Monday’s Inspiration – Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis was an American self-taught photographer. He grew up in Minnesota, close to the Chipewa and Winnebago Indian tribes. He is is widely known for documenting Native American tribes culture.

By the age of 17, he was an apprentice at the St Paul studio until his family packed up and moved west, eventually settling in Seattle. There, Curtis married Clara Phillips, purchased his own camera and a share in a local photography studio. He initially worked providing society ladies with their portraits and it was in Seattle in 1895 that he took his first portrait of a Native American, that of the Princess Angeline, the eldest daughter of Chief Sealth of the Duwamish tribe. He paid her a dollar for each pose.

It was this chance encounter that has set him on a different path away from his studio. While photographing Mt Rainier he met some scientists that were lost, among the group was the expert on Native American culture George Bird Grinnell. They quickly became friends and he became the official photographer for the Harriman Alaska expedition.

For 2 months, Curtis accompanied two dozen scientists, capturing everything from glaciers to Eskimo settlements. He was then invited by Grinnell to visit the Pagan Blackfeet inMontana the following year.

In Montana, under Grinnell’s tutalage, Curtis became deeply moved by what he called “primitive customs and traditions” of the Piegan people including the Sun Dance that he had witnessed. This was the start of him learning about the Plains Indians and to photograph their lives. On his return to Seattle, he put together exhibitions, publishing magazine articles and then lecturing across the country.

His photographs became known for their beauty. President Roosevelt commissioned him to photograph his daughter’s wedding and to do some of their family portraits. However, he was itching to return to the West and seek out more more Native Americans to document. He found a replacement to manage his studio. He approached J.P. Morgan who initially turned him down but changed his mind after seeing his work. He then insisted in seeing them in books. Morgan sponsored Curtis in exchange for 25 sets of volumes and 500 original prints.  The $75,000 from Morgan was used to acquire equipment, interpreters and researchers for his expeditions.

Curtis then set out on a journey that would see him photograph the most important Native Americans of the time, including Geronimo, Red Cloud, Medicine Crow and Chief Joseph.

The trips were not without peril but Curtis managed to endear himself to the people with whom he stayed.

On wax cylinders, his crew collected more than 10,000 recordings of songs, music and speech in more than 80 tribes, most with their own language. With the tribal elders permission, Curtis organised reenactments of battles and traditional ceremonies among the Indians, that he documented which produced glass – plate negatives that yielded the crisp, detailed and gorgeous gold – tone prints he was noted for. The Native Americans came to trust him and named him “Shadow catcher”.

Just as he began to produce volume after volume of his books, J.P. Morgan died unexpectedly in Egypt in 1913. J.P. Morgan Jr contributed to his work but in a much smaller amount, and he was forced to abandon his field project.

 

While the onset of World War I coincided with a diminished interest in Native American culture, Curtis put together enough funds to make it big with a motion called In the Land of the Head Hunters. The film had some critical success but flopped and he lost his investments.

He then took work in Hollywood as a cameraman on films such as The Ten Commandments. He sold the rights to his movie to the American Museum of Natural History fo only $1500 and worked out a deal that allowed him to return to his field work by relinquishing his copyright on the images for the North American Indian to the Morgan company.

He later found out that the tribes he had visited had been decimated by relocation and assimilation. This made it even more difficult than ever to create the kinds of photographs he had in the past.

By 1930, Curtis had barely published any of the last of his planned 20 volume set after taking 40,000 pictures over 30 years. He later died in 1952 at the age of 84.

Curtis photographs represented ideals and images designed to create a timeless vision of the Native American culture at a time when modern amenities and American expansion had altered their way of life. By the time Curtis arrived in various tribal territories, the U.S government had forced Indian children into boarding schools, banned them from speaking their native tongues, and even made them cut their hair. However, Curtis did not document this. It was said that he went to great lengths to create images of Native Americans posing in their traditional clothing they had long put away. Images that were later retouched to eliminate any modern artefacts. Some critics accused him of fakery and advancing his career by ignoring the plight and torment of his subjects.

I believe that there’s always two sides to every story but as a photographer, it is easy to get tunnel vision once we are focused on a task. As an outsider, it easy to get drawn into a culture that is foreign to your and to capture just that. However, as we have learned from over the years, that as photographers it is our job to be the fly on the wall and to document stories to the best of our abilities and most importantly be the voice of our subject.

Through individuals like Edward S. Curtis, we don’t only learn of cultures and traditions that have long gone but also about sacrifice and lots of hard that is required to achieve goals.

If you are interested is seeing more of his work, his book can be purchased here. You can also find his website by clicking here.

 

 

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New Year, New Goals…………………….

To say that 2017 was a confusing and difficult year is an understatement and I am very glad that it is over.

Although quite amazing things have happened to my work, you will notice that my post here were sporadic at best. I felt out of sort tired, confused and mainly lost. So I am hoping that this year, I manage to get some sort of stability back. Especially some focus to create new work.

