Style is overrated

ART LOVERUntil I began to have my work in galleries, or other venues, I rarely gave any thought whether or not I had a visual style.

It seems important to others to place a label on what I do. So when someone asks me what my photographic style is now I usually respond with a flippant “whatdaya got?” or “today, or last week?”. If we happen to be in view of my work, I would offer, “you tell me.”

The truth is, I have interests in so many places (photographically) that I just can’t label it. I work with pinhole, digital, medium format and 35mm film, and iPhone cameras. I like landscape, sports, street, editorial and bird photography. And then there is post-processing whether in Photoshop, Lightroom, an iPhone app or a real wet darkroom. I love to “colorize” images, as well as inset an historic photo into the same modern-day viewpoint. On occasion I make a "Reconstructions," taking multiple photos from the same point and re-assembling them on the computer. And I would guess that before I hang it all up I’ll have done some wet plate work. I hope.

As a beginner I learned from Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt before discovering Robert Frank, Alexander Gardner, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Robert Capa and so many more. Did they influence me? Of course.

Aside from the last fifteen years or so, I feel my most productive period was in the 1970’s, when I worked as a newspaper staff photographer in Iowa, New Jersey and Mississippi. In between was a 20-year stint as a picture editor and director of photography at newspapers and I confined my photography to family photos, with an occasional exception for breaking (we called it “spot”) news or filling in when the staff was short. During the 1970’s I felt I had a style that was graphically strong, relied on juxtaposition, depth (layering) and humor. All in black and white.

So when I was editing my pictures from a recent trip to D.C., I showed my business partner, Al, a photo I had taken at the National Gallery of Art after viewing the Gary Winogrand exhibition. I was waiting on a bench between the gift shop and the cafe, across from the Ladies room. I saw this image (above), laughed, and made a photo. The original was in color but it didn’t feel to me like a color photo. Al said to me, “that’s the first photo I’ve seen you make in fifteen years that looks like your old work.”

I agree, and it made me happy.