Influences—like taste, like mood, like aesthetics—are ever-shifting. I am inspired all the time, mostly by artists not practicing in the medium of photography. It was an interesting task to focus on the artists or images, within this discipline, that have continually been a source of affirmation. Is influence actually a source of affirmation? I think so. When you see something you respond to, it is confirmation that what you like, what you are drawn to, has succeeded and is held up either in a gallery show or in exhibition, or printed in a book, as something to value. When I am down on myself, my work, my life, it is their writing, images, or continued support that prop me up.
I learned from this exercise, which began, of course, with Which? I spent days thinking about it, trying to come up with one image here, one image there, but I couldn’t. I just don’t ponder individual images as much as I thought I did. Then, one free evening in my studio I pulled up a chair and sat quietly in front of my books. Here. This is where I would find it. There are only a handful of artists whose names appear multiple times in these shelves. That was my first realization in this process—it isn’t a single image that I take inspiration from—it is stories. I want the full narrative. These books magically give something new every time I look at them. Maybe it’s why many of my books remain wrapped for months —I don’t want to begin the natural process of unraveling that happens when I start to lose interest. The books I list below are well-worn and have borne my unending scrutiny with both dignity and beauty.
So, I give you four books that I have succumb to countless times and a fifth photographer who has not been published, but should be.
George Tice: Urban Landscapes
I met George Tice in 2005 while taking his printing workshop in Maine. I can’t really describe the feeling of seeing his prints in person, but when I did, I knew his would be the measure by which I judge my own work—forever. When people ask me, How do you make such beautiful prints?, I can’t often answer them. I feel that 80% of what makes a good printmaker is knowing, intuitively, what the print should look like. Intuition is the most difficult skill to teach, and learn. I remember George saying that it took him 20 years to learn how to print one image. He embodied everything I wanted to be in a photographer, printer, composer, and champion of the urban landscape.
While all of his books have inspired me in some way, it is Urban Landscapes that has had the greatest impact. In images like "Tenement Rooftops, Hoboken, October, 1974," Oak Tree, Homdel, May, 1970," "Petit’s Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, November, 1974," Men’s Room, Hotel Shelburne, Atlantic City, April, 1975," and especially, "Water Tower, Rahway, December, 1994," I have found direction when lost, and reassurance that although it may not bring recognition, subtle image-making brings the ultimate reward. Shortly after meeting him, I started my first body of work titled The Other Charleston (thank you One, One Thousand for exhibiting that work on this website). Without seeing Urban Landscapes I doubt I ever would have made that series, which was a jumping off point for the work I did in Nova Scotia.
In my copy of Urban Landscapes, George wrote, "For Lauren, who knows a good print when she sees one." I think he wrote that jokingly because I had so clearly been mesmerized by his prints, or maybe that is an inscription he uses often. All I know is that after taking Tice’s workshop, I have spent my artistic life becoming as capable as I could at making and knowing good prints.
Who hasn’t been influenced by Sally Mann? I heard her talk about her work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art a few years ago. Of course I was mesmerized by her images and her honest explanations for them. While her imagery is extremely seductive, what influenced me the most about her work is how reflective of her personal life it is—from the portraits of her kids, to her dogs, to the land around her, and her husband. Her persistent, unapologetic photographs that are as much about her as anything else, are what continually give me the courage to share so intimately the events, failures and triumphs in my own life.
The book of Sally’s that I return to over and over again is What Remains. Lately, I have been trying to add more and more layers to each of my series. To make an initial statement, but then, slowly, encourage the viewer to realize that while yes, the work is about that initial statement, it is also about this, and also about that. What Remains is a perfect example of what builds and builds. With the hurried pace we live in now, with distractions and the temptation to build a new series faster and faster, Sally reminds me that a portfolio built over years can have the most lasting effect. From the start of this book, when she photographs her dog that has just passed, to focusing on dead human bodies rotting in the land, to then turning her camera back on her own kids, you realize that she is taking us on a full ride of human emotion, from sadness, to fear, to hope. I’m not sure if I’ve ever or will ever achieve that kind of accomplishment in one series, but I am more frequently trying, always with What Remains as my guide.
I met Tyler in 2007 while taking his workshop in Vermont at Jon Cone’s studio. I was there because despite Tice’s incredible work in the darkroom, I wanted to switch from darkroom printing to digital output and in my quest for achieving the best possible inkjet prints, I heard about Tyler and Jon, and went up to take a workshop surrounded by the best equipment and minds making pigment prints.
I needed to learn from Tyler how to achieve the level of quality and craft in printing that I had learned from George Tice. The first day he spent hours laying out a ton of prints, some his, some from others’ work that he had printed, both in black and white and color. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I got goose bumps looking at the black and white photographs, I had never seen such beautiful prints in my life, darkroom or digital. The tone of the prints and the perfect execution left me speechless. I was printing on glossy paper up to that point, and was stunned by the soft beauty of the work on the matte paper. Seeing George Tice’s Urban Landscapes years earlier had confirmed for me what kind of photographer I wanted to be. Seeing Tyler’s prints confirmed for me what kind of printer I wanted to be.
