“Across the USA I have photographed with these ideas in mind: to portray Americans as they live at present. Their every day and their Sunday, their realism and their dream. The look of their cities, towns and highways”  — Robert Frank, application for renewal of Guggenheim Fellowship, 1956

The modern American road trip began to take shape in the late 1930s and into the 1940s, ushering in an era of a nation on the move.  After 1945, postwar prosperity, mass consumption, paid vacation leaves, the development of new highways, followed by the interstate highway system, combined with the rapid growth of automobile ownership resulted in a growing number of family vacations on the road.  Families traveled across the country, or at least out of state, to vacation, visit relatives or old friends in an increasingly mobile society.  Road trips became a chance for children to learn about America – its’ big and diverse landscape, its’ history, national parks and monuments.  Travel by car also created businesses to cater to Americans on the road, such as: gas stations; motels; campgrounds; diners; amusement parks and gift shops. The “road trip” was something uniquely American.

Photographs of the vacations filled family photo albums.  Photography also gave us postcards to share these family adventures. The American road trip was the subject and incubator for literature, music, film and photography.  It came to represent a sense of possibility and freedom, discovery and escape – a place to get lost and a way to find yourself.  For the arts, road trips represented both a way to discover the nation and to illuminate who and what we are.  The American Road trip became a staple of American photography as photographers sought to portray and/or better understand the vast land and the people in it – photographs were a way to look at, capture and show America’s character.

There are famous prints and photography books of personal travel, landscapes and landmarks. Robert Frank’s The Americans examined and critiqued America through images that challenged and found beauty in simple and often overlooked corners of the country.  Walker Evan’s documented and distilled America to its essence using cultural artifacts and Americans in their social context in his book American photographs. Stephen Shore found beauty in the mundane and explored the changing culture of America.  He documented everything from fast food meals to Cadillac cars, diners to dive bars, billboards to dashboards.  He and William Eggleston created a visual encyclopedia in color of what we consider modern America. Danny Lyon’s body of work on the Bikeriders speaks to the freedom of the open road while also documenting groups on the fringe of society.

Photographers have pursued that great American road trip with purpose of nostalgia, social commentary and to explore the perspectives about the truth of the nation — its values and the lives lived in the context of the “American Dream.” The road trips by photographers, as David Campany notes, force us to “confront the clichés in our heads and the clichés out there in order to bring a new perspective to both the past and present.”

“What should happen at the end of a road trip? A return to the status quo? A revolutionary new beginning? A few minor adjustments to one’s outlook? Obviously, it is not enough to drive West and arrive in the Promised Land” —David Campany, “A Short History of the Long Road”

A simple spot by the road

Fueling American road trips

Usually, at this time of the year I am on the road and off to visit Santa Fe. The pandemic has screwed that up for me this year.  On the other hand, there is speculation that as we emerge from the pandemic, road trips may, at least for a while, be the kind of vacations Americans seek out again. As I looked at some road trip images, it occurred to me you can’t do a road trip without gasoline.  We often take gas stations for granted.  They are like a utility; we don’t think about them. In fact, gas stations represent and underpin America’s mobility and car culture. As part of exploring the roots of political, economic and social histories, I learned that gas stations speak to elements of architectural design through the years, pop culture, corporate standardization/branding, changes in the economy and business.  They also are representative of changes in service for customers – from staff to fill the tank and clean your windshield to self-service; the addition of full-service garages to becoming convenience stores; offering branded maps and bathrooms to the addition of diners.

A Simple Spot, Phillips 66 in Adrian TX: The 1920s Phillips station (pictured above), originally called Knox’s was located in Vega,Texas on Route 66.  It was moved to the town of Adrian,Texas, known as the midpoint of Route 66. It apparently awaits its turn at restoration. The owners, who also own the Bent Door Cafe next door, are rumored to be thinking about turning it into a souvenir shop.

From the First Gas Station Onwards: In early 1900, gasoline was sold in open containers at pharmacies, blacksmith shops, hardware stores and other retailers looking to make a few extra dollars of profit.  The locale of the world’s first purpose-built gas station is debated.  Some suggest it was constructed in 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Others point to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1913 when an architect designed a pagoda-style brick facility that was a complete drive in operation.  Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this station in Pittsburgh not only served to fill cars with gasoline, it also offered free air, water, crankcase service and tire and tube installation.