For 2018, I’ve made a list of what I would like to tackle in the next 365 days. They are a way for me to clearly focus on my goals.

  1. Continue my still life series
  2. Find and incorporate more nature into my work
  3. Read at least one book a month
  4. Look after myself better – better diet and exercise
  5. Find artists to collaborate with (currently collaborating with illustrators)
  6. Start the self portrait series I’ve been pushing myself to do for over a year
  7. Share info on artists I follow and admire on Instagram and here
  8. Continue to develop my analog photography and start working on the long exposure series that I have planned.
  9. Learn to print my work especially since I am curious to learn Wet Plate Collidon. Experiment with more printing techniques
  10. Experience more cultural events and learn to live in the moment
  11. Work effectively and not more
  12. Learn something new everyday
  13. Learn as a community (more on that on the next post)
  14. Try to do a photography tutorial a month (I did say try………)
  15. Have a book published on my work (I self published a zine last year which was a great push for me in getting out of my comfort zone. I still have copies available and if you would like to purchase a copy please contact me. It will be a great help to fund my next projects)
  16. Read MORE photography books and find the rare ones that I’ve saved on my phone over the years.
  17. Become more fearless in my work and photographic experimentation.
  18. Create / organise a system for inspiration, ideas, goals, notes and thoughts
  19. Work on stronger portraits
  20. Learn to write and express myself better. Lean to describe and talk about my work more effectively
  21. Focus my writing to comment on the day to day of life
  22. Extend my photographs greater into the universal human experience
  23. Travel more and slowly. Try to remember that it is not just to capture moments but it is also enjoy and savour those moments.
  24. Further illustrate emotional life experiences into pictorial photographs
  25. Visit and explore the countries of my list (Spend 3 months exploring Tuscany, visit the National  Parks in the States)
  26. Last on my list is to put myself out more especially through my work and find an effective way to stop doubting myself…

What are your plans for the new year? I would love to see everyone’s plans

2017 and what it brought with it………

The tradition in January is to right down our resolutions and try to complete them within the next twelve months. It is something that I also do. The only difference this year, I’ve been wondering if I’ve accomplished some of the things on my list

  1. Put stronger ideas, meaning and emotion into my photographs. 
  2. Study the light in more details and to use it to create portraits
  3. Recreate the passage of time into my photographs through movements
  4. Shoot more film – This is definitely something that I’ve worked on all throughout this year. Even with the obstacles, I’ve stuck to it and I’ve had some succesful images.
  5. Make my photographs more like paintings. 
  6. Shoot more film and have successful results – See point 4
  7. Learn to develop and print my own film – I’ve been looking at some classes on this matter. However, I’ve taken a pinhole class where I’ve successfully printed a few images.
  8. Learn to worry less on what people think of me – Still working on that
  9. Learn to listen and most importantly follow my instincts – Doing a lot more that which meant that I’ve had my work published in an online magazine as well as two printed ones.
  10. Define the purpose of my photographs – Struggling with that quite a lot
  11. Define myself and style as a photographer and apply it to everything, not just my personal work. – I’ve learned that in order to
  12. Set new professional goals.
  13. Shoot more ballerinas.
  14. Shoot more flowers. – Shot quite a few but still working on the edits. Some of them are just stunning in colour and have been debating whether I should keep it as such or convert it to black and white. Only time will tell
  15. Make more videos (at least one every week) – Captured a lot of videos but I’m finding the edits difficult. Meaning I just don’t like them at all.
  16. Stop wasting food, wasting money, wasting products. – Less wasting food but still working on the rest
  17. Live with less.
  18. Believe in myself more – One day at the time
  19. Shoot more for others.
  20. Make a home. – I’ve had this dream of moving to the Provence, France. Not sure why? But probably due to the landscape, the ambience and mainly because I’m sick of the city.
  21. Save money for real vacations, not work vacations. – Took one vacation this year so that’s a great start for me.
  22. Create a portfolio site. – Finally started working on that in October.
  23. Work on my health everyday by eating well and exercise – Failed miserably at that. The eating in thrown out upside down most of the time because I work late so when I have to eat really late which isn’t great. As for the exercise, I’ve been trying to resolve the issues with my back first before I can get back to that.
  24. Find a way to create more romanticism in my work. – Still figuring out
  25. Build the life I want to live in, not the one others want for me. – I’ve figured out what I want my life to be so that’s already a start
  26. Learn to be more comfortable with myself and sharing my life. _ Still working on that. I still find it really difficult to just talk about my work. They are so many things that I’m still not comfortable in sharing. Not that I’m ashamed but somethings that I would just like to keep to myself.

All in all, I’m grateful for the highs and the lows of 2017 and what it has taught me.

Which one of your resolutions have you accomplished this year?

The funny thing about time…..

Earlier this week I was wondering how I made it through to the end of this year. This got me thinking about everything else in life.