During that week, and the years that have followed, Tyler has generously helped me reach the level of craft that I had dreamed of. He helped me bridge the gap from merely having good negatives, to producing good photographs. I would never have been able to reach the point I have without his help. Whenever someone looks at a print and says, "I didn’t know inkjet prints could look like this," I think of Tyler and how many people he has helped, people he’s never met, nor ever will likely meet—people who have no idea that they are benefiting from his expertise. All of us photographers that really care about the craft of printing are indebted to him and his willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of printing in ways that haven’t trickled down to the masses.
Of all of the people listed here, it is Tyler who has a daily effect. I find his photographs to be a continual reminder that we are merely trespassing on the land, temporary visitors that will be gone long before the fields that he photographs. He has photographed one subject—the Pacific Northwest—for decades. I wish I had that level of commitment and patience. He keeps me in line when I get frustrated by the lack of craft I see, he encourages me when the disappointment from failure becomes overwhelming, and scolds me when my ego gets the better of me. He is the mentor I have needed and wanted.
I spent 5 days up in his studio this past May printing for a show for a new series of work. At one point, I told him, "I don’t think I would be photographing if it weren’t for you." Tyler is not one for sentimentality, and frankly, I’m not either. With all that I’ve gone through in the last 5 years, divorce, health problems, and the highs and lows of an artistic life, I have become less and less able to clearly articulate being grateful to those I am closest to. I don’t think Tyler believed what I said, he tried to tell me "No, you’d be doing it, just in a different way maybe." No, I wouldn’t.
I was introduced to Raymond Meeks in Maine in 2007 in Tim Whelan’s fantastic photography bookshop. I didn’t meet the man, but was introduced to Sound of Summer Running. I used to go into Tim’s shop, usually once a year in summer, look for hours at the books I didn’t have access to at home, and talk with Tim about his favorites. I remember seeing Raymond’s book and wanting it immediately. From the elegant title to the images to the layout and design of the book, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I still can’t.
Little did I know that we would both decide to move to Portland, Oregon in October of 2008. Since then, I have gotten to know Ray Meeks and have had the ability, simply because we live in the same town now, to follow his creations more closely.
What he continually shows me is that photographs do not need to always develop into a novel. They can, when called upon, work equally as well, or even better, as novellas. I believe the poetic quality of my second book, Silence is an Orchard, would not have been possible without seeing the power of what Ray can do with a small number of images. I think in particular of the small artist book he published about his son titled Middle Air.
Raymond Meeks is also a tough and honest critic, which is jarring because his personality is so mild-mannered. I met him for the first time at Photolucida 2009. He reviewed my work then and told me, "You’re all over the place." I hadn’t heard that before. That comment has stuck with me and I can now see what he meant. I have been able to use that one piece of honest commentary to make my work tighter and stronger. He is one of the few reviewers I know who is respectful enough to tell someone, for example, that they’re too reliant on a particular aesthetic. Brave and honest. I have learned how to be a better reviewer and teacher by listening to him talk about other photographer’s work as well as my own. Ray has become someone I rely on to measure whether I’m improving and how to still grow, experiment and learn.
At some point, I realized that what I’ve learned individually from the photographers above—the importance of craft, making art that is equally about the environment as it is about yourself, respect for the landscape, photography as short story as well as epic drama and beauty, beauty, beauty—together existed in one artist. Artistically, Robert Adams continues to have the greatest influence on my work.
While I could talk about the power of his photographs, from Turning Back to Summer Nights, Walking to Questions for an Overcast Day to one of my personal favorites, I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, it is his writing that guides me and my work on a day-to-day basis. Beauty in Photography is my bible. There is so much in this book that I believe in, that describes why I photograph and put up with so much of the difficulty that comes with choosing a creative life.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "Making photographs has to be, then, a personal matter; when it is not, the results are not persuasive. Only the artist’s presence in the work can convince us that its affirmation resulted from and has been tested by human experience. Without the photographer in the photograph the view is no more compelling than the product of some anonymous record camera, a machine perhaps capable of happy accident but not of response to form."
I could argue that in this one quote lays the foundation of who I am, who I have strived to be, and who I hope to become as a photographing artist.
From his commitment to the environment, to the amazingly subtle beauty in his images, to the wisdom in the advice and example he sets for young photographers, I can’t image Robert Adams not having an influence on who I am as a photographer and person.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Lauren Henkin for our Visual Influences Series.
View a selection of Henkin’s photography featured on One, One Thousand in June 2011.
You can also view more of Henkin’s work at her website laurenhenkin.com, and you can learn more about Lauren’s latest publication "Growth" 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