the way I like to work and who gets the kind of results I tend to look for. I've felt that my affection for Josef Koudelka—including his uncompromising principles—is something more than just appreciation. There's a bit of hero-worship mixed in, if I'm honest.
I used to be pretty clear about who I identified with—35mm B&W photographers of found scenes and real places. I could make a list. Now that everything's changed so much, I'm not so certain that holds true any more. But who would it be now?
Idle question, I guess.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jim Mooney: "You make an important point here. It took me a long time to realize that photographs I like to look at aren't necessarily the kind I want to take. That was a transformative discovery for me. To answer the question it would have to be Edouard Boubat."
Steve Biro: "Motorsports photographer Pete Biro (alas, no relation that I know of)."
Speed: "Easy. Pete Souza. For several years I have been making photographs for a non-profit. This has allowed me to be a 'fly on the wall' for their day-to-day work as well as events and...I really enjoy it...and...I think I'm pretty good at it. I used to think I wanted to be Iwan Baan or Tim Griffith. Travel. Lots of expensive equipment. Art. Recognition. Now my second choice."
Alex Buisse: "I only had to think about it for a few seconds to realize it would be Sebastiao Salgado. An incredible life at the center of many of the key issues of our time, and the commitment and support (especially from his wife) to go out for years at a time, pursuing a single story. Also, some of the most exquisite photographs. He is my hero."
Dogman: "Not that it's always great to be me but I guess I'm pretty satisfied within my own skin. I can't really think of anyone else I would rather be."
Geoff Wittig: "For me it might be Richard W. Brown. He moved to the remote rural 'northeast kindgom' of Vermont after graduating college in 1968 and has since produced a large, visually poetic body of color photographs centered around farming and small town life. Sort of like Sam Abell, Brown's images are beautiful without getting saccharine, and they demonstrate a lovely color sense that's closer to Kodachrome than Velvia. His best known book is probably The Soul of Vermont (2001) which oddly enough is still available."
mike plews (partial comment): "My one and only fan letter was to Wright Morris telling him that I was a photographer and that his work had touched me deeply. I told him that his work had awakened me to my surroundings and would keep me in the Midwest, probably for the rest of my life. He answered thanking me for the greeting and wrote that I would tell my own stories in my own time."
Salvador Moreno Rivas: "Helmut Newton...do I need to explain?"
Nigli: "I'd give my right arm to be Josef Sudek."
Mike replies: When I was a kid that is what we would have called a "sick joke."
For those who might not know, the "Poet of Prague," the great Czech photographer Josef Sudek, lost his right arm in WWI. However, there's a silver lining to the disability (and hence the joke): it was his army disability pension which allowed him the financial freedom to spend his life as a photographer.
A photo by Josef Sudek
As it happens, there is a new book on Sudek by Ann Thomas of the National Gallery of Canada, published just last Fall. His style is pictorialist, his pictures dark and lyrical, but he easily transcends genre.
Like me, Sudek was once apprenticed to be a bookbinder.
Kusandha Hertrich: "Tough question. My answer for now would be a mix of Harry Calahan, Edward Weston, and Arnold Newman. Callahan's diversity of images amd his work with his family appeal to me. Weston just made beautiful work. And Newman is portraiture (again, to me)."
Frank: "If I had the incredible luck to be a real photographer I'd try to stretch that luck a bit further and be myself as photographer...."