Stephen Shore, U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, 1973
This picture single-handedly made me want to become a color photographer. I can remember the very first time I saw the image in a slide lecture at MICA and I just gasped. It’s one of those pictures that has an immediate power and presence, it’s like a punch. I’ve seen a lot of photographers try to make and remake this kind of picture again and again, combining representation and reality into one frame, but I haven’t seen too many that affect me the way this one did, and still does.
Roger Fenton, Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855
For me, this is easily the sexiest and most violent black and white landscape picture I’ve ever seen. I’m interested in photographs that describe the aftermath of an event more so than coverage of it, and Fenton, without showing us any bloodshed, is able to encapsulate the desolation and massive scale of war into a single, almost featureless photograph. I don’t need to see what happened here, I feel like I already know. Errol Morris wrote an incredible series of articles for the New York Times about an alternative version of this photograph, which has only strengthened my admiration for it (and for Morris).
I think about this picture probably more than any other picture I know and it’s one of only a handful that I have hanging in my house. It’s been a definite influence on me, most directly in my photographs of the paths that link TNT Storage Igloos in Point Pleasant. I learned from his photograph that you don’t need to overtly show something in a picture for your picture to be about something. The paths in Point Pleasant are as much about war as a battalion of troops would be for me, it’s all in the intention of the photographer.
Joshua Dudley Greer, Path S7, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2010
William Christenberry, Red Building in Forest, Hale Country, Alabama, 1983
I think anytime you can combine humor and melancholy into a single image, you’ve done your job as a photographer. This picture is seemingly so straightforward and simple, yet it speaks so poignantly about the American experience and I think about photography in general. At first glance we see a red brick building and we wonder — why would anyone brick in a door? It’s just kind of funny to see. A door that doesn’t open ceases to be a door, it’s just a representation of a door. Upon further inspection, we realize that they’re aren’t actually any bricks at all, it’s just paper. So the door does open, but why would anyone want us to think that the door was bricked in? Maybe someone doesn’t want us to see what’s inside. Maybe they had a sense of humor, maybe they didn’t. In a way the building has a strange parallel with the photograph — there are no bricks in a picture, it’s just a sheet of paper and of course you can’t look inside it, all you have is what you can see from the outside.
Joshua Dudley Greer, Bricks, Athens, Georgia, 2009
Simon Roberts, Maidstone Young Bird Pigeon Race, Maidstone, Kent, 13th September 2008
Simon Roberts’ We English is one of my favorite books of the past few years. In a way I see a strong connection to what Joel Sternfeld did in the late 70′s/early 80′s with American Prospects. Both bodies of work have this incredible scale to them, a kind of leverage over their subject matter. There is a slight detachment, but the photographs are still personal and delicate, richly nuanced and littered with detail. As a photographer, I don’t exactly understand how Roberts made a lot of these pictures with a large format camera, they’re just too perfect in their complexity — the vantage point, the composition of multiple, uncontrollable elements, the light and weather, and the serendipity of it all. Almost every picture in the book is a knockout, they just blow me away.
Joel Sternfeld, Approximately 17 of 41 Sperm Whales that Beached and Subsequently Died, Florence, Oregon, June 1979
Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects is still the pinnacle of American photographic surveys for me. Incredibly beautiful and deeply troubling, Sternfeld’s work shows me not just the grandeur and despair of the American landscape, but the selectivity and sophistication of an artist in their prime. Pictures like this don’t come along too often in life, even if you’re out there searching for them everyday. Taking elements that would usually be the domain of reportage or photojournalism and manipulating them into this epic painting, Sternfeld weaves together just about every desirable element of picture making into a single frame — light, weather, color, scale, composition, timing, circumstance, tragedy and beauty. And there in the tiniest of gestures, is this man looking back at Sternfeld, possibly making his own picture at the exact same moment. I’ve always wanted to see what kind of picture he was making. Maybe One, One Thousand could put together an investigation à la Mikael Blomkvist and track down the man and find his picture€¦ I’m guessing it wasn’t as good as Sternfeld’s.
Editor’s Note: "Visual Influences" is a new series on One, One Thousand wherein the publication’s featured photographers discuss their influences. This piece was written by Joshua Dudley Greer. You can find future "Visual Influences" entries here.
"The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, — all in one." — John Ruskin