Recently I’ve been preparing some writing on thoughts about art/photography and films from the fifties (I’m really late with this post as always). One of the doors that my research into James Dean and fifties movies opened was to photography. It was after all, Dennis Stock, whose photos became an iconic encapsulation of James Dean before his death at 24. Those photos were my first point of reference, and my first serious, creative and inquisitive venture into the world of photography. After also having watched the film Life (Corbijn, 2015), I saw an interpretation of the photographer/subject relationship as well as an interpretation of the creative process involved in Stock’s photo-essay on Dean. As I put forward in this vlog here (link to be inserted), the film was incredibly subjective with its portrayal of Dean and Stock (which is okay for the record) but it failed to offer an additional emotional layer to the film other than that of the awkwardness of photographing people in real life. A few other movies were also released recently that shed light on the photographic journey, notably Finding Vivian Meier and the most recent film Mapplethorpe: Look At the Photos which I have yet to watch. Having explored some of these photos by these legendary photographers my perspective has undoubtedly transformed into something more curious about the creative potential in photography and its power whether it be analogue or digital.
James Dean Revisited – Some Favorites
Today I finished a book called Annie Leibovitz: At Work. A chronology of photo projects from her first camera, to her work with then-budding magazine Rolling Stone and later more higher establishment commissioned pieces. When taking my A-Level photography course I don’t think I ever understood what photography was. We never studied Leibovitz’s work or any other landmark photographer. The course relied on name-dropping, and that in turn transformed my idea of photography into something very flat and undetermined – what do you need to do to get a good photo? That was the question that everyone was asking, and it was clearly the wrong way to go about it. But we didn’t know any better.
“…the most important thing a young photographer can do is learn how to see. It wasn’t about the equipment[…]. I don’t remember being taught any technique. A camera was only a box that recorded an image. We learned to compose, to frame, to fill the negative, to fit everything we saw into the camera’s rectangle.” – Annie Leibovitz, p.13.
Annie Leibovitz: At Work – Some Favourites
Mapplethorpe and Lisa Lyon
The images of women and the ways they are portrayed often follow the same tangent. Curvy, typically ‘feminine’ and anything but muscly. Growing up mostly in a gym (my mother’s place of work), the toned and muscled body is no secret to me, especially not that of a woman’s muscled body. But seeing Mapplethorpe’s photographs of Lisa took my breath away. They are elegant, empowering and erotic all at once. No compromises are made. Lisa’s beautiful lines dominate the photo and nothing is hidden from the camera. I think that there need to be more images of women like this, there’s fear of a woman being ‘too muscly’ so that it threatens their femininity. To me, these photos demonstrate something new to counter the male gaze. In fact the gaze isn’t apparent at all, nor is it important. What’s important are the landscapes that exist within one body and the beauty of a muscular woman we don’t see too often. Her poses in the final two photos reminded me of Grecian statues, only perhaps as a modern version.
These are particular favourites – the left is taken by Marcus Leatherdale.