Who leaves a greater legacy?

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Jim Chinn

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I have been going through some of my parents photographs recently. I always seem to do this around the holidays. There are prints from wet plates of the family in Missouri in the 1870s, a beautiful 2 1/4x 31/4 platinum portrait of my grandmother at 16 from 1917 and the typical photo in uniform of my grandfather (army, WW1) and my dad, (navy,WW2)


It makes me wonder. Who is the greater photographer or artist. Is it the Adams and Westons of the world, or the long forgotten neighborhood or small town photographer? Which leaves the greater legacy behind? Who touches the most lives?
 

lee

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without a doubt the small town photographer. Now if the question is who makes the most interesting images then the answer may not be that.\\


Speaking of Weston, given any thought when we need to get together for a trip to the Amon Carter to view the Edward Weston show. Middle of Jan it comes down I think.

lee\c
 

photomc

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Well this is an interesting question. I could almost conclude that the greater artist are the ones in the small towns, then I think about the work of Curtis, O'Sullivan, then the lesser known E. Knee, M. Wood, they all fall in the shadows of Adams, Weston and the like. Yet without the small town photographers we have no images to connect us to our past. The images of people, just like the ones on this site, that are every bit as good (and sometimes just as interesting) as those of the Grand Masters..well how dull would our walls be (physical and emotional inner walls). Very few will attain the recognition of Adams or Weston, but how much recognition would they have without all of the others?

Good question...Lee, you are correct the Weston exhibit does come down on Jan. 19.
 

lee

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jdef,
I think you are right on the mark on this one. Good thoughts.

lee\c
 

Donald Miller

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If we accept the interpertation that a legacy is something that is handed down to succeeding generations then I find it difficult to make a determination who has had the greater impact. Certainly the hometown photographers have over time facilitated others as they have engaged in the leaving of a legacy. Have they themselves actually left something behind. Yes, I imagine that you can say they have. But what is it and what has it amounted to?

Accepting the interpertation of legacy as stated above, I also must allow for the fact that Curtis, Weston(s), Adams, Sieglitz, Strand, among a vast number of others have left a legacy that is rich and varied on the professional practice of photography.

As I see it legacies have been left by both groups. The legacies that have been left are different and both are of value.

I wonder how proficient any of us would be if we had only the hometown photographer from which to draw our knowledge, appreciation, and experience of photography as a means of expression.
 

blansky

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I think we're talking apples, oranges, grapes and pears here. There are so many applications of photography that it is impossible to answer the initial question.

There are

"Portrait photographers" whose function is has been to record the life of a family. Birth, weddings, family get togethers, family portraits etc. These are incredibly important on a personal level to most families.

Journalist, newspaper type photographers that cover our world and bring us a view of other places and people that we would never have seen without them. (Life Magazine, National Geographic, Eisenstadt etc)

Commercial photographers who have in the last few years set the standards for everyone else. They are the ones who do all the advertising photography we see in virtually every magazine and billboard. They influenced what peopel want their portraits to look like, they influenced what peoples homes look like and they influence what people want to think they look like as well as unfortunately try to sell a lot of crap we don't want or need. I believe they are the most influential photographers that there are today.

Fashion, illustrative photographer who also have often set the style and trends of photography and continue to do so. (Avadon Helmut Newton etc)

Landscape and scenic photographer have not only given us a record of the beauty in our world they have contributed to environmental movements to stop our devastation of these areas.

Our blending of these styles of photography has produces many sub styles of photography.

To say that one is more important than the other is very difficult.

I once had a talk with a very good fashion photographer and I told him I loved his work and was kind of jealous of his work environment (beautiful models) and his creativity. He told me that his work is essentially frivolous and irrelevant, and ends up in a magazine that is thrown out every month. He told me that it was I, a portrait photographer, who had it made because I was creating beautiful memories for people that were staying for years on their walls.

I started to think that maybe he was right and if he wasn't, it was still a very satisfying profession.

