A few days ago we had sunshine -- possibly the last we'll see until spring thaw -- so out I was, getting a nice walk in, and happened to show up near one of those big-box book stores. Portland is rightly famous for great bookstores, but this was one of those chain outlets, which I'm not such a big fan of, but it had coffee. So there. Latte in hand, I wandered the extensive magazine rack, looking to see what photography magazines would catch my eye, and was both amazed and depressed at the ...sameness... of them all.
What I mean is simply this: they were largely indistinguishable from each other. They seemed mainly to be just vehicles for advertisers, anyway. I wanted to see photos that knocked my socks off, but there weren't a lot of those. Portraits, especially, are my passion, and I wanted to be dazzled, but most were pretty mundane -- even the nudes (which were mostly cheesecake anyway) and of course, the ubiquitous bikini poses. But alongside all those featureless photography magazines were several art magazines, and they just popped right out at me. One in particular was so lovely I purchased it on the spot: the October issue of New Realism: Contemporary Takes On The Figure.
The portraits that were made on canvas revealed all the qualities that were painfully missing in those photography pages: immediate, intimate, innovative, and oh so rich and gorgeous. Some were designed to enchant the viewer, and some were meant to disturb, but all were meant to be important and vital. I found them inspiring. So my question is: what do they know that we don't?
Frankly, I'm not sure. There's a fearlessness that may be tied to not being tied to the senior and wedding market, but that only goes so far. The best work of my professional colleagues rivals any of those I saw in that artist's magazine. They are just as willing to innovate and push the envelope, they just don't show up in the popular press very often. And that's a shame.
I hope that the next generation of photographers is influenced by their work, and not by the bikini pictures and reviews of the latest camera bag in your typical photography magazine. I hope they also study those wonderful portraits on paper and canvas, and take from them some important lessons. I hope my colleagues find their way to share, inspire, and instruct. It's how I learned, and continue to.
And you just can't get that from a magazine.