Monday, August 16, 2010

Finding a Style

Tower, 2010

I know I’m sounding like a broken record, or at least someone making much ado about nothing. But putting these thoughts about personal photographic style in writing helps me think things through. So I’ll have to beg your patience as I do it once again.

Some people have such consistently practiced styles that merely hearing their names brings to mind a specific subject, tone or visual style. If you hear the name Gregory Crewdson, you know it’s going to be a meticulously staged and lighted tableau. If you think of Joel Meyerowitz, you think of exquisitely colored large format photographs.

I’ve spent far more time than any right-thinking person should figuring out how to describe, or even identify, my own photographic style. I probably wouldn’t be so obsessed with this except that when you enter juried competitions you have to write an artist’s statement. I’ve seen some really bad artist statements and I’ve seen others that genuinely enhanced my ability to enjoy and understand what I was looking at. I just never could write one for myself that I thought sounded like I had a single coherent thought in my mind.

When I asked a few friends to tell me if there was a consistent element to my photography, my friend Christine thoughtfully answered by saying that my photographs:

“…are clean, clear and often feature dramatic colors and architectural details. There’s a classic, even ‘New England Yankee’ feel to his choice of subject, color and style.”

Recently I’ve been talking more about trying to make photographs that have familiar starting points, but which really aren’t ultimately about the thing that was the starting point. Well, I think I may be getting closer to describing this in more articulate, if stolen, language.

The other day I listened to author Joseph Skibell and his editor, Elisabeth Scharlatt of Algonquin Books, describe how Skibell’s first novel went from being something in his imagination to being a book on a bookshelf.

How A Blessing on the Moon became a success is one of those stories that inspires writers to dream big, to get up earlier in the morning or stay up later at night writing out of the belief that John Grisham-like success can really happen overnight if you just try hard enough.

Skibell’s experience is unusual in that he finished the manuscript for his book one month, found an agent the next and had a publisher and contract by the end of the third month. It’s even more remarkable because the novel is about the Holocaust, a subject that’s been covered before in hundreds, maybe thousands of books. I mean, why do we need another Holocaust novel?

Here’s why, said editor Scharlatt:

“What caught my eye was that it’s about a subject you’ve seen before and thought you knew. But this book brought an entirely new way of looking at that familiar subject.”

I really like the way Ms. Scharlatt says this. So I hope she won’t mind if I adopt it as part of my artist’s statement, something to the effect that I’m trying to show you something new about something that you thought you already knew all there was to know about.

The two “Tower” pictures, above and below, are good examples. The subject is the signature tower of our local convention center. The picture below is what it really looks like. The picture above is my impression of it, an impression far closer, I like to think, of what the architect was envisioning.

Tower (the literal version), 2010


  1. The desire to grab someone by the collar and say "Look! Do you see what I see?" is a stronger motivator than the riches and adulation that naturally accrue to us artists. At its best, it's an altruistic impulse, the desire to share with someone else the exhilaration of a moment of clarity. Like your tower.

  2. Well said, Walt!

    I love these tower images--the first is really fabulous. I love your photographic style, and I specifically enjoy when you are capturing what could be considered the mundane, quotidien things, and giving them life in a new way, elevating them to new heights.