Pictures at an Exhibition-Mussorsky, 1874 and Emerson, Lake , and Palmer, 1972

So I’m teaching a workshop in the Architecture and Allied Arts Department of the University of Oregon, Portland Campus this summer. White Stag, for those who know Portland. Nice plug, huh? If I knew the phone number for registration I would have included it, but I’m not that together. I was scheduled to teach one last year too, but as only 2 people enrolled, it was bumped. It was gonna be interesting, sort of seeing yourself through your photography. Had a cool quote from Portland-native Chuck Palahniuk and everything. Yes, the Fight Club  guy, so how could it miss? It did. One week, 3 credits! I would have taken it. So this year we decided to be a bit more practical. The Use of Light and Color. Should mention, light and color as a way of furthering the communication value of the photograph. Assuming there actually is something you want your photograph to say. Being in advertising photography for most of my career, the basic message of my photography has been: #1-buy this and you will be a better, more desirable person, #2-buy this and you will be admitted into Who’s Who in America or at least the Kennedy Compound where you’ll be able to get away with murder so to speak, or #3-buy this or the entire world will come to an end and you’ll be blamed. Often it worked, it was my contribution to our society and the economy. Ooops, did I just take credit for the economy?

Anyway, to prepare for this course, which currently has only 2 people enrolled (forever the optimist that I am), I went through our storage facility and dug out several cartons of photo and art books. I’ve only lived here for 4 years, hence many, many things are still in cartons. I found several true gems. East 100th Street by Bruce Davidson, Sleeping Beauties: Memorial Photography in America by many really sick photographers of the Victorian Era, Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski, Some Women by Robert Mapplethorpe and on. Then, unexpectedly, I found the most meaningful and influential book to me: The Story of Painting for Young People by Janson&Janson. A first (and for all I know, only) edition from 1952. My parents bought it in 1952 of all things. Now my parents were wonderful to me, but we went to amusement parks, not museums. My Dad owned a luncheonette in The Bronx with his dad, my mother was a receptionist at a coal and steel company, also in the beautiful Bronx. They were hard-working and loving parents to me, but I have no idea how that book got into our 3 room apartment. Yet as a young child I was fascinated by it. Never read a word other than the captions, but the pictures! Now some of it must have had to do with the bare breasts and butts, the brutality in so many paintings of the Crucifixion, and the little tiny weiner on the baby Christ by Raphael. But then the period changed and Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Caravaggio appeared. Or almost appeared since their paintings had as much or more to do with light and color, than subject matter. I had to get into the picture to see it. I saw more of the subject because less of it was visible. And then the Ah-Ha moment came to me in the late 50s. I was so touched by these paintings, I would become a photographer and make people buy things so that the entire world would not come to an end!

Kidding aside, I never forgot the impression these paintings made on me. Vermeer in particular, Rembrandt right behind. In high school and college I never took an art class. I studied physics, a totally different approach to light and color. Do I wish I had studied art? Naw, because I did with my eyes and heart and some deep part of my brain, when I was just a young person. After all I had The Story of Painting for Young People right in my living room, next to the tropical fish tanks and the black and white TV.

And by the way, I soon graduated to the bare beasts and butts of National Geographic. Just a normal kid.


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