I’ve just returned from stimulating opportunities to look at photograph portfolios at Photo L.A., sponsored by the Santa Fe Photography organization called Center, and from Fotofusion, sponsored every year in Delray, FL by the Palm Beach Photo Workshop.
These are gatherings where picture-makers gather to share their work with professionals in the field, seeking advice and ideas. There’s passion and commitment in these places that energizes everyone who participates, and a wonderful range of participants, from teenagers to retirees, all eager to commit to making great pictures. And there’s inspiration here, too, from men and women who have found in photography fulfilling opportunity to communicate and share.
Gone this year was any trace of cynicism, any indulgence in irony, the tiresome aesthetic of banality. Present was a good dose of beauty and hope. Present, too, was the strong voice of the amateur. It is true that many who travel to these portfolio review sessions seeks advise about how to connect and advance a career in photography. But many more just want to make better pictures of events and people and places found particularly meaningful – family, friends, and the landscape, for instance. This is about a dignity of expression, a true heart of feeling and meanings. And while these are themes that reoccur, so many images I saw were energized by a search for ways to see uniquely, to more articulately develop ideas, or to connect to the long sound of other voices which have found wonder in a face, a flower, or even a sunset.
I think of the wonderful passage in Elaine Scarry’s book, On Beauty and Being Just. Scarry, the Cabot Professor of Aesthetics at Harvard, writes, on the first page of her book:
â€œBeauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people. Sometimes it gives rise to exact replication and other times to resemblances and still other times to things whose connection to the original site of inspiration is unrecognizable.â€
We also privilege images that propose new ideas or summon unique vision. We value the ability to call forth values that have moved and inspired. These may not be the mountain top moments that move the conversation of aesthetics forward, but they are solid groundings in rhetoric of expression that are convincing and pleasurable: The contrasts of light against dark again, the soaring moment of a ride on the crest of a wave, the charm of a broad smile. In wide range of art, the prospect of market success for these images is about as likely as writing a sonnet again about love or God. But that doesn’t argue against the necessity to continue finding ways to speak about these things. And I have enjoyed the opportunity to see such images during the past several weeks.
Alison NordstrÃ¶m, curator of photographs at George Eastman House, and I find time each year to visit many of the portfolio review sessions around the world. Dr. NordstrÃ¶m will next view portfolios during Houston Fotofest, March 17 – 21, Thessaloniki Photo Bienniale, April 17 – 20, Fotobild Berlin, May 9 – 11, Rhubarb Rhubarb in Birmingham, July dates TBD.
Dr. Anthony Bannon is the Director of George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. He has held that position since 1996, previously serving as director of the Burchfield-Penney Arts Center, and director of Cultural Affairs on the campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo, both located in Buffalo, N.Y.
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