Viewing a Master Photographer

By Roger (16 November 2015)

We've talked many times about viewing and studying the work of other photographers, especially the “great” ones. There is much to learn, and it's important to learn from the best. Whenever possible, you should see the photographer's work, in person. There is a big difference in viewing the photos, in the real world, versus viewing them online. The difference can be shocking at times.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian's American Art Museum for an Irving Penn exhibit (link). I joined a meetup with about 25 members of the On Taking Pictures podcast (link) and Google+ group. The hosts of the podcast, Jeffrey Saddoris and Bill Wadman, were there. We spent about 90 minutes, viewing the photos; split up and made some photos of our own; and had a beer and barbecue together. It was a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

So, what did I see at the exhibit?

Penn (1917-2009) was a real working photographer and is considered one of the foremost photographers of the 20th century. He is best known for his fashion photography, but he shot celebrity portraits, street scenes, still lifes, studio, and even advertising. The museum had 146 representative photographs from all aspects of Penn's career, both monochrome and color. He is also known for using simple backgrounds and corners for his photos.

Some of the photographs were stunning, especially when you realize they were printed decades ago. I've gotten so comfortable with today's print quality, I had forgotten how good the quality actually could be with film and platinum printing. It wasn't better than today's prints, but there was a different look to the prints. Some of the color prints from his advertising days were still eye-popping.

When you go to an exhibit like this, you'll also find photos you don't think are worthy of being in such an exhibit. Art, with a capital A, can be a funny thing sometimes. The arbiters of Art will see things a “normal” viewer doesn't. There were a couple photos I didn't appreciate as much as the others. However, you would probably see several that I really liked and have a differing opinion. I'm certainly a fan of Penn's work, especially the portraits.

During the short photowalk, I was looking for some kind of abstract, with lines and curves, like I had seen in the exhibit. Penn's work was done in camera, so I didn't want want to create any kind of Photoshop composite. I saw this window display of strange teapots, with the reflection of a crosswalk in the glass. I'm not sure about the display stand's support cutting through the right teapots, but I didn't want to crop in so far that I lost the curve, and I wanted it straight from the camera.

My Penn-inspired teapots

The museum visit and OTP meetup was a great success. The Penn exhibit runs through 20 March, if you get a chance to visit the museum. You can do a Google Image search to see some of Penn's work. And listen to the podcast, next week (they're released on Tuesdays), and hear the discussion. I'm sure Jeffrey and Bill will talk about the meetup and exhibit.

New York-The 9-11 Museum

By Mark

We took some time off last week for a family trip to NYC. One of the top things on our collective list was a trip to the new 9-11 museum.  We were all very impressed with the exhibits and the impact they still convey.   The two fountains now mark where the old foundations for the north and south towers once stood.  The museum blends in very well with the architecture. 

In the summer of 2001 our graphic artist/admin assistant had moved with her son back to Long Island. She had just started her new job in Manhattan in the South Tower in Sept 2011. We got a postcard from her a few days later with her new office circled high up on the 88th floor.  Michelle Lanza’s name is now inscribed one of the panels lining the memorial fountains. 

Engraved around each fountain are the names of all the people who worked in the buildings, the first responders, the passengers on the planes as well as the names from the Pentagon and from Pennsylvania. Inside the museum is a room where all of their photos line the walls and an interactive electronic display.

Lining the lobby and throughout the building are twisted columns of two inch steel. 

Looking back up as you move down the escalator you can see the almost completed World Trade Center building. 

.  As you head down the ramp into the main part of the museum the side wall is the original slurry wall built as part of the original foundations for the towers.  It helps keep the Hudson out and was the backdrop for most of the excavations on site.   

The two story tall steel beam in the center of the room was the last piece removed during recovery.

Each of the crews working signed it and left some memories behind. 

The stories of the first responders still are inspiring. Looking at the wreckage of the trucks and ambulances destroyed in the collapse helps drive home how powerful it was.

They have on display a two foot tall section where 5 floors have been compacted into layers.  They don't photograph well.   In the timeline section of the museum, no photographs are allowed.  Lots of personal stories and items are shown there. We planned to spend a couple of hours but stayed about four.  Tickets are a must before you go and I can say that everyone should make the trip.  The rest of our trip was much less somber and we had great weather.  It made for some good pictures which I will save for next week and beyond.  

“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”

A few weeks ago we finally made it down to the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico VA.  It has been open for a few years now, but I’d never managed to visit.  I was thoroughly impressed; the entire facility captures the proud history of the Marines in a very entertaining and educational fashion.  Although I am retired Navy, I have a lot of respect for the Corps.  I did two deployments with the Marines, and my uncle, Jack Bradway, was a Corsair pilot killed in Korea. The museum has a huge atrium filled with full scale replicas of the harrowing assault on Tarawa in WWII.  The Japanese had fortified the atoll completely, and the tides worked against the assault forces.  Getting over the seawall took incredible acts of individual heroism. 

Hanging above is a biplane from WW1.  I honestly didn’t realize that the Marines flew in that war, but knew of their assault in the Belleau Woods.

The museum’s layout allows you to follow Marine history from Revolutionary War Days through the Civil War and all the “Small Wars” at the turn of the 19th century.

When you explore the Korean War, they have super air-conditioned the scenario as you revisit the “Frozen Chosin” to intensify the experience.   For Vietnam, the Marines were involved in brutal street fighting in Hue city, during the Tet Offensive.  You turn a corner in the exhibit and almost run into this Marine. 

In WW1, Sgt Dan Daly was awarded the Medal of Honor twice for exceptional leadership and valor.  His quote is still taught to all Marines in that boundary between history and legend.   When you are in the DC area, I highly recommend making the trip to the museum.  In my opinion, it is the finest museum in the Capitol region, and with all the Smithsonians, that is saying a lot.