For the past 100 years gas stations have occupied prime locations along main streets, suburban corners, on small town roads and highways.  They are one of America’s most commercial building types and over the years have gone through various architectural design iterations.

In the 1920s many gas stations were being built in prominent locations.  Due to local complaints, the gas station took on the look of cottages/houses, as opposed to an earlier shack look.  Tudor and English cottage designs with arched doorways and steeply pitched roofs became a common look.  The design also became a sign of growing competition.  Pure Oil favored English Cottage stations, while Standard Oil went for the Colonial revival design.  Gas stations were designed to attract attention and lure customers – all part of the corporate branding.  Over the years, the design characteristic of gas stations would change from cottages to a stylized box designs, often blending Art Moderne and international style motifs. Many of these featured glossy white exteriors and scientifically designed lighting schemes to attract attention. The box style stations also featured additional space for automobile service and repairs and expanded areas to sell batteries and other auto accessories.  These would eventually morph into full-fledged “convenience” stores.

The Business of Gas Stations: The advent of the Interstate highway network routed traffic away from the once-thriving, often family owned, gas stations, that sprinkled the countryside.  Today, many of these family owned businesses are located on secondary roads and falling into disrepair.  In 1969, there were 236,000 gas stations.  By 2016, there were 111,000 retail gas stations locations in the U.S. The number of gas stations has been declining due, in part, to increased competition, stricter environmental regulations, and shrinking gasoline profit margins

 

Explore Roadside America with me

More than gas stations, exploring roadside America can lead you to family owned motels, unique signs, communities, businesses and economies that have been lost to time and the changes to the world we live in.  If you want a visual trip through different parts of America, beyond the curated selection in the Website galleries, feel free to gander though some of the material I work with at the links below.  These images are the first-edits of the raw material.  You can check them out, based on locations, at these links:

Outer Banks
Virginia road trips
The Blue Ridge Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains
Route 66 trips
Mississippi
Great Smoky Mountains
Wyoming and Montana and a Rocky Mountain road trip
Texas

You can also find my most current Roadside images, with their detailed stories, in the Roadside America Photo series on Instagram.  Click the image for the complete story line.

This post is from a recent email newsletter, if you want to sign up for future newsletters, here is the link.  Of course, if there is something that catches your eye, I can always print it and make it a small batch limited edition.  All you have to do is use the contact page information and I’ll work with you to find and print the image you love.

“Observe the life moving like a river around you…and realize that the images you make may become part of the collective history of the time that you are living in.”  Eli Reedthe first black photographer to be employed by the famed Magnum Agency

Last month in my email newsletter I wrote about images of a viral pandemic — something we do not control and that has forced us into self-isolation. A month later, the dominant images are of demonstrations about systemic racism — issues we do control and that reach beyond individual isolation to the life of our communities and society.

The iconic photographs of the 1960s Civil Rights movement are part of our collective history.  The leaders of that movement counted on the power of photographs to force Americans to take notice of racial inequality, expecting that the images would persuade, engage and motivate change. Beginning in 1955, Mamie Till showed the world photographs of what the torture and murder of her 14 year old son, Emmett, looked like. The photograph above is the court room where two of the murderers were tried and acquitted.  Photographs of the Civil Rights movement brought to life both the protests themselves, as well as the underlying causes – images that documented and exposed the public and private acts of racial segregation and discrimination. As early as 1956, photographic essays exposed the issues of inequality (See this 1956 Life Magazine story, The Restraints: Open and Hidden, page 98).  Segregation was blatant and obvious.  In that respect, segregation was “easy” to photograph.

When we look at the photographs over the last few weeks, from across the country, they show the demonstrations and the confrontations with police that have ignited calls to deal with race.  They are images of peaceful protests, and some of  conflict and unrest. Theses protests are forcing institutions and individuals to confront enduring forms of racial discrimination.

However, the photographs that explore, expose and bring to our attention the root causes of the demonstrations – systemic racism in justice, economics, housing, education and communities – are not being seen in the news of the day. The ubiquitous and insidious nature of systemic racism today makes the photographic story telling complex and sometimes less blatant, than the overt discrimination of the Jim Crow era. However, to give you a start at looking beyond the demonstrations and at some of the root causes, I thought I would share with you some web links to images that look beyond the demonstrations (see the links in the section below).

