The health and popularity of any human endeavor rises and falls in waves—nothing's static—and photography caught a huge swell in the 1960s to the early '80s. Many of photography's great names are from that era...it's our "Greatest Generation," to cop a term used of the WWII age cohort. Many of the greats from an earlier wave were still alive then, and many names came to the forefront that we still recognize. A few, we venerate.
If it seems like there have been a lot of obituaries lately, that might be why. We're losing that generation.
We lost Charles Harbutt on June 29th. A former President of Magnum, he was one of those names who flew low and didn't break into many photographers' radar fields. But he was an accomplished shooter and a longtime teacher. I have a signed copy of his iconic book Travelog that I treasure, although I have to admit I really didn't like his latest book, Departures and Arrivals.
And to catch you up on another exceptional photographer of that generation, there's this link, from The Washington Post, about the sad decline into dementia of the fine gentleman and very accomplished artist William Christenberry. Bill taught at the Corcoran while I was there, but I never took a course from him, because he taught art, not photography. A photographer whose work was all about remembering should have had a less ironic ending.
Curiously, I don't feel quite so sad about Harold Feinstein, who died on June 20th. The reason is because it seems that certain "friends of Harold"—I don't know the backstory at all—had been assisting him in a late-life Renaissance. There was a very successful Kickstarter campaign (the we helped publicize) which resulted in the publication of his retrospective book, which was a pleasure and a treat, and his work is well-represented on his nice website, and he'd been writing a blog. It's sad to hear of his death, yes, but it's also very nice that we got to know him in the first place—and he got some deserved recognition—before that came to pass.
(Thanks to Oren Grad and many other readers)
P.S. If you're tempted to prompt me about the wonderful Robert Frank link, I'll be posting that one later.
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Featured Comments from:
Richard Rodgers: "Sad times. First Mary Ellen Mark and now Charles Harbutt. While at Apeiron in the late 1960s, Mary Ellen enabled my photography skills to grow and Charles, through his teaching skills, enabled me to become a college photography teacher."
David Christensen: "Rondal Partridge also passed away recently. He wasn't well known (by his own designs), but what a link to the past—the son of Imogen Cunningham, apprenticed himself to Ansel Adams, and assisted Dorothea Lange in California during the depression. He was 97 when he died—and according to the SFGate, 'he spent his last 15 years mastering the art of hand-coated platinum printing with a focus on botanical subjects, dead animals and antique tools.' Here's the link to the very interesting SF Gate obituary."
Mike replies: Thanks David. I didn't know that. He's a photographer whose work I know better; I very much enjoy his book Quizzical Eye. It's one I return to.
Rodger Kingston: "I've known Bill Christenberry for nearly 40 years. I met him in the late '70s through a couple of photographic friends, Gus Kayafas and Gerd Sander, and over the years I visited him and his wife Sandy when I was in Washington, or saw him occasionally when he came North.
"Bill could always be counted upon for a good story—after all, his art is a story, a visual narrative of the world centered around his native Hale County, Alabama. He is one of those people who never stops talking—except with Bill, you don't want him to stop talking.
"Bill is undoubtedly a great artist. However, the key to appreciating both Bill and his art is to understand that he is a great Southern artist, steeped in the black Alabama soil, and soft spoken, with a light Southern accent tempered by his many years living in Washington, D.C.
"His studio is a veritable museum of his paintings, drawings, and photographs; his sculptures of the buildings appearing in his two-dimensional works; and the signs he rescued from the towns and countryside around his beloved Hale County.
"I'll never forget the time he showed me his legendary Klan Room, not long before it was mysteriously stolen.
"I have about a dozen of his books, many of them signed, all of them carefully handled and well read. The most recent one I have is, ironically, fittingly, William Christenberry: Working from Memory: Collected Stories. Reading the stories, I can hear him talking, speaking of his friendship with Walker Evans, or describing the circumstances surrounding one of his works.
"The last time I saw Bill, several years ago, before the onset of his Alzheimer's, he and Sandy were in Boston for a lecture, and a group of us went to dinner afterward. Bill sat at the head of the table, and, with his soft Southern accent and courtly manner, entertained and edified us all."