“We live in a world of images. Images have replaced language — and reading. The responsibility to your role in history in whatever is going to happen to human beings— you are the new writers. And we can no longer be sloppy about what we do with a camera. You have this weapon in your hands which is a camera, and it is going to teach the world, it’s going to record the world, it is going to explain to the world and to the children that are coming — what this world was like. It is an incredible responsibility.”
Avedon is one the most important fashion photographers of the 20th century and certainly a favorite of mine. He was born in NYC in 1923, of typical jewish Russian immigrants part of the department store garment world. Lucky to get picked up by Alexey Brodovitch, at the time art director at Harper’s Bazaar, in 1944, he started off his career as chief of photographer at the magazine 2 years later. Avedon is known for his emphasis on motion, narrative in his images, at a time where most photographers were still shooting models in a very static manner. Avedon himself was physically involved while shooting as he made his models jump, dance, walk etc. Although he traveled the world working on a vastitude of photography projects, he shot a lot of his work in studio on stark white backgrounds. Not liking the banality of stark backdrops myself, Avedon’s studio portraits are some of my favorites. He had a very personal, and honest way of working with people. He managed to show people’s complex nature in his penetrating photographs and has been a huge influence on my work. Looking at the amount of details present in his portraits, making the photographs come to life, informs he was most often using a small aperture. His work as a photographer, the appeal to his subject and how he chooses to portrait them is as he describes, a reflection of himself.
“It is complicated and unresolved in my mind because I believe in moral responsibility of all kinds. I feel I have no right to say, “This is the way it is” and in another way, I can’t help myself. It is for me the only way to breathe and to live. I could say it is the nature of art to make such assumptions but there has never been an art like photography before. You cannot make a photograph of a person without that person’s presence, and that very presence implies truth.”
When it come to studio lighting, Avedon’s approach was rather simple. Using strobes, an overhead key light with umbrella or soft box at a 45 degree angle on the model and sets of stacked up lights with umbrellas on each side to brighten and even out the background, but sometimes key light alone.
Avedon used a Twin Lens Reflex, Rolleiflex 6×6 medium format as well as a 8×10 large format camera.
Richard Avedon – Darkness and Light, Great documentary on the photographers life, practice and work. One of my favorite photography documentaries.
“The point of photography is to touch people”.
Tim Walker isn’t quite the type of photographer I usually like, in fact, the first time I saw some of his photographs, I found them a bit gaudy. A fact he is well aware of and rides a fine line between gaudiness and perfection. However, the more I am learning about him and the more i look into his work, the more I want to know and see. From the imaginary worlds he creates, inspired by paintings, past eras to the somewhat stark yet still very inviting portraits, I find his work playful, intelligent and refined. Walker’s imagination is endless. Researching his work is like opening a bottomless treasure chest. Walker’s interest for photography started while working in the London Vogue archives where he was working with the Cecil Beaton collection. He used to be intimidated by the technical aspects of the camera. The final product that is the photograph and sets were the most interesting part for him until someone reaffirmed that the camera was in fact just a simple box to document what is in front of you. He eventually was Avedon’s assistant in NYC before returning to his hometown of London where he began working on portraits and fashion stories for magazines such as Vogue, W, LOVE. In the last 10 years, he has been making films and many intricate shoots inspired by several epic works of art chanelled through his imagination. His images are filled with narratives of all kinds, often bizarre or humorous. Tim Walker has worked with set designer Shauna Heath for the past 20 years, their strong relationship shows in the powerful yet delicate work. Together they build sets that the team and models involved are able to feel and I believe that may be where the magic happens, by making imaginary worlds come to life. For him, working with a strong team is where everything comes together and holds up.
Tim Walker mainly works with natural, ambient lighting, sometimes supported with hard lights. His work has a very soft, natural, film like quality.
Walker favors his Pentax 67 and sometimes shoots digital. He uses a circular fisheye lens for some of his images giving them a distorted dreamlike quality.
Here is a short Tim Walker video walker on his creative research, and process. We are constantly gaining visual imagery but as we want it or not, our brains can only retain so much of it at a time. The idea of scrapbooks to lay out the ideas so we can go back to them later and rework them is a necessary part of the creative process. He describes his scrapbooks at “a cupboard full of ingredients”. Walker seems to constantly be scouting for locations, material. Even though his images have a surreal quality to them, he always uses existing spaces which he build upon with additional props. The idea of using places or materials with an existing aura can really enrich an image in my opinion. He speaks of the photographers who have greatly inspired him and how he brings them in his practice, often as an “homage” to them. Walker is someone who values what came before and gratefully and gracefully expresses this through his photographs. This is an ideology I value very much myself, echoing history in a current practice is key to the works longevity.
German photographer Juergen Teller is known for his radical portraits. Sometimes funny, provocative, never sugar coated (if it was sugar coated, i think he ‘ld literally throw a bag of sugar on it), often flashy (he loves using hard flash) and always intimate, his images are unmistakably recognizable. For him, a photograph represent a celebration in between his subect and himself, the photographer. I would see him as the anti-aesthetic fashion photographer. He doesn’t aim to make things look polished or beautiful. Having grown up in the 90s with his images on the pages of popular cultural and fashion magazines of the time such as I-D, The Face, Dazed, I will always be drawn to his trashy, playful and honest aesthetic.
“I put the same effort in photographing a handbag than photographing my children.”
Tillmans is another beloved german photographer of mine that touches me in a way that feels like home. He explores themes and subjects that resonate with my own living experience. From photographing his friend at raves in the 90s to documenting window seals filled with banal objects to elegant abstract images, his work is invigorating and always feel personal and genuine. He photographs everything and anything. Because it all matters. The fragility of life is an apparent narrative in his images. His work being timeless, Tillmans is always relevant and is constantly politically and socially involved.
When exhibiting his work, Tillmans goes for grids or rather unconventional arrangements, where large photographs are intersected by a series or a few smaller ones, keeping the viewer engaged by exploring and exploiting the vastness of the 2 dimensional space of a gallery why may perhaps be disorienting at times but so is life.
Tillmans was first using a SLR Contax 50mm but has now switched to digital
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