Getting Started: Early Influences and Process

“I found some massive war-surplus aerial photography scrapbooks with black pages. When I brought my magazines home, I tore out my favorite images and pasted them into the book in sections; as portraits, fashion, advertisements and so on. I kept another of these huge books for painting and sculpture. When I found a new photograph that I liked better than a previous one… out it would go. In this way, I constantly kept editing and (I hoped at the time) improving my eye.

Three photographers seemed to be selected more often than any others–Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith and Irving Penn–quite a diversity of style, and I learned from each of them. Cartier-Bresson has an amazing eye for composition, and his use of space is unique. Edgar Degas, the painter, had influenced my composition, by the unique way he placed the weight of the images on his canvas. I find Cartier-Bresson’s photographic images have this same tension.

W. Eugene Smith touched me emotionally where Cartier-Bresson did not. Smith obviously felt things very deeply, and sought the human element in his images. The things that Smith did for Life have still, to my mind, never been topped by any photojournalist. I only crossed paths with him once, when I watched him photographing Charlie Chaplin for Life, on Limelight. Life had the exclusive, so I was not allowed to take pictures on the set, but I sat in the audience and watched Chaplin and Buster Keaton work out a comedy routine with a piano, and it was a memorable occasion.

Irving Penn has a wonderful style all to himself, and he taught me the value of seeing the figure as sculpture. He refined his elements down, in elegant style. I think he is also unique in what he did. His color still lifes and the photographic series he made of the Peruvian natives in the old portrait studio he found there are superb.

It is interesting to me that Penn and Cartier-Bresson were both painters, and it was only late in my life that I discovered that Degas was also a photographer! Not that these disciplines are interchangeable, but they continue to influence each other, and I have certainly learned from both in the design and composition of my own work.”

 

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