Also, when looking at the demonstrations or additional images in the links below, it is important to remember that photographing people in social conflict can have consequences.  The family in the Life magazine story (mentioned above and seen in the famous Gordon Parks’ photograph “Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama” which shows two Black children looking through a fence at a segregated playground) were forced to leave their jobs and home after harassment from the white community. The mayor of the town said that that if the photographer, Gordon Parks, ever showed up in that community again he would have been “tarred and feathered and set on fire.”

 “I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did… most of whom were murdered or put in prison… but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so.”- Gordon Parks

Exploring Race in Photography Today

Pictured above is the Lee monument here in Richmond Virginia on the famous Monument Avenue. In the last few days I went exploring photo projects and links online that go beyond the protests to explore photographic stories and projects that relate to “systemic racism,” or at least explore the issues of race and how they are documented in photographs today. While hardly a complete inventory or even a perfect selection, it is an attempt to take a look at the photographic expression of some of the issues underpinning today’s demonstrations.  Take your time and over a few days, hope you might find it interesting to visit some of these links.

PBS NewsHour aired this 7-minute Race Matters segment on the camera’s role over the past decades documenting social movements and how images shape and shift public perception. Here is a look at 100 years of protests and how images helped define civil rights and the current Black Lives Matter protests. John Edwin Mason writes about how photos can show protests’ complexity—or they can perpetuate old lies.  He notes, “Racism persists, protest endures, and photography continues to play an important role. It can’t solve our problems, but it can keep them in our line of sight and encourage us to act.” He also has an essay about photographs today and how they are in keeping with Gordon Parks tradition.

Adrian Whites images grapple with, and document, the African diaspora in an effort to connect with ancestors. As he notes: “It is in the remembering that I believe that we can begin to heal. As evidence of how, when and where black bodies existed is erased. The remnants persist. My visibility is my weapon.”

Alanna Airitam’s  photo project “The Golden Age” is about finding a sense of hope. She was working in a depressing corporate creative department where she had been hired as a senior designer and was given entry-level work. She would come home to news of unarmed black people being murdered or abused by the police.  She wanted to see positive and strong images of people like her, represented in fine art, where they are often missing. She made them.

Daniel Edwards tells the stories of black police officers in the Atlanta Police Department who deal with the duality of life in their skin and life in their uniform.

The Washington Post ran a photo essay on “Visualizing Racism” in 2019.  It features nine photographers taking on the challenge of depicting bigotry.

I have been working on a series that explores the roots of economic, political and cultural histories….its working title is “Scarred Places.” You can see some of this work in progress with related narratives on Instagram

 

I took the photograph above.  It is Kehinde Wiley’s new statue at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. As Wiley notes, “In these toxic times art can help us transform and give us a sense of purpose. This story begins with my seeing the Confederate monuments. What does it feel like if you are black and walking beneath this? We come from a beautiful, fractured situation. Let’s take these fractured pieces and put them back together.”

Photojournalist Abdul Aziz  places himself in the middle of white nationalist demonstrations and captures evidence of the manufactured chaos and violence, giving the viewer a more in-depth and honest understanding of who they are and what their stated objectives are.

Marcus Franklin’s photo project “A New Image of Black Fatherhood” challenges the notion that black families face a crisis of fatherhood. The installment includes a dispatch in which four dads challenge the assumption that all children of unwed mothers have absent fathers.

Aura Bogado’s photo project “A Day in the Shop” chronicles the efforts of one group of young men to hurdle the racial gap in skilled labor. New research shows just how profound that racial barrier remains for recent high school graduates, who are entering the worst job market since the Great Depression. It helps explain the dramatic unemployment numbers seen among black men and the spiraling poverty in black families.

Ted Goldman photographs the different emotions expressed by African Americans about what it’s like when they experience racism.

Nick Gregory’s “Split” photo essay reveals racial barriers still haunting Detroit. The idea for “Split” was born after meeting Detroiters who live behind the Wailing Wall, built in the 1940’s to separate white and black neighborhoods.

Derrick Beasley’s photo essay on Black (W)holes is an exploration of black holes as a way to understand the long-standing absence of holistic depictions of Black folks (Black Wholes), particularly in the South.

