Esteemed thinker: Walker Evans

PH00604 Driving was once an activity that required a person to use two hands and two feet; one hand to shift and the other to steer, one foot to clutch and the other to break and accelerate. It was an activity that required the driver to pay attention to the sound of the motor, when to engage the car to another gear and when to stop….to operate the vehicle sufficiently meant the driver needed to know why and what they were doing. Those who were not competently trained did not get very far, finding themselves chugging along at a speed that was irritating even to the vehicle itself for the engine ached until it was put into the correct gear. Those who did not clutch appropriately found themselves stalling out with an abrupt and incredibly awkward thwart. Even steering the car took two hands and opening a window was laborious; all that cranking.

Fast forward to today where operating a car is so easy that some drivers often find time to shave or put on make-up at the same time. In fact, in order to manipulate a car takes less coordination or concentration than riding a bicycle. Cars of today do not even require the turning of a key; all it seems to require to get to your destination is a ridiculously simple act of … “mash and go”….

But then, it makes you wonder… who decided to design a car that is so automatic that it requires obviously very little from the driver. Not to belabor the subject, but maybe it wasn’t so bad when the driver actually had to be part of the driving process….


Today’s post introduces the esteemed thinker: Walker Evans (1903-1975 ) Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Evans began his career as a painter and writer however graduated into becoming one of America’s most prominent photographers. Evans recorded everyday life, creating a visual catalogue of contemporary America. During the Great Depression he worked for the FSA documenting the hardships and poverty of the era, with an emphasis on the rural south.

As part of his collection, I bring to you his photo, Wrecked Cars in Automobile Junkyard, Tampa, Florida (1941) His composition and subject matter is a visual reminder…driving is not for the “inattentive”!

2003.564.26

Second photo: Portrait of Evans (1941)

Esteemed thinker: Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz We humans believe that we are a sophisticated species having the ability to control so many aspects of our lives. We can decide where we live, when we eat, and how we spend days.

However, one small finicky component that we often do not seem to have as much control over is our mood. The disposition of our day can be easily altered and what began as a glorious morning may be modified, turning a seemingly pleasant afternoon into a dreary day. And the culprit for our gloom may be something that we, like it or not, have no control over… none other than Mother Nature.

Mother Nature has the ability to malign our attitude as quickly as she can turn the blue sky grey. How often do we find ourselves in a sour mood when it rains or complain when it is too hot? Her seasonal whims can make entire nations grumpy, putting scowls upon the faces of folks who only a few weeks before were delighting outside, now shielding themselves from the harsh and cold winter winds.

So as much as we would like to believe we are in control …take heed, there is a force greater than our own that “shall we say” owns our temperaments…it is our dear Mother…nature!

Today’s blog finds a path to the esteemed thinker: Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). Acclaimed photographer and art promoter, he was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, but received his formal education in engineering in Germany. Upon his return to the New York City in 1890, he set his sights on establishing photography as a “legitimate” form of art. Early in his career Stieglitz led a movement called Pictorialism, which promoted the photograph as art, with an emphasis that a photograph was created when the camera was used as a tool, like a paintbrush or palette knife was a tool. His own work grew with his artistic achievements where he began to use the natural elements, such a weather, to create effects and the camera’s focusing abilities to soften the frames.

In 1905, he founded the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York, with Edward Steichen, which later became known simply as 291. Here he was able to elevate photography to the status of sculpture and painting. His own work

In 1917 he met the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who becomes his lover and finally his wife in 1924. Over a period of 20 years, he had taken over 300 individual pictures of her, which demonstrates his unique and undeniable artistic ability to capture many facets of a single subject.

I now present to you a photogravure (1892) titled Winter – Fifth Avenue by the great photographer, Steiglitz. His ability to transport a mood is forever a testimony to his creative talents and artistic eye.

Winter - Fifth Avenue

Winter – Fifth Avenue

First image: Portrait of Alfred Stieglitz (1902) by Käsebier, Gertrude

Esteemed thinker: Frances Benjamin Johnston

johnston 4 I find black and white photography exceptionally aesthetic; for the tones and hues are not described just by their names, but are far reaching…crossing into spectrums that range from dark to light…tipping the scale of extremes that include graying nights to snowy days. Composition and subjects rely on form, strong lines, the distinction of dark and light that are so simply beautiful they need not a rainbow of colors to define image.

And so it was for our early photographers who were the masters of this craft. I find work in what some contemporaries may interpret as slow and cumbersome as invigorating; the darkroom for me was where magic took place, where you could manipulate a picture not through digital technology, but rather with time and your hands. .. where you would hold your breath as a picture slowly came alive floating in a vat of slippery liquid. And then like a dripping handkerchief, hang it up to dry…

Today’s blog I bring you Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864- 1952) a most remarkable woman who gained prominence as a great photographer during a time when women had few rights and men dominated the field. She studied art at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Art Students League, Washington, DC. In 1894 she opened a photography studio and gained international recognition through her photographs of presidents, portraits of the elite, and her work as a photojournalist and architectural photographer.

Mammoth cave
(Mammoth Cave)

In celebration of her artistic prowess, I bring you today an excerpt from “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera” by Frances Benjamin Johnston, in Ladies Home Journal dated 1897. Let us reflect on the advice of our esteemed thinker.

“When Distinction and Originality are Aimed at:
To those ambitious to do studio portraiture I should say, study art first and photography afterward , if you aim at distinction and originality. Not that a comprehensive technical training is unnecessary, for, on the contrary a photographer needs to understand his tools as thoroughly as a painter does the handling of his colors and brushes. Technical excellence, however, should not be the criterion where picturesque effect in concerned. In truth, to my mind, the first precept of artistic photography is, “Learn early the immense difference between the photography that is merely a photograph, and that which is also picture… ”