Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Report: Annie Leibowitz at Work

With  all the recent controversy concerning Annie Leibovitz and her financial situation I was interested to read something about her and her work.  This was the first photography book I have read that is about a specific artists work and in particular written by the artist.  Much of my reading to date has centred on history of photography or critical theory, interesting in their own right, but rather dry.  I am half way through the text book, had to stop reading as I got to an image that, perhaps on a plane, might have upset the child sitting next to me (need to start again)! I am also working through 1 or 2 books by John Szarkowski, fascinating history and great critical insight, but not really pot boilers.  

Annie's book was refreshing to read, the insight into the process she used and the challenge of working with her subjects was a fascinating story. She balanced her discussion between technique and management of the creative process.  Her pursuit of perfection led her to stitching multiple medium format images together and then the realization that a 35mm frame provided as much insight into the subject.  This resonated as I am far too concerned about buying the next lens, looking for that elusive new experience rather than what I will actually create with that new piece of glass.

I have no illusion that I will ever do the kind of work she does, not do I want to, but her story provided a glimpse into the soul of a photographer rather than the photograph. The upside is that I now find myself trying to balance the study of the historical evolution of photography and critical understanding thereof, with an appreciation of what modern photographers are doing.  My book shelf is starting to complain and Amazon are adding me to their frequent flier program (I wish). 

However, photographically I am still in the point and click stage, I can happily shoot 200, 300, or more images of random subjects in a day, but without purpose. I guess I am struggling to find my metier, a subject or genre to focus on and develop.   Prior to the course I thought of myself very firmly as an underwater photographer, a very technical discipline obsessed with sharpness and equipment, versus composition.  The challenge of framing a 2cm long subject through a 100mm macro lens whilst hanging upside down on the edge of a reef in current, mask slowly filling with water and forever aware of the deeply poisonous nature of the subject was photographic heaven.  

Reading Annie's book and others has really led to me questioning my motivation to photograph, not whether to shoot, but what to shoot. Underwater I am pretty good, not special, but able to teach technique to others, above water I haven't a clue and the further I progress with the course the less I really understand about what I do. F-stops, shutter speed, ISO, it is all just a mathematical expression of photography, what is it that makes an image good rather than bad, and what IS good versus bad, and even does it matter?  

OK, a lot of introspection, but that is what a blog is good for.  At this point, just a couple of months into the course I feel a change in how I see photography - I am just not sure what the change is or where it is going.  In the meantime it is Autumn and an early start tomorrow might yield a couple of interesting if frigid images, time to go!

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