Kiyun’s project looks at everyday micro-aggressions using a series of images of her Fordham University classmates holding up placards with micro-aggressions that they’ve experienced.

Kay Rufai’s images of smiling 13-year-olds are about confronting damaging stereotypes of black boys and men.

Titus Brooks Heagins: looks at racism as a persistent infection and at how poverty exists in the place where hope and despair coexist.

Carlos Javier Ortiz considers contemporary black life in comparison to the ideals of the Great Migration, which took place from 1916 to 1970 when six million African Americans left the South to find new opportunities in the North. Illustrating socioeconomic patterns that pave the way for a cycle of poverty and violence, his two projects, A Thousand Midnights (2016) and We All We Got (2014)document youth and families in Chicago from multiple perspectives over the course of many years.

These Photos show the casual racism of everyday objects

Travis Fox’s “Scars of Racism” documents the lasting physical reminders of racism on the American landscape. The legacy of racism exists throughout our society–in culture, language, and economics. With these photos he attempts to highlight how institutional racism of the past lingers today on the roads we travel, the houses we live in and even where we dump our trash.

Jamel Shabazz in “Now More Than Ever” shows images of Black dignity and resistance because she wants to make photographs that go against the dominant representations of Black people.

Endia Beal’s “Am I What You’re Looking For” focuses on young women of color who are transitioning from the academic world to the corporate setting, capturing their struggles and uncertainties on how to best present themselves in the professional work space. It is an in-depth investigation into the experiences and fears of being a woman of color in corporate America.

Matt Black’s “The Black Oakies” documents a group of black migrant sharecroppers whose forgotten story proves it was not just white people that moved in the depression. These self-described “Black Okies” still live in several remote rural enclaves scattered amid the cotton fields of Central California. Though some 50,000 of them came to the San Joaquin Valley and worked side by side with Steinbeck’s Joads, no books or photographs ever documented their lives. Today, their struggling communities are one of the few surviving remnants of this forgotten chapter of American rural life.

Mary Beth Meehan’s installation in Newnan, Georgia arose out of a Neo-Nazis rally held there against citizens’ wishes. One year later, Mary Beth installed massive yet intimate portraits of community members on the streets of the city’s downtown. The work has resulted in community-wide conversations about such topics as race, religion, ethnicity, inclusiveness, and diversity

“There is one thing the photograph must contain,
the humanity of the moment.” 
— Robert Frank

Painters, sculptors and many other artists start with a blank canvass and create art – their view of the world.  On the other hand, photographers start with the realities of our world and reflect that back to us. The photograph reflects a moment of the world we are a part of and live in – its trials, tribulations, anxieties, as well as those moments of joy, hope, aspiration and beauty.
An article on June 30th, 2017 in Time magazine noted that photography is our eye to the world. Photographers “inform us, they inspire us, they amaze us, they put our world in the broader context of history.” Photographers sort out the chaos of the world into singular images that bring clarity to the free-for-all of life. “They are the witnesses and artists who can distill the mayhem and beauty that surrounds us. They call our attention to the things we miss in our everyday lives… Photographers teach us to look again, look harder. Look through their eyes.”
Recently, The New York Times posted a series of images entitled “Still Life”. This article/photo essay introduces a number of photographers with different perspectives/subject matter in the context of the current coronavirus situation — “in this unnatural state of isolation, photographers show us the things that bind.”  In another New York Times article they recently asked readers to submit photos taken before the virus that might have seemed like small moments and now feel weighty and important – some of the “last moments you felt like life was normal.” 
Whether we make images ourselves or whether the photographs are ones that we look at and enjoy, the photographs of this time (and other times) help us make sense of our lives.  During these days when we all stay home and social distance, nothing feels normal and time vanishes in front of us. However, we all have images of captured moments of time — even as the time moved onward. The images of personal experiences, from the past and present, become important memories. And today, those important times and memories are no further away than the phones that are in our pockets and almost always with us. Other images may be on your desk or maybe they take the form of a beautiful print that you admired and now hangs on your wall.
Whatever the format, the images show us more than just a moment lost to time.  They reflect back to us our priorities, values and our engagement with the world. Photographs speak about the way we experience our lives.

