Greatest Hits


Munich, DE 2007
Out the door again, this time in NY for a weekend to spend some time in the rotating Marriot Hotel, see some exhibitions, and attend an event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Howard Greenberg Gallery.
I worked as a ‘Greenberger’ right out of undergraduate school. Armed with a BFA and a spicey attitude, I returned to my hometown of NY to work at Howard’s gallery, then in Soho. Initially my long days were spent wrapping packages and preparing works for exhibits. Yeah I got to meet Kate Moss and hang out with Saul Leiter, but the real perk was staying late at the gallery to dig through the oh-so-many boxes of vintage photographs. It was there I learned of the Photo League; the NY school photographers, Sid Grossman, Leon Levenstein, etc; and most importantly see the many hits and misses by so many famous, (and some not so) photograhers.
Its very encouraging to know that much of what ends up displayed for the public, (exhibits, books, etc) is the greatest hits and in the back rooms of galleries and archives lies the attempts, experiments and unrealizes ideas of many of the artists we look up to historically. Not only did this humanize some of my heroes but it reminded me it’s simply ok to make some mistakes, blunders and one offs, that this is indeed such a huge part of processes.
Judith Bell Turner-Yamamoto talks about this as a student of Harry Callahan in the essay ‘Harry Callahan, A Monumental Sense of the Real’ PDF Here

“I remember late one night Harry gave us insight into this process. Before this, my experience with Harry, the photographer, was through finished prints already on the wall. We had all shown our work. After much talk, Harry took out a large stack of 5 x 7 proofs of city shots he had recently taken. We all sifted through the stack of hundreds and saw good pictures, bad pictures, dumb pictures, and pictures that seemed to have a life of their own. I saw confusion, indecision, and recognition. I saw the process of ideas evolving through the act of photographing. I saw that the photograph was not easily come by, even by someone of Callahan’s stature. It was not so much different from my struggles. I saw the need to photograph, to be out looking, to cycle my ideas and experiences through photography. I saw that if one persevered, ideas would evolve through discoveries or so­called mistakes. Rather than lecturing as to the need for discipline, Callahan simply showed us the means to an end.”

8 Comments

  1. Posted October 5, 2007 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the finest posts on the nature of photography that I’ve read in a long while. Thanks!

  2. Posted October 6, 2007 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this Brian. It is nice to be reminded that even the great fall flat sometimes.

  3. Posted October 6, 2007 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Sean and Greta, thanks for the kind words. Hopefully the ratio of good to bad leans to the away from the dark side.

  4. Posted October 6, 2007 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Brian,
    I’ve thought this myself when I was assisting some photographers that I really admired but recently I’ve forgotten this phenomenon that we only see the greatest hits. Thanks for the reminder, it’s always nice to hear. This post also makes me think about how I miss contact sheets. When photographers you love include contact sheets in their books you get to understand how they see the world and the process they went through to get the great shot. Thanks,
    Kate.

  5. Posted October 7, 2007 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    I often cycle between feeling completely capable and feeling absolutely worthless. Sometimes all those art-dreams seem attainable and othertimes i am reminded of all the photo-school graduates every year. It’s always good to feel on the positive side of things, where I can only hope reality lies and realize that even the greatest hits sometimes aren’t really that great. simply enough, it’s about taking photographs, many of them. Thanks man.

  6. Posted October 7, 2007 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m right there with you Max. Though it experiences like the one I mentioned in this post that remind me that the process is learning from what you’ve done and would like to do. You can be your own best teacher.
    I also like the idea that making good work is not born if some mystical gift from the gods. Simply working thorugh your process can get you there.

  7. Posted October 8, 2007 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Brian,
    Harry Callahan is by far the most influential artist I go back to over and over for inspiration. I have more books by Harry in my extensive library than any other photographer. It is not so much the genius behind his work but that sense of play mixed with guts that I admire most.

  8. Posted October 18, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    “This is one of the finest posts on the nature of photography that I’ve read in a long while.”

    ditto

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