Michael McBlane
 

photomc

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JIm68134, knew when I saw this it was going to be a good thread and so far it IS!

jdef, Rant all you want to - I think you are dead on and this is one of favorite subjects, the loss of the family album (CD, floppy, or just plain bad print).

Don, you have shared a great insight here I think. Without the master photographers, printers, etc who would we learn from. The list of good photographers that we all know are still unknown to the general public, but we as 'lovers of photography' enjoy and learn from what they did before us.

And Michael, I guess we are never sure if the path we took is the right one, but I can see where you can find enormous satisfaction from your work..just think in a hundred years someone will sit down just as jdef's family did and your work will be the inspiration of a whole new generation, where they will discuss how wonderful it was that not everyone bought into the digital age, that artist kept working in the time tested medium of silver processing...so they can see what gran-ma and gran-pa looked like way back in '03.


Wonder what the hot paper/film/developer combo will be then....And who will be the photographers they are talking about at the local museum, maybe the guy who did all those cool moonscapes in Black and White.......
 

Joe Lipka

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Good thread, but please remember, ol' Eddie Weston was an accomplished portrait photographer as well as an Artist. Ansel whatshisname had a great career as a commecial photographer, too. So, you have to count them as "local photographers" too.
 

Ole

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I've bought a whole lot of old prints lately, mostly out of a desire to see more examples of old printing styles and techniques.

Many of these are "Carte de Visite" or formal portraits. It makes me sad to know that noone now knows who these people were, or even worse: Someone knows who they were, but no longer care.

Most of them have the photographer's name on the back; fancy wholepage designs or squidged rubber stamps, some have it in small gold letters on the bottom of the front of the print, but very very few have the subject's name anywhere.
 

Les McLean

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Great thread. Many years ago I was of the opinion that the Westons and Adams were the beginning and end of photography and their landscape photographs were the only images worth looking at. Family photographs and any commercial photography was ignored. I then met an elderly photographer who was also very interested and knowledgable about the history of photography and we had many deep and sometimes argumentative discussions on the very subject of this thread. His view was that the most important photographs were those made by the local photographer as well as those family and holiday photographs made by the general public for they would provide the historians with extremely valuable evidence as to how people lived, what they wore even how they cut their hair.

Initally I rubbished this view but eventually I realised that there was a lot of truth in what he said. He never rubbished the landscapes of the greats that I loved so much, in fact he thought that they were also great photographs, just not so important as the others. He felt that although the landscape changed it did take time whereas fashions and living conditions etc frequently change.

I recently visited Point Lobos for the first time and walked on the hallowed ground walked on and photographed by perhaps the greatest influence on my photography, Mr Edward Weston. To say that I felt humble is an understatement, I saw Edward Weston images everwhere that I looked and my mind went back to those long and interesting conversations with my friend and thought again how right he was. Weston has been gone for 50 years and his landscape has changed little but look at how the rest of the world has changed.

I am not dissmissing the work of the greats, for they have brought to all who look at the prints they left behind a beauty and celebration of the landscape for as long as the prints exist. I also think that many more interesting and valid points have been made in this extremely interesting thread, thanks to you all.
 

Ed Sukach

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I would humbly submit that there is something of a "middle ground" here. Consider the work of August Sander , b. 1876, Herdorf, Germany; d. 1964 Cologne.

His work could, and possibly, SHOULD, be classified as "snapshots", but *WHAT* snapshots!!! He captured the "essence" of the time, and his subjects.

From "20th Century Photography - Museum Ludwig Cologne":

"Sander's portrait work constitutes an important contribution to the recognition of photography as an art. Today, his systematic approach is viewed as an early example of conceptual art which was also not without influence in the development of the creative arts. He is now considered to be Germany's internationally best-known photographer of this (20th) century."
 
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Jim Chinn

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Thanks for all the great discussion. I guess to clarify I would give an example of a photographer in a medium sized town (25,000) around WW2. Could be in England, the US or Germany. A big part of his bread and butter would have been making portraits of servicemen, after enlistment, before shipping out, back on leave etc. For the families of a good number of these GIs this may be the last current memory they will ever have of their loved one. If the soldier survived the war, it becomes a memory of an event that no doubt changed him forever.

