Whose Work are YOU Consuming? Summer 2015 Edition

In Inspiration, The Creative Process by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment

I look at a lot of photos. Like, seriously a lot. Sure, I’m on Instagram and Flickr, Facebook and 500px, and I’m known to spend a good half hour every day flipping through other people’s photography. I enjoy it, and generally-speaking, I only follow folks whose work I enjoy, with the exception of friends. If you’re posting cappuccino or sushi shots, I’m probably not following you anymore.

That said, I had an interesting discussion with a friend over crêpes today about how photographers whom I know tend to consume the photography of others. I haven’t probed any of my colleagues in the professional circuit yet, but I have asked this question of several of my amateur friends and peers:

Who are your favorite Photographers?

I find it shocking how many times this question has drawn a photographer up short. Photographer and Educator Ben Long mentioned this in one of his recent The Practicing Photographer installments on the Lynda.com library, and I really resonated with it, having experienced this situation many times myself.

I spent years in the music industry, both as a performing musician and later as a music producer and one thing I found to be universal is that musicians, professional and amateur alike, all had favorite songs and favorite bands. All but one of the musicians I ever worked with have been consumers of music and were fans at some level. They all had record collections of their own, enjoyed attending concerts.. the whole thing. (Incidentally, the only musician I ever worked with who professed not to listen to the music of others lest it affect undue influence over his own songwriting and ruin the purity of his art, blah blah blah… He was a fool and his music was really bad. Coincidence?) I digress..

Author’s Note:

I’ve recently spent a bunch of time recently studying the works of Robert Frank, Trent Parke, Lukas Vasilikos, Martin Parr, and Paolo Pellegrin and I must say that I have a newfound enthusiasm for working out on the streets.

So there it is: Musicians listen to music. As I understand it, the best writers are also avid readers. Every filmmaker I know personally is a huge lover of movies and every director I know has spent some time walking in the footsteps of their own heroes in the biz. The fine artists I know have their favorite artists, or at least their favorite works. As I understand it, many of our heroes in the art world collaborated and shared knowledge with their contemporaries. In short, I’m unaware of a situation in which artists create their work in a vacuum.

Except for Photographers, and why IS that?

I ask my friends: “Who is YOUR favorite photographer?” and I get a shrug or a vacant stare. “Uh… Ansel Adams!” Oh, come on. Really? “Um.. Vivian Maier.” Alright, I get it. Vivian Maier’s work is pretty great, and she’s been in the news a lot lately, so it’s very likely that pretty much everybody has been exposed to her work recently but I think that’s a cop-out in most cases.

Putting my money where my mouth is

ReneBurriPhotographsWho are my own favorite photographers? Well, this has been a bit of an exploration for me. I only started taking photography seriously in 2012 or so, and in that time I started hitting book stores to find out more about composition because I had a problem; most, if not all of my images were snapshots. I’m not a lover of snapshots, and for that reason I don’t have a lot of patience for “street photographers.” I prefer to be moved by an image, or at least feel as though I wish I could climb into the image and play inside of it. Those are my favorite images.

A friend gifted me the incredible Genesis by Sebastião Salgado. That book has had a profound effect on my own work.

Another friend gifted me the (also excellent) Magnum Contact Sheets volume. Now, while I enjoy this book, I enjoy it mostly for being able to see the throwaways for famous photos that I grew up being aware of. It turns out that I’m just not a big fan of the old Magnum troupe, and this includes Henri Cartier-Bresson. I appreciate and respect Henri Cartier-Bresson’s contribution to the art, but I just don’t resonate with most of his work. I’ll take Robert Doisneau over Henri Cartier-Bresson any day of the week. He’s just more my style, I suppose.

Having lived in France for two years, I wanted to see Paris through the old Magnum group’s lenses, so I bought the PARIS | MAGNUM book, and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. That book, however, led me to René Burri, whose work I adore. I ended up ordering René Burri Photographs, published by Phaidon and it remains one of my most treasured book of photographs. I’m also a fan of Vivian Maier’s work. While I don’t have a lot of patience for Street Photography what I see representing the current state of “Street Photography”, or for snapshots in general, Vivian Maier seemed to capture the soul of her subjects at a level that is truly rare and at the same time immediately communicated. And that’s just good storytelling.

Do I like any living photographers?

Yeah. And now we come to that.

• Right now, my absolutely favorite contemporary photographer is Stefanie Kovacevic. She has a way of filling cityscapes and landscapes with magic, and bringing even mundane objects to life. This is all about composition and she just “gets it” in a way that I want to just “get it.” I dig her stuff a lot. She does the work and everything she posts is a winner; no filler in her feed.

• I’m also a huge fan of Mustafa Seven who sort of defies categorization. He does some Street, some Landscapes, some Cityscapes, lots and lots of Portraits. He’s a shooter and his eye is amazing.

I had a friend once who was a rather strong influence on my own photography for a time. She was able to put a pine cone on a table, take a single shot of it and make that pine cone the most interesting fucking thing you’d ever seen. I have no idea how some people are able to do that but dammit, I know that I want it. I was followed a few days ago on Instagram by a fellow named Jeffrey Groneberg whose work I like a lot too. It’s rare that I’ll flip through an entire IG profile after following somebody, though I did in this case.

• Lastly, I have to mention Ron Anthony Bautisa. I like this guy’s stream a lot and I think he’s up to some very interesting things, and I think he does the term “street photography” a great deal of credit.

And that’s why I’m on these photo platforms; to learn, to grow. To get new ideas, find new inspirations, and hopefully provide the same for others.

Now, I ask this again: Who is YOUR favorite photographer?

Thanks for reading.

~ Chris