LEARNING ABOUT PICTURES
When I became serious about photography I became kind of methodical about looking at pictures. New York in the sixties was a pretty barren place to look at photographs. There were the museums and a few galleries, some of them vanity galleries. I would go to laundromats if there were photographs on the walls.
This went on for many years. I remember walking down the street with Hiroshi Sugimoto and we came to a store with very large portraits of pretty women on the wall. We went in and looked closely at the pictures and then Hiroshi asked the woman at the counter “What kind of place is this?” She said it was a hair salon. Sure took us by surprise.
The sixties was a time of many used book stores and I would buy books and magazines with pictures. Color picture books were uncommon and if you found them they could be expensive, not very accurate color and usually not what I really wanted. More books on National Parks than on the painters I liked.
Gradually I started to look at other kinds of prints, lithographs, etchings and Japanese woodblock prints. Then I started to include works on paper too.
Of course somethings I liked better than others. I remember wonderful black and with images on paper by Picasso, etchings or lithographs I think. Beautifully matted and framed in a gallery that I remember nothing about except it was on 57th street. A very expensive place for a gallery.
Some beautiful prints by the master, W. Eugene Smith in Museums. Any Ansel Adams was worth looking at for the print quality. It must be kept in mind that he didn’t make the papers or films. It was with the same stuff you could find at the photo store.
Wonderful Rembrandt etchings in another 57th street gallery crowded with people I had never seen at any other gallery. Fur clad little old ladies packing the joint.
Japanese woodblock prints of wide ranging quality. I saw one show at the Explorers Club! Sometimes the prints were in awful condition, one of the colors would have completely disappeared or damaged in some way. But they were the right (famous) artist and so were on display.
All of that looking was good for me. I had no idea of copying anything I saw. In the beginning I could not have copied any of the masters. But I got some idea of how compositions were made.
What made me think of this journey into my past was something I read by the very fine pastry chef Shuna Lydon, on learning the pastry trade.
“Go to every fine dining place that have pastry chefs and teams. eat those people’s desserts. Every day you should be going out. if you can’t afford dinner, call ahead and see if you can get desserts at the bar. THIS is your research.”
I thought that is advice I would give to picture makers. Look. I have met young photographers who could only look at a specific area like fashion and not be able to appreciate the craft involved in other photographic endeavors. The work showed that narrowness.