Of course there are also the wedding photos, school pictures, business photos etc. The sort of stuff that would be very run of the mill for any studio photographer. Yet these run of the mill photos contain so much value for those who cherish the memories they hold. I can honestly say that if offered a trade for an early print of my favorite Strand or Weston for the family photos I mentioned I would decline.

I guess I am always in awe of the power of photography as our link to the past and that what are considered obligatory images when made become true treasures down the road.
 

blansky

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I often wonder why I don't take my camera and just walk down the street and photograph the storefronts and the cars and people on the streets. I love to look at the same shots that someone else took 50 years ago of the same thing.

It is so cool to pour over these old pictures of the way it used be in virtually any city. How they have grown and annexed the surrounding areas as well as how the downtown city centers have changed.

It is probably just nostalgia and I realize that you have to be a certain age to appreciate it but it certainly fascinates me. But then I spend my days watching Turner Classic Movies so it shows you where my head is at.

My dad left me a bunch of pictures of his life, and they too are amazing. He had a picture of his regiment in the Canadian Army during WWII. One of those panorama shots of hundreds of soldiers posed, somewhere in England before the D-Day landing. He said that some smart asses would run around behind the the grouping so that they would be on both sides of the photograph.

Michael
 

photomc

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Jim668134, you make a valid point - read one at one time, think it was the Center for Military Archives here in the states that every member of the military since the Civil War had been photographed. Think they have a project going, where they are asking to scan any image someone has and then return the original. This very well could be true, since it would include those big pano's that were so popular from 1900's to just after WWII.

Now if you think about it, that is a lot of photographs.
 

Donald Miller

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blansky said:
I often wonder why I don't take my camera and just walk down the street and photograph the storefronts and the cars and people on the streets. I love to look at the same shots that someone else took 50 years ago of the same thing.

It is so cool to pour over these old pictures of the way it used be in virtually any city. How they have grown and annexed the surrounding areas as well as how the downtown city centers have changed.

It is probably just nostalgia and I realize that you have to be a certain age to appreciate it but it certainly fascinates me. But then I spend my days watching Turner Classic Movies so it shows you where my head is at.

My dad left me a bunch of pictures of his life, and they too are amazing. He had a picture of his regiment in the Canadian Army during WWII. One of those panorama shots of hundreds of soldiers posed, somewhere in England before the D-Day landing. He said that some smart asses would run around behind the the grouping so that they would be on both sides of the photograph.

Michael

Michael,
I think that you have addressed something that for many of us is overlooked. Several months ago in Photovision Magazine an article visited this topic as well. In this article a gallery owner wrote that she would love to have more images made during the 40's and 50's simply because there was such a demand for images of that type. The only problem for you and I is that the importance of the images that we make today will not be realized during our lifetime. Perhaps that is a portion of the legacy that we can leave for those who follow.

My experience with my family was different in regard to family photographs (even snapshots). There simply weren't photographs made during the term of my childhood to adulthood. There were a fair number made during my grandparents era and also during the same period of my parents when they were young. Why my parents ignored this I do not know. When I picked up the camera as an adult I was fortunate to capture one of only two images in which my parents, my siblings, and I appear. The other image was made by a professional photographer using color materials and it has virtually faded into obscurity. My image was made with black and white and the print as well as the negative still exist in good condition.
 

DKT

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I'll try my hand at an inspirational post....

If you're serious about giving back to the community, through photography, one way to do it would be to check with your local archives, historical societies, public library special collections (geneology etc). I can tell you, that very few of the smaller local institutions will have technical staff in the way of a photographer or lab facility. I know from being on archives & museum professional listgroups that it's getting pretty tough for some now to find a local lab that will do copywork on b&w sheet film, even roll film is getting hard to find.

In this country, b&w film is still the standard medium used for preservation work--and indeed most state archives are similar to the one within the system I work in. The dept I work for ultimately oversees the archives & records center, several museums, archaeology , a state library, geneology collection and 20+ some odd sites. They run a site preservation project modeled after the HABS/HAER as well a microfilm reformatting project that continually archives records and periodicals such as newspapers. The state archives has over 1.5 million photographs or something in that range and is one of the oldest in this country.

