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Tuesday, 28 July 2020


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Which of the Supremes did you make a portrait of?

[David Souter. --Mike]

It's a bit morbid, but The Artist's Guide by Jackie Battenfield suggests writing your obituary as a clarifying exercise.

John Krumm likes to take photos of the everyday city environment, usually human structures and the occasional human as well. While not a "street photographer" in the classic sense, some of his photos lean towards that genre. Part documentarian, part admirer of shadow, light and circumstance, he's in no great hurry, but slowly accumulates images of neighborhoods, buildings, streets and the people who live there. He lives in Duluth, MN.

Well that’s interesting, Mike. But it’s not really an “artist’s statement”, at least as I know them. It’s more of a bio sketch that you’d put in the jacket of a book of your portrait photos.

Come to think of it, although I don’t follow many portrait photographers I can’t think on one for whom I’ve seen an “artist’s statement”. They usually just offer bios (like yours) and, sometime, boasts. (Greg Heisler’s is a good example. ) I don’t think portraitists really need much pretension or explanation. Their work is pretty self-evident.

[How about "personal statement" as a term for it then? I don't think it's useful to get hung up on semantics in this case. I conceive of it as something to help photographers either understand themselves better or stay clear about what it is they've decided to be committed to. Maybe "artist's statement" is just the wrong term. --Mike]

Artist Statement

I take photographs to amuse myself as well as the occasional spectator. Exhibiting photographs for mutual pleasure is similar to a comedian telling jokes to an appreciative audience. But comedy is more serious than photography. Viewers who see more in my photographs than I do probably have better vision. Those who see less than I do may be right, and I remain partially open to their criticism.

[I like it Herman! --Mike]


From a helicopter view, I could surmise that you are a people photographer, and have a preference for B&W. That means - it's a wild guess now - you like to capture the "soul" of your subjects.

Dan K.

Mike –

Here’s my artist’s statement, modified and updated from one that appeared on TOP a number of years ago.

Rodger Kingston has been a photographer for over 40 years; in no particular order (as they occur to this writer), he’s owned a photography gallery, been a dealer in 19th and 20th century photographs and books, taught photo history in a couple of good art and photography schools, spent nearly 30 years working in his own darkroom printing his own Cibachrome prints and earning a living printing for others.

He’s photographed weddings, done commercial work for universities and corporations, appraised photo collections, curated exhibitions, run a print matting business. He’s worked as a volunteer professional photographer for candidates in several state and national elections. He’s tutored and mentored beginners of all ages.

Kingston has built two important photographic collections, one consisting of over 4,000 historical vernacular photographs, and the other publications and ephemera by and about Walker Evans; he’s written a major Evans bibliography.

Kingston has had many solo and group museum and gallery exhibitions, a couple of museum catalogs, and has published three artist's books of his images. His work is in many museum, corporate, and private collections.

In 2019 BD Studios, a NY book publisher, issued "Train To Providence," with photographs by Kingston and poems written about them (called “ekphrastic,” meaning derived from visual works of art) by William Doreski.

Kingston is currently working on “Close To Home,” a documentary project photographing daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic. What he sees from his front window and in walks and drives around his neighborhood and the town of Belmont, MA, are people isolated from one another like figures in a Hopper painting, yet united as never before by this universal medical threat. He suggests that engaging in this project has converted the pandemic from being a terrifying experience to being an adventure.

Kingston states, "My life has been an unbelievable rollercoaster ride through the history of late 20th and early 21st century photography. I've met many of the modern photographic masters; a few of them have been my friends. I've lived my life in the company of countless artist contemporaries - photographers, painters, writers, poets, actors, musicians - who have greatly enriched and enlivened my life.

"More recently I've switched to digital photography, and if I haven't yet mastered it, I've at least immersed myself in it thoroughly enough to thrive and grow toward mastery. And even though I haven't become a 'famous photographer' by any stretch, I'm told (often enough to continue believing it) that I and my work have had an impact on people's lives. Many people have told me that they see the world differently after discovering my work, that now they see 'Kingstons' everywhere they go. When I get reactions like these I know that for all these years I've been on the right track. The culture of photography, for all its outward manifestations, is within me. I'm a happy man.”

Why do people write their on artists statements in the 3rd person? When I read such a statement I don’t feel the same connection as when I read one that is in the first person. I find reading one in the first person is more personal; in the third person it reads more like an obituary.

I've always felt a discomfort with the idea of writing one of these for myself but have always been very curious what would be written by someone who looked through my work and formed an opinion of what they see. This is something that I want to get done but I feel like i need external help for some reason.

I've occasionally needed some type of statement and often asked a client or two for some thoughts, but that often involves the ability to provide what a client wants. That is very different from what I want and need. I'm seeking, from a person that I respect as a commenter on photography, that person's interpretation of my photographs. I feel that it almost takes an external viewer to provide this? (I believe I may have asked one Mike Johnston if he was willing to provide this service at one point??)

I believe my instagram feed would be a fair representation of what I find visually interesting, how I prefer to capture it and what types of images I select.

A decade ago I was doing the occasional photo show at downtown businesses as well as a small art gallery. The gallery suggested that I write an Artist's Statement. I did and now have it posted on my photo web site:


I am an Australian photographer who loves producing images of beautifully lit landscapes as wall art. I have a particular love of monochrome, with an emphasis on line, tone and texture, including the unique rendering provided by infrared capture.

