Andy Goldsworthy considers his sculptures collaborations with nature.

It’s Goldsworthy’s pieces that don’t persist that impress me most. Why? It’s not because they reverse traditional expectations, that through art an individual and culture achieves extended longevity if not immortality. It’s because Goldsworthy is free to interact with and interpret the landscape without removing this possibility for us. In many ways, his work is an invitation for all of us to participate with land in a similar spirit on our own terms.

I appreciate the irony that a majority of us see most of his work through photographs. In this respect an argument can be made that his primary medium is photography. Even if we have had direct experience with his work, our photographic experience of his work is more persistent. Over time, does the second-hand experience supersede the primary one? He’s managed to use two mediums to complement and comment on each other, while shedding light on our relationships to land and our own identities.

All of these are sentiments I resonate with strongly. What’s more, I might have framed my self-identity more narrowly as a photographer only were it not for the inspiration of artists like Andy Goldsworthy.

Who are your influences and what do they mean to you?

Find out more about my influences here.

Sometimes the things we resist influence us the most. For me, this was certainly the case with the paintings of Mark Rothko.

As a young man I found myself alienated from many modernist works. I felt they were overly intellectual; you needed a degree to begin to approach them much less understand them. They didn’t meet the audience half way. Some of them even needed critical interpretation to be fully resolved.

Nonetheless, my intensely emotional reactions to Mark Rothko’s paintings were undeniable. Standing before these fields of color produced a physical sensation, much like listening to music. Rothko was able to communicate powerful emotions with the simplest means. Often his canvases were composed no more than two rectangles inside the larger rectangular field of the canvas or as few as three colors. Unlike DeKooning, gesture isn’t what communicates emotion – Rothko’s canvases are stained.  Rothko’s use of scale, quite different than Albers’, also impressed me; the large fields immerse you in the sensation of color, further intensifying it.

Rothko’s painting was more than an exploration of optics, it was also a spiritual quest. It’s not just color-for-color’s sake; it’s color placed in the service of the human spirit. Upon further study, I found that many early modernists shared a similar spiritual impulse and used abstraction in a quest for a universal language that reached beyond time and culture. For me this was the link between the modernists I appreciated and the ones that left me cold. It was a quest I resonated with. It started a chain reaction within my thinking about and appreciation of art. I continue to search for similar qualities in my own work.

Who are your influences and what do they mean to you?

Find out more about my influences here.

Ansel Adams impressed me as a boy. What impressed me was the total package: his images (He helped codify a movement and a genre.); his technical mastery (He refined and disseminated the zone system.); his educational efforts through books (They are still in print today.) and workshops (He set up his own program and invited others to teach with him.); his environmental advocacy both locally (It’s hard to think of Yosemite without thinking of Ansel Adams.) and nationally (He had a strong relationship with the Sierra Club and many other environmental organizations.); his strong networks of friends in wide-ranging fields (They included the painter Georgia O’Keefe and the activist David Brower.). What’s more, all of these elements worked in concert with one another creating a marvelous synergy where each enriched the other. At the end of his life, he wasn’t the wealthiest man alive, but he was rich beyond measure in so many other ways and he left us knowing he had made major contributions. Perhaps more than any other photographer he influenced both his medium and his culture and he did so by empowering others.

Ansel Adams life and work challenge me to think about how to make my own life’s work more impactful and far-reaching.

Who are your influences and what do they mean to you?

Find out more about my influences here.

Sometimes you find your own voice through observing your responses to other people’s work.

One of my visual journals is a collection of images that I appreciate. When you bring enough images together new patterns emerge. This was certainly the case for me when I sifted through my favorite photographs of nudes and found a thread that tied together works by Jerry Uelsmann, Emmet Gowin, Harry Callahan, and Ruth Bernhard. All four of the photographs I had selected used double exposure to merge the figure with the landscape. It wasn’t that these works were typical of each artist’s work; Jerry Uelsmann who would be best know for this kind of work offers many such images; Harry Callahan was highly experimental and offered only a handful of these kinds of treatments; Ruth Berhard produced fewer; Emmet Gown only produced even fewer. What had been revealed through the process of creating this collection was my own interest in a specific kind of imagery and a particular theme.

Overtly stated in my own photographs of nudes in varying degrees of transparency, the theme of man and nature as one runs through all of my work. Whether subtly or dramatically, directly or indirectly, I’m interested in all types of imagery that challenges conventional notions of separateness and offer a vision of unity.

What shared themes can you identify when observing your own influences?

Read more about my influences here.

While this image is officially titled Apple, New York City, 1964 it’s often referred to in my father’s studio as ‘The Galaxy Apple’. Countless people’s first impression of this image is that they’re looking at a galaxy. That was mine. It was also Robert Glenn Ketchum’s, who was half way through his dissertation presentation, when he realized it wasn’t a photograph of a galaxy but of an apple. Even after you see the apple, the impression of a galaxy persists.

This is one of the photographs that got me into photography. I love that a literal transcription can also describe something more than itself. The power of metaphor is more powerfully expressed in this photograph than any other I can think of. What’s more, the way the metaphor unites both the terrestrial and the celestial – the macrocosm and the microcosm are seen as one. (I don’t think it’s an accident that my father’s first retrospective was titled The Wise Silence, a line borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

The printing of this image reinforces the metaphor. It’s dark. So dark, in fact that in some places you can’t visually separate the contour of the apple from the dark background. Other printers might have held all the detail there was to hold in this negative. Unexpectedly, and wisely, dad didn’t. I have always appreciated my father’s consummate ability to transcend his technique and follow the call of his intuition. Rather than offering expected results he consistently delivers unexpected solutions, not for the sake of novelty or surprise, but because he was called to serve a more powerful inner poetry.

(There’s a lot to be learned from looking at originals, which is why we look at masterworks from my collection in all of my  digital printing workshops.)

Find my comments on other Masterworks In My Collection here.

Learn more in my digital printing workshops.


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