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…

It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind

“How do you tell others what you think is worth telling…you see what is really there.”

“All photographs—not only those that are so called ‘documentary’– can be fortified by words.” 

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange is best known for her depression era photography for the Farm Security Administration, most notably her iconic Migrant Mother photograph.  Her 40+ year career resulted in many remarkable photographs that included the conditions of interned Japanese- Americans, environmental degradation and African-American field hands, to name just a few.  Much of her work was social documentary in nature. She and her husband, agricultural economist Paul Schuster Taylor, collaborated on a book, An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1939).  This book brought together her images with direct quotes from the people she photographed, detailing the realities of their life. Some examples are included in this video from the Museum of Modern Art. Her interest was in art’s power to deliver public awareness and to connect to intimate narratives about the world.

In the current Museum of Modern Art Exhibit, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, Lange is quoted as noting,

“Am working on the captions. This is not a simple clerical matter, but a process, for they should carry not only factual information, but also added clues to attitudes, relationships and meanings. They are connective tissue, and in explaining the function of the captions, as I am doing now, I believe we are extending our medium.”

Dorothea Lange, Kern County, California, 1938 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

The importance of using words to build an informative narrative around images is sometimes debated in the photography world – some believe that the photograph should stand on its own without commentary while others believe a written and verbal narrative adds important context and perspective.  Perhaps it is not an either or answer. However, it is an interesting question.  In the case of Dorothea Lange’s outstanding work one can conclude that the photography itself stands on its own. Her photography also benefits from the realities and context that she details with words.

“This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate.” – Dorothea Lange

For more on the current exhibit check out the New York Times review or the column at AnOthe.  Tyler Green at Modern Arts Notes Podcast has a wonderful discussion with MOMA’s curator of the exhibit, Sarah Meister.

This is an excerpt from my monthly newsletter, where I write about photography and share some news.  You can get a feel for the previous newsletters and sign up for the mailing list here.

And here is the video from MOMA.

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls
— Pablo Picasso

Lots of us are spending more time at home.  Many are entertaining/teaching children who are home from school.  Plans and social get togethers have been canceled leaving us with time to ourselves.  For some, the corona virus not only upends plans and social life, it is also a source of anxiety and fear. For others, it is lost income, lost business and lost employment.  The next little while is going to be a tough slog for all of us on many fronts.

It’s okay to be wondering or worried about what we face— that sense of urgency is what is going to get everyone through this pandemic. But it’s also important to take a break, to not let those concerns consume us. That is where art comes into play. Taking the time to enjoy and appreciate art can be the respite we need. In times of uncertainty, like this, art can be a steadying force. It can also be good for you.

When we marvel at something, whether it is a painting, a photograph, a turn of phrase or a piece of music, we are reminded of the human capacity to create and endure. When we engage in art, it is not always about escapism. It is also a practice in patience, such as figuring out the meaning of a poem or a novel, and an exercise in appreciating beauty.

Did you know that looking at art makes us feel good, improves perception skills and helps us process information in a way that we can better understand the world around us?

  • Art helps us understand the world around us: Neurological researchers at the University of Toronto showed painted art to 330 participants in 7 countries while they underwent MRI scans. The study’s results  showed that looking at art led to increased activity in the brain systems that ‘underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning. In other words, looking at art helps us understand the world around us better.
  • Art makes us feel good: Another study found that “when you look at art there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure.” The blood flow to the brain increased when looking at a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. This tells us “art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.”
  • Looking at art improves perception skills: Art is unique in unlocking multiple perception skills at once. Research suggests that more engagement with the arts is linked to a “higher level of subjective well being.”
  • Art helps our bodies re-balance.  Looking at art is a proven way of helping us de-stress and improve our brain function and thinking patterns. It can also improve our physical wellbeing, with studies identifying a link between looking at art and the normalisation of heart rate, blood pressure and even cortisol levels. Gazing at art – even for a minute a day – represents a chance to switch off and to give our brains and bodies a moment to pause, reflect and refresh.
  • Art enhances children’s education: Research shows that children who are involved with the arts make greater achievements in their education

Sources and more info: https://www.littlevangogh.co.uk/blog/2016/3/16/lkguq03frjfr5viqhw8lomf65lmlzm
https://www.shenarttherapy.com/single-post/2016/04/14/Viewing-Art-Rewards-the-Brain