There are collections within this that are made up of the negs of studios out of business, newspapers, family photo albums--you name it. One of my favorites is 18,000 8x10 and larger negs and plates from a 1890-1920s era studio. I have printed so many of these over the years in support of exhibits, yet I've probably only seen 10%, if that, of them. We've used them in exhibits covering a broad range of subjects--because they offer a unique view to the area since so much has changed on the landscape around us. What's more--there are images of factory openings, parades etc.

Right now--I'm working on support of an exhibit and have printed several hundred negs from a newspaper archive dating back to the 30s and then more, mainly of copy negs, plus site documetnation negs of structures. The news negs are interesting--because it is often the out-takes of the assignments that are of most interest now.

Here are 2 examples though, that come to mind. A studio went out of business--owner died, the studio was sold off in an estate auction and pieces were eventually donated to the state. Some of this wound up in our museum--there were 40+ yrs of negs--all sheets--that were basic run of the mill portrait studio fare. Yet, they had all the original log books--the provenance, if you like--names, dates even how much was charged for the sitting. There were thousands of these. Ultimately they wound up being housed in ageneology search room--and there was alot of interest from that community in these negs which had been stored in a barn more or less for years--it was like a hidden treasure.

Earlier this year--a similar thing happened again. We went out to the studio this time and picked up some donated equipment from this now defunct studio. I asked the donor where the negs were---the studio had been around for 30 some odd years. Turned out they had thrown them away because they felt like nobody would be interested in them...I immediately thought of the other collection and felt a certain loss. so it goes.

As for the post above about veteran's projects? Yeah--alot of archives are doing these. NC started with a WWI oral history project about 5 yrs ago. At that time, there were maybe 85-90 living vets in-state. They started small, with one researcher, but were overwhelmed by the interest and had to take on volunteers to get the job done. They started with oral history interviews and transcripts--accompanied by copywork of photographs, letters, service papers etc. By the end, they had widows & family members literally bringing shopping bags full of artifacts to the archives. The project was such a success, they did the same for WWII, Korea and are moving through Korea and all the following. The museum I work for is across the street--and we've been actively collecting this material for years. Even with what is happening now--someone collects this current material. It's an ongoing process.

fwiw--my 101 yr old uncle was interviewed for the WWI project about a year before he passed away. By the end of the WWI project, about half the vets had passed away, and they actually ran out of time with interviewing some. I went out with a military curator from our museum--who volunteered to interview him. We brought back photos, maps and postcards and copied these onto 4x5 film, returning the originals to the family. The tapes, transcripts, copy negs, work prints and the film I shot of him being interviewed all reside in the state archives now for anyone to access--along with the rest of the project.

I have copied so many family photo albums, I can't even recall how many. But the negs are always what I like to see. Curators and historians will always see more in an old photo than others--they look at the manner of dress, or furnishings in a room, or what have you--the minituae that escapes everyone else. This is why even those mundane headshots can be seen as being historically relevant.

So I guess my point is-- Commercially--those studios have never really had a concern over longevity. I can't fault them for using digital for their businesses now--and would be a hypocrite to do so. What I'd like to see would be folks documenting their community with the interest in sharing it in ways beyond "art".....the potential newspaper archives made of b&w film all died about 15 yrs ago. You can forget most commercial studios as well. So it will be mostly up to folks like you eventually...and those who work for the historical preservation projects. The sad part is that 50% or more of the holdings in archives around the country probably came out from commercial interests like the ones I descirbed above. As technology changes, so do the ways in which these images are collected. If you ask any archivist about longevity--they'll stick with b&w film anytime--but the reality is that digital is making inroads into this field as well.

Happy holidays--KT

here, this is our site & the portal link to the digitzation project:

http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/

http://www.ncecho.org/


Kent Thompson, Photographer
North Carolina Museum of History
Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.
 

