NO TEACHER, NO GURU, NO METHOD
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THERE MAY NOT BE SUCH A THING IN PHOTOGRAPHY AS “STYLE”.
Hmm? Come again? No way for the artist to brand his persona on his output, to accumulate a body of work stamped with his own exclusive, and wonderful, identity?
Well, given the special nature of photography, maybe not. Think about it. We all emerged as the quasi-legitimate spawn of painting. Yes, you can struggle and wriggle, but The Brush is essentially our aesthetic daddy, the most important shaper of our inherited rules on what to look at, how to see. Of course, we were no sooner whelped than we began dissing the old man, saying we were not at all like painting, that our means of measuring the world was distinct, different, revolutionary. The upshot is that the typical artists’ claim to a personal style, an identifiable visual signature, may not be, in image-making, how we do business at all.
Van Morrison (God’s gift to moody poets) summed it all up in the title of one of his classic albums, No Teacher, No Guru, No Method. And that means that, unlike the painters of antiquity, none of us shoots enough of any one approach to the world to claim that any of us has a “style”. Think about your own images. Is every one of them representative of one kind of thought? Or do you, like most of us, flit from one dynamic to another? Are any of you 100% committed to landscapes? Sacred subjects? Abstractions? Street? Cute kitties? No, and none of us ever were.
One of the most frustrating things about reviewing the careers of the greatest poets (there’s that word again) of photography is that there is no central thread, no typical image for many of the masters. What is the iconic signature of a Steichen, an Avedon, a Weston? Review forty years of photographs from Alfred Eisenstadt during his tenure at Life magazine and pick out one picture which defines him. You can’t. There is no Mona Lisa moment. And perhaps there shouldn’t be.
I’ve been shooting for over forty years, and if someone were to ask me to select one image that absolutely represented the essential me, I’d be dumbstruck. And maybe that’s to be expected. The world’s most democratic medium is also democratic toward its subject matter as well. In photography, unlike painting, everything can be a picture. Anything can be plucked out of the continuity of time and frozen for us to ponder, worship, objectify, or loathe.
We are all self-taught, self-created, without antecedent or influence. No Teacher, No Guru, No Method. It should make us feel free, and can, of course, make us terrified as well.
Here’s the central nugget of that freedom feeling: photography isn’t here “because of”, or “in order to”, or “so that”…..it’s just here.
And that is enough.
(follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @mpnormaleye.)
- Edward Steichen’s great American Dream (japantimes.co.jp)
- Not your average photography book (audreysnaturequestphotography.wordpress.com)
This entry was posted on March 8, 2013 by Michael Perkins. It was filed under Authorship, Composition, Exposure, History, Popular Culture, Trends and was tagged with Art, Image, Painting, Philosophy, Photography, Richard Avedon, Style.