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time
― Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Enjoy Some Art…here are some starters

While museums, galleries, Broadway shows, concerts and other arts and cultural facilities and events are canceled, we have seen the people of Italy singing on their balconies together.  Musicians, from their homes, and orchestras, from empty concert halls, have streamed mini-concerts online.  The Broadway veteran Laura Benanti, a Tony Award-winning actress and singer who found herself sidelined, thought about the young people facing their own canceled shows and she created the hashtag #sunshinesongs where kids whose shows have been canceled could share their personal video performances.  As we social distance, these are just a few of the new and interesting ways artists are sharing work. So, if you have some time, look around and take some art in…or order a good book and dive in.

And don’t forget, as you check out art online, many arts organizations have closed and artists are small businesses too–so if you see something you like or want to donate to a local arts organization, this is a good time to support the arts and artists to help them get through this too.

Here are some links that might be fun starting points for some adventures and time with art:

Here us a great collection of Youtube videos about great photographers put together by Andy Adams.  Or check out my Flipboard magazine for some interesting reads about photography.

From CNN, just a few options in a virtual sea of things to do. Explore, or look up your favorite local cultural landmark to see what online offerings they have.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers The Met 360, an immersive video series exploring the Met’s art and architecture. It offers virtual tours of the Great Hall, the Temple of Dendur and the Arms and Armor Galleries, as well as the Cloisters museum and the Met Breuer. The Whitney has its Watch and Listen page online to offer discussions with artists, and other presentations related to the collection.

Google Arts and Culture offers online access to 500 cultural organizations around the world, from museums to historic sites, all viewable without ever leaving your living room. The virtual platform features some of the most prestigious institutions on the planet, as well as an opportunity to explore smaller, more obscure institutions that you might never have discovered otherwise, such as  National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.  TED talks about art can be found here.

With venues & bars shut down from coast-to-coast, here’s your guide from Billboard to the best live-streamed music content.

Check out the Library of Congress digital collections for everything from the Farm Security Administration dust bowl photos to Aaron Copland music archives.

The Way I See It is an art podcast dream-team: the BBC and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York partnered late last year to create The Way I See It. In each of the 30 episodes a person of note discusses a favourite work from the museum’s collection. Hosted by the art critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke, accompanied by MoMA’s curators, the guests include the actor and comedian Steve Martin, the Minimalist composer Steve Reich, and the artist Richard Serra. Also, check out the Modern Arts Notes Podcast — a weekly, roughly hour-long interview program featuring artists, historians, authors, curators and conservators.

For something completely different, Comic book writers and artists are rallying online to offer activities for those staying at home. They are offering scripting lessons, art activities and even posting some of their own public service announcements.

So, here is to hoping you all manage your way through and stay well in these unusual times.  Also hoping a little art along the way brings you some joy and some benefits

This is an excerpt from my monthly newsletter, where I write about photography and share some news.  You can get a feel for the previous newsletters and sign up for the mailing list here.

Photography has every right and every merit to claim our attention as the art of our age
Alexander Rodchenko, Russian artist and photographer

I wanted to write about the LIGHT gallery in NYC in the 1970s because it reminds me a little about what PhotoNexus is all about — a place where people meet, discuss and share ideas about photography. PhotoNexus 2020 will go live in the next few weeks.  This is based on the Center For Creative Photography recent symposium about the LIGHT gallery

Legacies of LIGHT, a pioneering New York City Gallery: Imagine in the 1970s a new gallery devoted to photography opening in the heart of New York City’s gallery district. They call The New York Times to get listed in the arts section and are told photography is not art. Few commercial galleries included photography.

At that time, Fern and Tennyson Schad had a vision to make photography an accessible and collectable art through a gallery devoted to photographers and their photographs. Photographers would be at the center of all they did. They lured Harold Jones away from the Eastman Kodak House to build the gallery — which was premised on modern photographers, monthly exhibits of new work that was matted, framed in standard silver aluminum frames, and hung beautifully in the gallery. Exhibit openings became parties and part of the evolving New York Art scene. It was a place where both staff and visitors learned about photography from the photographers. The gallery was known for the flat file cabinets which made the gallery inventory accessible for visitors to peruse.