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wow - this is a great thread :smile:

while the adams and westons of the world are definitely the people that are remembered in the "books" and history of photography courses, i think the regular guy/gal with a camera is the one that makes the most impact.
i remember seeing one of those sunday morning shows maybe 10 years ago.
they did one of their segments on this old man who lived in a small village somewhere - midwest, smokey mountains? i don't remember exactly where.
anyhow, he documented his region, the people that lived nearby, you name it, he photographed it. they showed the glass plates, talked a little bit about his camera, and photography. the images were just beautiful. after seeing the photographs you got a sense of place - you saw people as they were, the the nick-nacks in their homes, you saw their land, the way they farmed, as well as the region that they lived --- a real social history.

i actually have a degree in "historic preservation" and rather than working in a historical commission, planning agency or environmental firm, i am recording regular people and the built / unbuilt environment around me. i find it to be more rewarding to a habs documentations or photograph streetscapes than working on big projects doing national register nominations &c. in 2, 50 or 100 years someone can go to the local library and look through the photography books of streetscapes or habs submission and actually learn something from them. it might be as mundane as what trash cans or traffic lights looked like, or it could show what buildings existed and the context that they existed or even an occupational thing like what a "record store" owner looked like. i don't know may people except for geneologists or preservationists that even know what a national register nomination looks like :smile:

maybe the adams and westons will be remembered in art books on television specials on pbs, or on posters, but in my book, the "regular guy" steals the show.
 

Michael A. Smith

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"Who is the greater photographer or artist. Is it the Adams and Westons of the world, or the long forgotten neighborhood or small town photographer? Which leaves the greater legacy behind? Who touches the most lives."

It really is a question of two disparate things that cannot really be compared.

The painter Alfred Leslie once said, " There is a direct relationship between what we see and the quality of life." In the context of his writing, "what we see" referred to "how much we see." There is no question, to me anyhow, that Weston's photographs once enabled me to literally see more, and it is my hope that my photographs will do the same for others. To me, the photographs that do that the best are the 'greater" and the photographers who make them are greater than those whose work does not.

Weston's photographs touch far more lives than any one small town photographers work does, though it is certainly true that the work of the small town photographer may touch specific lives far more deeply than any Edward Weston photograph ever could.

Which leaves the greater legacy? The answer is both do. The small town photographer leaves a greater legacy to those interested in history and in social things. The artist leaves a greater legacy to those interested in art and in seeing more, thereby, if Alfred Leslie words are true, enhancing the quality of one's life for those who are interested in such things.

Many do not know that in the 1980s I received four separate commissions to photograph four American cities. The documentary aspect of my work--in terms of its historical usefulness--was always present in my thoughts, though at the same time I hoped I was making photographs that were art as well--photographs that did not depend on the specific subject matter. It is a most interesting and very thin line to work on.
 
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Jim Chinn

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I recently had the opportunity to see a lifetime of work from a local photographer who worked from the 30s untill 80s. Besides the thousands of negatives and proofs for portraits, publicity shots, weddings etc. was a wonderful group of personal work, including some stunning work done in post WW2 occupied Japan and Southeast Asia. After this discussion I have thought about the fact that if I had seen those images and not been involved with photography I probably would have no appreciation of the historical significance and beauty of the images. It is because of the legacy left behind by Weston and Strand and Evans and others that I can appreciate the local man's work.
 

Michael A. Smith

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No Jay, I was not saying that small town photographers are/were not artists. Some are and some aren't, but for one reason or another--and the reason may be nothing more than that their work was/is never seen by a broad public--their work remains essentially unknown.

And in case I gave the wrong impression: Weston's legacy is deep as well as broad. The small town photographer's legacy is usually only deep insofar as those seeing his photographs have a direct connection to the specific subject matter. Weston was perhaps the preeminent modernist. With his work, the subject matter is less important than the photograph itself.

