Josef Sudek’s Egg
I had not seen the work of Czech photographer Josef Sudek, “The Poet of Prague,” before I created my own photo of an egg and its shadow. Sudek’s development as a photographer is an interesting story, but his work speaks for itself…..beautifully, wonderfully poetic.
In an article that Charles Sawyer wrote for Creative Camera in 1980, he describes Sudek’s photographic aesthetic perfectly, “The eye is usually accustomed to seeing not light but the surfaces it defines; when light is reflected from amorphous materials, however, perception of materiality shifts to light itself. Sudek looked for such materials everywhere. And then he usually balanced the ethereal luminescence with the contra-bass of his deep shadow tonalities.”
In Sudek’s own words (taken from the text accompanying a short video tribute to his work set to music):
” I believe that photography loves banal objects, and I love the life of objects…”
” Everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations, so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings…. To capture some of this – I suppose that’s lyricism…”
The banal through the eyes of Sudek…….exquisite visual poetry.
I took this photo from my vehicle a while ago when I was stopped in traffic on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, CA. There’s a skyscraper there that often posts enormous advertisements for various TV shows and movies, and this one was promoting the TV series “The Crazy Ones” featuring Robin Williams. Williams has always been one of my favorite actors and comedians. I probably know the script of “Mrs. Doubtfire” by heart now. “Dead Poet’s Society” is also a favorite movie, although there are few movies that he’s been in that I didn’t enjoy. That man had a gift and a big, big heart.
The news of his death has saddened me in a way that surprises me, and I can only imagine what his family is going through right now. Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, grew up in Tiburon not far from where WIlliams lived as a kid also. She wrote a poignant piece that she posted on Facebook that addresses his death, making sense of seemingly senseless tragedy, mental illness, and addiction. One of the things she said about Williams remains with me, put as only she can put things: “You know how I always say that laughter is carbonated holiness? Well, Robin was the ultimate proof of that, and bubbles are spirit made visible.” On the marquee of The Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, it says, “Robin Williams rest in peace. Make God laugh.” If anyone could do that, it would be him.
As much as his passing has produced a sense of heaviness and sadness in many people, there’s also a lighter, positive impulse emerging in the wake of his death. I know he struggled with depression and addiction, a double whammy that is hard to shake. But, along with the sadness there’s also an appreciation for his little spark of madness that produced such a life-affirming light for so many. It’s evident in every clip of a movie or interview they’re now showing in the media. He lived the “carpe diem” his character extolled in “Dead Poet’s Society.” And even though these aren’t his words, but words spoken by Mr. Keating (the character he played in “Dead Poet’s Society”), as a photographer, they also inform the philosophy at the core of my work:
“We must constantly look at things in a different way.”
Robin WIlliams certainly did and he shared that with everyone with his unique, infectious hilarity. Thank you, Oh Captain, My Captain.
Needle and Thread
It’s always great when someone compares my work to another artist’s, particularly when it’s an artist I’m not familiar with and have the thrill of discovering. In this case, someone saw this image and compared it to the work of installation artist (though he prefers to be called a “sculptor”) Fred Sandback, who worked with elastic cord and acrylic yarn to delineate or bifurcate three-dimensional space. Obviously, photography and thread sculpture don’t share the same relationship with space as one is two-dimensional and the other three, but both can draw the eye along line and form. When I work in black and white, my attention focuses on line and form, light and dark, eliminating the distraction of color. It’s all in the eye. I use light like a thread one follows into a dark room. For Sandback, his work was meant to be experienced in the third dimension, as opposed to seeing photographic reproductions of it. In a statement he made in 1999 about his own work he says:
“I left the model of [ ] discrete sculptural volumes for a sculpture which became less of a thing-in-itself, more of a diffuse interface between myself, my environment, and others peopling that environment, built of thin lines that left enough room to move through and around. Still sculpture, though less dense, with an ambivalence between exterior and interior. A drawing that is habitable.”