Photo Salon for the Exchange of Ideas
Hamilton’s talk about the sea change brought about by Kodak film reminded everyone of the current digital revolution, which makes everyone not only a photographer or videographer, but also photo editor and potential publisher. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The three photographers at the gathering all participate in well-established traditions. David Brooks Stess is a New Yorker who has spent summers in Maine for 20 years raking blueberries and documenting the migrant workers in the black-and-white social documentary tradition. David Puntel, who is in the process of selling his Maine farm in order to move to Berlin (Germany, not New Hampshire), is a modern master of the antique ambrotype process. And Brenton Hamilton works in the even more arcane cyanotype process, producing modern photographs with classical themes.
As the world goes high-tech, there’s a small but determined and growing interest in returning to and preserving antique photographic processes — their laborious, handmade, often one-of-a-kind nature appealing to artists leery of the disposable ease with which digital images are made.
Of Frank and Friedlander
Along with a return to the mechanical processes of the past, there’s also a renewed interest in the photography of the past. Two great photography books arrived here within days of each other: one a modern classic; the other, more recent work by a classic American photographer.
Robert Frank’s landmark 1959 “The Americans” has just been reissued by Steidl, the German firm that is perhaps the world’s premier photo book publisher. The Americans ($39.95 hardcover) is arguably the single most influential photography book of the 20th century, its 83 grainy black-and-white photographs establishing an aesthetic that is still practiced and prevalent today.
Frank made the photographs in 1955-56 while traveling America on a Guggenheim grant. What he produced is the visual equivalent of Beat writer Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, so it was fitting that Kerouac, a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, wrote the introduction in his highly imitated hipster stream-of-consciousness style. The sad, sympathetic 1950s images of an American people in love with cars, televisions, celebrities, jukeboxes, and religion resonate with the America of today.
Robert Frank, 83, the deus absconditus of contemporary photography, has lived in relative seclusion in Mabou, Nova Scotia, for so long that it’s sometimes surprising to realize he’s still with us.
Lee Friedlander, 73, on the other hand, is very much with us and in evidence. Friedlander and the late Garry Winogrand were the godfathers of street photography, but Friedlander has remained amazingly productive to this day.
“Lee Friedlander Photographs: Frederick Law Olmsted Landscapes” (DAP, $85 hardcover) features 89 tritone photographs of landscapes designed by FLO, the greatest American landscape architect. Although these are all cultivated landscapes, Friedlander generally prefers their wilder environs, with a particular focus and grand, gnarled trees.