We often hear that time is precious, we also often hear ourselves say that we do not have time. The strange thing is that time it is a luxury that we create for ourselves and for everything and everyone else precious in our lives.

I set out to create a 2 part series within a month, create, edit and publish them. By some miracle, I was able to create 8 images within a short time even though I was working and only the evenings to do on each time.

With the zine that I had published earlier this year, , it was something that I wanted to make for a while but I put it off due to the lack of time. But once I given myself a deadline, I was able to make it happen.

Time is simply an illusion and we are conditioned to believe that we have plenty of it and we put off what is is important to us just to constantly do the mundane things in life. Our time should be spent concentrating on things that truly mean something to us. But things are such a way in life that we tend to forget about ourselves. How about starting with spending one hour a day on ourselves………………………………

 

Monday’s Inspiration – Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

“The organisation of light and shadow effects produce a new enrichment of vision.” – László Moholy-Nagy

I haven’t shared any inspiration in a while so I thought that I would with this Hungarian photographer. What really struck me in his work is his abstract and his amazing use of items to create incredible shapes and play with shadows. So let’s start with getting to know him a little better.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter and photographer born in 1946.  He was highly influenced by constructivism and was a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy possessed one of the liveliest and most versatile minds to come out of the revolution in artistic thinking that occurred in Europe after the First World War.

In addition to being a painter, designer, and photographer, Moholy was perhaps the most persuasive and effective theoretician of the concept of art education that grew out of the Bauhaus, the experimental design school that flowered briefly in Germany during the days of the Weimar Republic. Through his own work, his teaching and writing, and through the influence of his colleagues and followers at the Chicago Institute of Design (which Moholy founded in 1938), his ideas have had a profound effect on the art and art theory of the past generation. In none of the areas of his concern has his influence been greater than in photography.

His key ideas include:

  • He believed that humanity could only defeat the fracturing experience of modernity – only feel whole again – if it harnessed the potential of new technologies. Artists should transform into designers, and through specialisation and experimentation find the means to answer humanity’s needs.
  • His interest in photography encouraged his belief that artists’ understanding of vision had to specialise and modernise. He believed that artists are used to be dependent on the tools of perspective drawing, but with the advent of the camera they had to learn to see again. They had to renounce the classical training of previous centuries, which encouraged them to think about the history of art and to reproduce old formulas and experiment with vision, thus stretching human capacity to new tasks.
  • His interest in qualities of space, time, and light endured throughout his career and transcended the very different media he employed. Whether he was painting or creating “photograms” (photographs made without the use of a camera or negative) or crafting sculptures made of transparent Plexiglass, he was ultimately interested in studying how all these basic elements interact.

Moholy-Nagy’s influence on American art was felt broadly in several disciplines. Along with the other emigres from the Bauhaus, he succeeded in instilling a modern aesthetic into American design. His impact was felt most strongly by his students, but his use of modern materials and technology impressed other young designers, including Charles Eames, who visited the New Bauhaus while studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Moholy-Nagy’s influence on photography is felt equally through his writings as through his photographs and photomontages. His first Bauhaus book established photography as a fine art equal to painting. His experiments in light and shadow reinforced photography’s value as a subjective medium, and therefore an artistic medium, rather than simply a means to document reality.

Recent years have brought international attention to Moholy-Nagy’s achievements with several major museums organising retrospectives, including the Tate Modern in London, the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, and the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago, that celebrate the impact of his work on American art.

The search for light….

Essentially photography is painting with light. The action of painting with allows us to see the beauty around us and as well as everything else. But I wonder if the capture of each moment. With my new obsession with analog photography, I’m able to slow down and savour each moment.

This process has taught me a lot. Observation is key and learning to read light when shooting. I love the simplicity of the cameras. The click of the shutter and the winding motion. I find each of these things soothing and refreshing.

Not being able to preview the images is another aspects. Although it can give knots in my stomach and questions on whether my capture is succesful. I’ve resigned to leaving the rolls for a couple of weeks before having them processed. It is a slow process but I’m loving the process.

I just came back from a week in Florence and to my surprise, I’ve used my Pentax ME more than my canon 5D. I’m looking forward to processing these myself but I have a few more purchases to make before I’m able to do that.

While I was away…….

Sometimes we wake up and we know clearly what to do with our day. The others days just feel like a blur. Not for the lack of remembering what happen throughout the day but simply because of the confusion those days bring. I’ve had a few of of those days lately which made me realise that I was simply tired.

A lot of things have been happening lately. Good and bad and it’s a balance that I’m learning to live with. While I was away a few wonderful have happened one of which that I’d like to share with you all.

I’ve had my work featured on http://www.dodho.com. and online photography magazine. It is a strange and surreal feeling to have my work published. I truly still cannot believe that it has happened.

If you have a moment, please click on the link below and read the article.

https://www.dodho.com/architectural-photography-by-pamela-aminou/