Photo Friday: The Professionals, part one

In the photo posts so far, I’ve mostly shown the work of talented amateur photographers. But if I’m really going to demonstrate why I love photography, I obviously can’t leave out the professional photographers who have grabbed my attention over the years. This won’t be a history lesson- there’s lots of better places to get that- and I won’t pretend I know all about the history of photography, because I definitely don’t. Instead, this goes under the “admiration” category- a mini-series-within-a-series of the work of some of my favorite photographers.

Many of these happen to be featured in a great photo book, The Nature of Photographs, by Stephen Shore. I bought the book in Ireland a few years ago, which is kind of crazy considering the exchange rate and the fact that you can most certainly purchase it in the U.S. (And the only other thing I bought on that trip, excluding beer, was a penny-whistle for a friend who said he was definitely going to learn to play it. Still waiting for the concert. Bottom line: I am not a good shopper overseas.) Anyway, it’s one of the more unique photo books I’ve come across. It’s organized by the formal elements comprising a good/interesting/eye-catching/memorable etc. photograph, with few (but carefully chosen) words and many lovely, luminous photos.

Consciously or unconsciously, the work of these artists surely influences the current photographs that are splattered all over the internet, particularly flickr. I am constantly amazed at the level of talent displayed on flickr and similar websites, and it makes me wonder- were people always this artistically skilled, but just didn’t have the same kinds of outlets we have available today? In modern America, just about everyone has access to a camera, and an eye, and a story to tell. It’s such a democratic medium, and I think that’s what I love about photography… which brings me to the work of those who have been inspirational for me.

Robert Frank


One day, when I was working at the University of Washington School of Art, I was processing an image-order for a professor from the book The Americans by Robert Frank. Now, I am easily distracted by pretty things (something I have in common with my cat, Libby), but I was especially compelled to page through this entire book. It’s so very American, so 1950s, a decade I have always been fascinated by. It seems like it was a time for creating facades and suppressing urges for many Americans (or at least that’s the postmodern view we’re being sold these days.) But I can’t help feeling like all of these images are capturing the relative calm before the storm of the 1960s. (All of this is why I love Mad Men so very much.)

Garry Winogrand

Hollywood Boulevard, 1969 (Getty Museum)

Winogrand’s photographs are like the 1960s and ’70s counterpart to Robert Frank’s 1950s series. I love the combination of documentary style + artistic eye for light and angles.

Edward Steichen

I bought The Flatiron, 1904 in small-poster form when I visited the Met a few years ago. It’s one of those images that I couldn’t get out of my head. Living in the northern U.S. my whole life, it just summarizes the isolation of cities in early evening winter.

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt- Untitled, New York (spider girl, green car), 1980

Levitt, who recently passed away, had an amazing eye for the beauty and movement in everyday street life. The colors in this shot are typical in the “vintage-inspired” look that is so prevalent these days.

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2 thoughts on “Photo Friday: The Professionals, part one

  1. I got to see a selection of the photos from “The Americans” at the NGA last year. After studying it in school it was another one of those museum moments when you once again contemplate Benjamin’s concept of “aura” – because I still get knocked over whenever I am faced with a photograph I’ve seen reproduced over and over in books. “The Americans” and Walker Evans’ “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” are both on my photography book wish list – now I’ll have to check out the Shore book, too.

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