That points up two essentially different ways of looking at photographs. One is to look at them as works of art which directly show a speciific subject, but which specific subject matter is essentially unimportant. Photographs that are looked at that way are basically all works of photographic art. Examples: it doesn't realy matter who is pictured in Sander's photographs--it could have been someone else. In Weston's work, it really doesn't matter that certain photographs were made at Point Lobos. Similar ones made elsewhere are equivalent. With small town photographers and the hold their photographs have on us it is usually (perhaps not always) the fact that is our grandparents pictured or the small town we live in seen 100 years ago, and our interest in and associations with those particular things that makes those photographs important and meaningful to us. Those photographs would, generally speaking, not be meaningful to those who have no interest in that subject matter. Weston's work touches so many of us not because of what he saw but because of how he saw.
 

Michael A. Smith

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That is a question I have never asked of myself nor have ever thought of answering. What it will ultimately be, if there is one at all, will be for others to decide. So it is perhaps, presumptious of me to answer, but being one to not let a challenge pass by, I'll make a stab at it.

I once defined a photograph as being a "rhythmic event." At least that is what my photographs are to me. It is my hope that the rhythms in my photographs coincide with life rhythms, much in the same way that great music does. If they do, they have a chance of adding to the art of the centuries that moves us.

In his time, J.S. Bach was considered a great organist, but not much of a composer, since Baroque music had already been done. Later we found that he had made a great contribution indeed. Similarly, traditional, straight photography has already been done. I would hope that the rhythms in my photographs take it beyond what has already been done. Do they? As I said above, that will be for others to decide.

The legacy any photographers work has is partly a function of how visible it is. Think of Disfarmer or Heber Springs. No legacy at all, until someone discovered this small town photographer's portraits and published a book of them. Is it important to leave a legacy? Not really. What is important is to do the work. Do Paula and I work at getting our photographs "out there"? We sure do. But it is not for the sake of a leaving a legacy--for us it is a matter of survival and of being able to continue making photographs.
 

Michael A. Smith

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Jdef: I'd like to know more about the rhythyms you describe. How is photographing a rythmic event, and how would you describe "life rhythms"

I'll do my best with this one in a day or two, but I think it should be a new thread.
 

Michael A. Smith

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Jdef: I'd like to know more about the rhythms you describe. How is photographing a rhythmic event, and how would you describe "life rhythms"

Here goes: I did not say that photographing was a rhythmic event. I did say that I look at photographs as rhythmic events. What do I mean by that? First I'll answer the other question.

I would describe "life rhythms" as being the traces of life energy. So that we don't get embroiled in an irrelevant discussion, let me preface this by saying that this is my opinion and my way of understanding the universe. I have worked with enough experimental alternative science to know that this is true, or if some may prefer, substitute for "to know that this is true," "that I believe this to be true."

Life is created from energy. Energy moves in certain lawful ways. Form is frozen life energy. See the first photograph in the current issue of the American B&W magazine in the article about me and Paula in the January/February issue. It was made in 1967 and reflects my understanding of form and the way frozen energy manifests itself. Later, "all-over" work--traces of which are in photographs in the article (though none specifically)--reflects my further understanding of the flickering movement of the energy itself. Life rhythms" are rhythms that are in accord with the way the energy moves and are in accord with that energy in its frozen state. The energy can take an infinite number of forms, so this is not limiting in any way.

Although during the act of seeing and exposing a negative I never consciously try to make photographs that exemplify this, I feel that my photographs are successful if they impel the viewer's eyes to navigate the entire picture space--and to do so in a way that, through the act of viewing, the viewer's eyes move through the picture space in accord with life rhythms. Thus, through my photographs, I hope the viewer, through the movement of his or her eyes, is impelled to join with and participate in the great cosmic life rhythms.

To me the "greatest" photographs, whether mine or someone else's, or indeed the greatest works of art in any medium, are those that perform this function the best. The result is that, as audience, we feel more connected to the world and to each other (since we are all part of the world).

Something added that is a little off track here, but is nonetheless not irrelevant, I think. Just last week I saw this on the wall in a museum: "The viewer must recognize that the act of seeing, of receiving, is a participation in the creative process no less essential than the artist's own."

I hope that explains it. Let me know if it does not.
 
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