LIGHT became more than a gallery. It became the epicenter for the photography community. It was a place where people could meet, discuss ideas and feel a sense of camaraderie. Its impact touched artists, institutions, curators, writers and critics and existing and future photography galleries, such as Peter MacGill, Robert Mann, Laurence Miller and Rick Wester.

The early Market: LIGHT was also at the center of building the market to make photographs collectible. Staff often filled boxes with photographs and went across the country to meet museum directors and private collectors – encouraging them to buy prints or complete portfolios from the photographers LIGHT represented. When LIGHT opened, Harry Callahan’s pictures were sold for $75.00 – $150.00. In the late 1970s his photographs started selling for $750, following his exhibit at MOMA. “Young people started buying photographs” – 10 photos at $300.00 paid off monthly through LIGHT’s installment program (see the 1:56 minute point of this video). Today, in one gallery Callahan’s work starts at $15,000.00. At auction he has commanded $25,000,00.

For more context, you can check out this video from the live stream of The “Legacies of LIGHT” symposium at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona which I was thrilled to attend earlier this month. More videos here)

Image of Light Gallery via Charles H. Traub

Explore Photography at PhotoNexus 2020
One of the reasons I was excited to attend the LIGHT symposium at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona was because in its own very small way, PhotoNexus is a little bit like LIGHT, without the gallery component. PhotoNexus brings together people interested in exploring the art of photography and those who want to buy photographs with the people behind the art — including curators, educators, galleries and photographers. It is an opportunity for photography enthusiasts to learn and share about photography while taking advantage of the small group setting to gain insights and personal perspectives from the people behind the art.

PhotoNexus 2020 will include several new components including:

Collecting American Snapshots: It is all about the Image an evening with a well known collector discussing his collection and what makes for powerful photographs. His collection has been part of exhibits at the National Gallery and other galleries across the country;
Ansel Adams and Advocacy for American Photography a lecture from a person who worked with Ansel Adams and is a prominent consultant in the marketplace today. This session will look at the impact of Ansel Adams on the growth of the fine photographic print market and its evolution to new buyers and new paths to purchasing collectible art;
Photo Books a visit and discussion with the pioneering book store in this field

PhotoNexus also includes salon-like discussions and experiences, such as: a photo walk with photographers to gain insight into what they are shooting; gallery and studio visits with discussions about how they choose to mount shows and work with photographers; a photographers panel; a look at trends in photography; and, a panel about the photographic print.

PhotoNexus 2020: The Art of Photography
Behind the camera. Behind the print. Behind the art.
Save the dates and plan to join us in Santa Fe, NM, July 23-25, 2020.

You can see last years program online. The PhotoNexus 2020 webpage will replace the current page in the next few weeks.

Every photograph tells a literal story.  The image itself is a story.  Then there is the story behind why the photographer took it — what was included in the image or left out, why it was taken, the lighting and mood.  And then, there is the story that is told because of the viewers’ response or what it means to someone looking at it.

In Henry Carroll’s book, “Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot,”  I was struck by this quote from Jason Fulford:

“When a person looks at a photograph you’ve taken,
they will always think of themselves” 

Henry Carroll in his commentary notes, “right after we interpret the literal aspects of the image…we enter into a second, much more personal meaning. The second reading is informed by elements such as our memories, personal experiences, tastes and cultural backgrounds…this second reading is unpredictable and entirely outside the photographer’s control.  For Fulford, this gap between what is pictured and what it might mean is where photographs come alive”

There is an image on my website whose owner told me it touches her deeply to the point of tears when she reflects on it. Another image has been described by its owner as “art that stirs the soul.”  For yet another owner, their print has an intimate feeling, and a nostalgic tone with a sense of timelessness.  It is these kinds of personal reflections that turn the literal stories behind the images into art that means something to you. That is what brings an image to life and gives it real meaning.

It is personal reflections like these that I value in delivering Limited and Personal Exclusive editions to you.  For example, these two images, “No More General Store” and “Guard to History”, became fine art Limited Edition prints as a result of direct discussions about the photographs with people who had seen them and wanted prints for their own reasons.  In the case of “Guard to History,” the backstory is this photograph is of the guard booth on the grounds of Mount Vernon near George Washington’s tomb. It is empty and even a little weathered. It was taken in the winter months…but there is a little light reflection on the bushes.  Perhaps the title should have a question mark after it?

