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Five photographers to know and be inspired by 

click to enlarge Sunday on the Banks of the River Marne, 1938 - HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON / MAGNUM
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum
  • Sunday on the Banks of the River Marne, 1938

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s approach to photography was defined by a willingness to break the rules. He used small, light, 35mm cameras and founded the concept of the Decisive Moment, also the title of his groundbreaking book.

From the book: “Sometimes it happens that you stall, delay, wait for something to happen. Sometimes you have the feeling that here are all the makings of a picture — except for just one thing that seems to be missing. But what one thing?”

Before, photographers were more inclined to use a camera to study a subject rather than document a moment. It was Cartier-Brensson's idea to move quickly, wait and watch and click the shutter at the moment when a subject is aligned in such a way that it strikes the viewer in a more profound way.

Cartier-Bresson would often describe the feeling behind the picture. It was this feeling that was conveyed by the decisive moment.

Walker Evans

click to enlarge Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama March 1936 - WALKER EVANS
  • Walker Evans
  • Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama March 1936
Walker Evans' photographs offer an uncompromising look at American life during the depression, and he's well-known for his work with the Farm Security Administration. Evans used an 8x10 view camera to document life in the 30's. He dismissed the idea of romanticizing poverty but rather showing it as it existed.

It is from Walker Evans that many artists in the late 20th century draw inspiration. His influence in today’s cinema, art and literature is oversized. If you’ve ever seen a movie by the Cohen brother’s then you’ve seen the hand of Walker Evans in the visual elements.

Gordon Parks

click to enlarge American Gothic, Washington, D.C. - GORDON PARKS
  • Gordon Parks
  • American Gothic, Washington, D.C.
Gordon Parks never got a high school degree but went on to become a profoundly important photographer, musician and filmmaker in the 20th century.

Parks was African-American and a photographer at the Farm Securities Administration for a brief time. That he documented poverty and the plight of African Americans, as well as having a highly successful career in fashion photography, in an era of segregation is amazing.

One his very first photographs as a government photographer is also one of the most profound statements on the Black experience in America. The image shows Ella Watson, part of the cleaning crew of the FSA building, standing in front of an American flag hanging on the wall, a broom in one hand and a mop in the background.

Upon viewing the photograph, Parks' editor Roy Stryker said that it was such an indictment of the U.S. that it could get all of his photographers fired.

Robert Frank

click to enlarge Trolley, New Orleans, 1955, "The Americans" - ROBERT FRANK
  • Robert Frank
  • Trolley, New Orleans, 1955, "The Americans"
Robert Frank began his career in the fashion world of New York. But his most notable and important work was created by traveling the country and making a pointed study of post-war America.

Frank secured a Guggenheim Fellowship with help from Walker Evans to fund his project. He took 28,000 exposures and in 1958 he published 83 images in the book The American’s.

The stark truth in his work served as a counterpoint to the nostalgic and romantic photo essays one would see in Life magazine at the time.

Dorothea Lange

click to enlarge Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags are used to aid in keeping the family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township. - DOROTHEA LANGE
  • Dorothea Lange
  • Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags are used to aid in keeping the family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township.
Dorothea Lange was one of two women photographers for the Farm Security Administration. She created perhaps the most iconic photograph from the depression. Most of us know this photograph from 1936, called Migrant Mother.

But Lange's work as a government photographer documenting poverty during the depression often overshadows her work documenting Japanese-American internment camps.

This work was such a pointed criticism that much of it was withheld from the public during World War II. You can see this work via the National Archives and see additional work by Farm Security Administration photographers online via the Library of Congress.


Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout

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