Mike, I just re-read Bill Jay's piece on The Thing Itself again, and in light of the artists' statement discussion what really stood out was the final page where he emphasises that the work will reveal your self, but the way to develop your self and "your style" or "your voice" is not to focus on those things — it's to focus on the subject.

...the truth of the matter is that a unique style is a byproduct of visual exploration, not its goal. Personal vision only comes from not aiming for it. In dim light, objects emerge from the gloom when not looking at them. It is the same with style; paradoxically, it is a natural, inevitable result of emphasizing subject, not self

And this principle brings up an equally important correlation between subject and self. If it is perceived to be important that the self should be ultimately revealed, the question arises: What is the nature of this "self"?

Which is an interesting reminder of the old Buddhist idea that the self does not exist, except in relationship. The artist's statement is a primer to the relationship between artist and subject, which is what separates it from a bio or a description of process or favoured materials (unless, maybe, the subject is revealed through artist's relationship to the material — I'm thinking especially of how, in sculpture, using the hardness and permanence of marble to embody the softness and mortality of flesh produces something profound).

@SteveRosenblum: as a non-American, I interpreted your question “which of the Supremes did you make a portrait of” as being between Diana, Florence, Cindy, etc....

Which Perhaps suggests that in these international times, the artist’s statement needs to be non-local.

Steven Ralser:

Why do people write their on artists statements in the 3rd person?


I've always felt a discomfort with the idea of writing one of these for myself but have always been very curious what would be written by someone who looked through my work and formed an opinion of what they see.

I thought these two comments answered one another nicely: writing in third person helps you to supply your own external perspective.

Perhaps these statements are most useful not for a life but for a project where intent and clarity of concept are important particularly if the project is destined for a book or gallery show. Since projects evolve as they go along, perhaps several statements at intervals are called for. I guess these can be mined later for project pitches to editors and curators, since the statements should have gone a long way towards offering good answers to ‘Why these pictures?’ Trying to put one’s life into a box is next to impossible (at least here), but many or perhaps most photography projects do need a purpose and a plan if they are to come to fruition.

I've worked on such a statement but I tend to forget it when I actually pick up my camera and unfortunately tend to take pictures I think other people will like, though I'm getting better slowly.
It's quite important to not to get carried away with artspeak (so I like what you have written Mike) or you could end up with something like this:


Mike: Why not keep your ball rollin’ and make a book of your portraiture? You might find it to be a very healthy, invigorating project, even if you only had one copy printed for yourself!

[Because COVID? I've never had less contact with humans. But, a good idea. --Mike]

James has made photographs on every continent, which is remarkable for someone who doesn't always remember to carry his camera.
He has even been known to smile when someone (occasionally) says...
'Wow, that's a good shot, how did you get that?'
or even....
'You must have a good camera!'

(The above is all true.)

There are a couple of sites that generate artist's statements that are absolutely hilarious, or at least they were the last time I looked at them, 3-4 years back.

Mike: how nice to be proven wrong in such a patient and generous way. I read your artist's statement with surprise because I haven't seen many portraits of yours posted on TOP -- mostly you have been illustrating other uses/disciplines. If I'd have had to guess, I would have said "landscape." So being wrong or surprised is always a small gift, particularly if one learns something in the process. The other piece of this is that your artist's statement is the antithesis of others I have read, which points to the broad outlines of your proposed exercise, I think. I remain defensive about attempting my own -- more, I think, a result of my insecurities than anything else.

For me, and particularly with portraiture, what I aim for is to be on the subject's walls somewhere. After all, most folks respond to portraits of themselves in a manner similar to the way they react to their own recorded voice: they hate seeing themselves (or hearing themselves) as others do. So when a subject of mine voluntarily chooses to live with a portrait I have made, I know that I have captured something of the way they see themselves (or something aspirational) in addition to anything that I may have noticed when I click the shutter.

Thanks for the glimpse, and for not being put off by the snark.

JH considers himself neither a photographer nor an artist. For over 60 years he has been taking pictures of things that interest himself at the time, like racing cars in the 1960s, and to illustrate his writing on technical topics, both leading to many published photos. He always has carried a camera to document his travels, family and job, as well as the dumb-ass things he sees in the world. His current project - for the last couple of decades - has been to photograph commonplace things in ways that create abstractions to incorporate into his computer's screen saver, creating a diversion to keep him from getting too bored on all those long phone calls he seems to get involved with.

I think (though, of course, I could be wrong) that my 'statement' is what a lot of photographers would say, if they didn't have to dress it all up with the art-school verbiage that's expected of them these days.

"I try to produce technically and compositionally acceptable photographs of things that interest or amuse me."

Mike, I think Ken is saying you could follow through on your Artist’s Statement by digitizing some of your favorite portraits for a one-off book that uses your Artist’s Statement as an introduction.

Depending on how you digitize the negatives and create the book, you might not need to interact with any humans. B&H has a nice article on digitizing negatives with a DSLR and the author works with medium format color and black and white negatives in the article. If you just use your top ten all-time favorite negatives and then use digital work to round out the book it might make things easier.

I like the sound of this. I think I’ll pick up one of the inexpensive light pads mentioned in the B&H article. At the very least it will come in handy for digitizing some of the old family slides I’ve unearthed recently.

The extra mile: I’d be curious if any of your readers have attempted book binding at home. I see all sorts of YouTube videos on the topic and I’m just wondering if acceptable results can be achieved by a beginner. If personal inkjets really can produce prints that last hundreds of years in an album, it might be worth a try.

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