“When you look at a photograph that is printed, you are free of distraction allowing you to really engage and experience all that it has to offer. The experience triggers an emotional response very different from simply seeing an image for a fleeting moment on a screen. The print is a finished product that engages the viewer. People want to move closer and even touch a print. Viewing a print encourages the viewer to travel into the frame imagining the experience of being in that place.” – Seth Resnick

Whether it is the social feeds and stories on Instagram or Facebook, the unorganized photo album on our phones, flipping a page in a magazine or book or the onslaught of visually enticing advertisements that we see every day, we are awash in a world of images.

However, photographic prints are not the same kind of fleeting and temporary experiences. Prints are tangible.  Prints bring scale to the image. A small print forces us to look more closely and a large print creates an immersive experience.  Prints bring details in the photograph to life.  Prints encourage us to view images in different ways — to reflect and to see more.

Photographers make lots of photographs. But we print the ones we think are best and most important. Prints bring our work out of the camera and digital work flow or dark room into the world where the image can be shared and experienced in a more complete way.

Prints are a demanding part of the process that take a photographer’s vision and bring it to completion.  Determining what kind of print to make is one part of the complexity. For example, prints can be made using processes like dye-sublimation on aluminum or pigment ink printing on archival paper or in traditional dark room processes or by making a negative of a digital photo in order to make platinum/palladium print.  Take a look at all the options.

Whatever process and size of print is chosen, the photographer then works hard to ensure that the light, tone, color and composition are coming to life the way they want.  For example, a print I wanted to do on clear aluminum did not work and so I had to change the media it was printed on.  Ansel Adams worked on printing “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” for 40 years making adjustments along the way.  Making prints is a complex part of bringing the vision of an image to realization.

Prints offer viewers the chance to consider not only what the photographers saw and how they saw it, but also the way it has been printed to be shared. The final print is the object and the carrier of the story.

 “A print is much more than a mere reproduction of an image.  It is the culmination of the inspiration and vision of the photographer.  It is the clearest, most direct and powerful form of the image and has the ability to move beyond words, ideas and concepts to touch and move the viewer”  — Christopher Burkett

or, as noted here, just start printing

“Our country is made for long trips”
American photographer Stephen Shore

Road trips are part of the fabric of America.  They inform, inspire and invigorate.

The American road trip has long been a signature adventure for families.  There must be thousands and thousands of family snapshots from summer vacations.  The open road and the vast land have also engaged artists.  Road trips are prominent in literature, with writings by Steinbeck and Kerouac for example, as well as in music, movies and photography.  The road trip is part of our culture.

Photography captures and shares perspectives of the landscapes, our communities and the roadside signs and symbols of American life. Photographers, including Walker Evans and Edward Weston, immortalized their travels through the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s America’s culture was documented in the famous book, The Americans, by Robert Frank (among my personal favorites).  In the 1970s Stephen Shore undertook his month long adventure resulting in the famous “American Surfaces” series.  In 2014, David Campany’s book and traveling exhibit, The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip explored the photographic road trip as a genre of its own.  He notes:

“the road trip confirmed our fascination, our horror,
our sense of possibility, of the sublime and the banal.
And forced us to confront the clichés in our heads and the clichés out there. I think that’s why most photographers go on the road.”

Road trips are what led to my Roadside America project which I continue to fine tune and evolve. These trips have:

  • explored the magnificent geography and desolation of West Texas;
  • made for peaceful mornings with the light of the sun and the sound of the ocean on the Outer Banks and the Eastern Shore;
  • chased the blues and the difficult history of the Mississippi Delta;
  • brought to life the awe across the western states, in the Rockies, Yellowstone and the Tetons;
  • made me think about the first pioneers (and what we now call “fly over country”) as I travel around the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains while listening to Bluegrass music; and,
  • my 2018 Americana Road Trip  featured “another time” along Route 66, while also following parts of the trail of civil rights, experiencing the gut wrenching Oklahoma memorial and listening to the vibrant roots of country, rock and roll, blues and soul music.  You can also find more from the 2019 trip here and here

From a recent trip west, a look at some of the black and white infrared photographs.