The terrific photographer Bill Sullivan recently dropped me and email about the blog and complimented my “nice edgy cranky take” on things. While he said this with kindness, I became suddenly worried. Do I sound cranky? I hope not. In the three weeks I’ve worked on this blog, I’ve tried to share my enthusiasm for vastly different kinds of photography. One of the reasons I’m sensitive is that I’ve recently encountered (with disappointment) two examples of great photographers sounding pretty crabby.
“Who is Sidney Sherman?” by Duane Michals
In the recent issue of W Magazine, Duane Michals, 74, talks about his new book, Foto Follies: How Photography Lost Its Virginity on the Way to the Bank. The book includes photographic parodies of Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky and Wolfgang Tillmans. “These photographers all take the same picture and people pay $300,000 for it, just because it’s big and in color,” says Michals, “I find it all very funny.”
Does anyone else get the feeling he doesn’t find it that funny? Moreover, I don’t agree with Michals. Those are three incredibly different photographers. Michals is a treasure. His work has a special place in the history of photography. I hope he doesn’t end his career with bitterness because Cindy Sherman’s pictures sell for more money. Sherman has her place, Michals has his. The money doesn’t mean anything.
I read a more extreme example of bitterness in the interview I recently cited with Robert Adams. At the end of the interview, Adams is asked: “Where do the political calamities of the recent years lead you?… The invasion of Iraq, the U.S. administration’s endorsement of torture, its failure to engage the problem of global warming, the re-election – if that’s what it was – of the Bush administration…”
Adams answers, “Kerstin [Adams’ wife] and I have, like many, thought about leaving, and we continue to think about it, although our age is an obstacle. The question is where. Kerstin is from Sweden, and we admire many of the values there, so we consider it, but the language is a barrier for me. I had a Jewish teaching colleague who took the last train out of Germany. That’s cutting it too close.”
I’ve tried to shrug off this comment but I can’t stop thinking about it. The pessimism is so deep. One of the reasons I value Adams’ pictures so much is that he battles to find beauty in the broken landscape. In this interview it sounds like he has thoroughly lost the battle.
Maybe Adams was just having a bad day. Or maybe I’m misreading the interview. All I know is that I don’t want to come off as bitter. I’m too young to become a curmudgeon. Life is beautiful and photography can help us see the beauty. If I start to forget this, will someone please knock me upside the head.