Earlier this week I received my copy of Eugene Richards’s new book Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down after supporting his Kickstarter campaign. I supported his campaign because Richards is one of my favorite working documentary photographers who is doing what I believe is some of the most important work out there. In gradate school, I was lucky to have the opportunity to have dinner with Richards thanks to Magnum’s Eli Reed being my professor. It was an inspiring experience. All of Richards’s books (many of which self-published) are filled cover-to-cover with powerful photographs that remain in your memory. One of my favorite books of his that is sitting on my shelf is 2010’s War Is Personal, which is “an examination of the consequences of the Iraq War.” Here are a few images from that incredible body of work.
In March 2013, I was visiting New York City, and I took a train north to visit the Harlem Studio Museum where there just happened to be an exhibition of Gordon Parks’s project “A Harlem Family.” It was a very fortunate coincidence for me as that project was an inspiration for my thesis work in Appalachia, in which I narrowed my focus on two specific families struggling with poverty. All of Parks’s work is incredible and influential, and the Harlem Studio Museum exhibition was eye-openingly beautiful and heartbreakingly honest, as can be seen in just this small edit of images.
One of my favorite photo exhibitions I’ve seen was of Garry Winogrand’s “Women are Beautiful” at the Denver Art Museum in 2012. I’d always loved Winogrand’s street photography, but had never seen many images from this collection. (Probably because the book costs hundreds of dollars.) These photographs of young (white) women are fun, awkward, and always interesting. They’re also provocative and exploitative — and often say as much about the men in the images as they do the women. Looking at them in 2014, though, they’re socially relevant as a documentation of the changing of the role of women through the 60s into the 70s.
No photographer whose work I will share on this blog will have affected me more directly or personally than Donna De Cesare. I consider myself lucky to have gone to The University of Texas at Austin for graduate school where I studied photojournalism with the likes of Eli Reed, Dennis Darling and Donna De Cesare as my professors. It was Donna, though, who was my mentor and my thesis adviser for my documentary project in West Virginia. Last year, Donna published her first book entitled Unsettled/Desasosiego — a bilingual book uncovering the effects of decades of war and gang violence on the lives of youths in Central America and in refugee communities in the United States. The photographs (and words) are not only a beautiful and equally heartbreaking documentation of the lives of the book’s subjects, but the images also feel like personal snapshots of a family of which Donna is a part. That is exactly what Donna inspired me to do — to spend time with the people I am photographing, listen to their stores,understand their lives, and care about them and their struggles. If I do that, she taught me, my images will show that compassion. So go buy her book.
Jim Marshall is the reason I became a photographer. It seems a bit hyperbolic to say that, but there is truth in the statement. As a child I’d take disposable cameras on school trips or borrow my father’s Nikon AF point and shoot to take photographs of my friends acting out or make them pose in different environments. Around age 13, I was getting heavily into Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and other artists from the Monterey / Woodstock era. Through the music, I discovered Marshall’s work and the concept of documenting musicians. That influenced me to photograph my own friends’ bands. That got me deeply involved with the West Virginia music scene, which led me to writing for ‘zines, which led me to a career in journalism. So in the end, I owe my professional existence to Jim Marshall and his photographs of rock musicians. Thanks, Jim.
Photograhs via NPR
Photographs by W. Eugene Smith / Magnum Photos
There is a long list of photographers who have influenced me and my work, but near the top would be the photo essays of W. Eugene Smith. It’s easy to point to much of Smith’s familiar work (especially for LIFE), but one of his lesser known projects documenting the city of Pittsburgh created some of my favorite of his images. Born and raised just 90 minutes down I-79 from Pittsburgh, it’s the closest major city to my hometown and it holds a special place in my heart. I love these images for capturing what Pittsburgh was at the time that has made the city what it is today — working-class, proud, gritty and beautiful.
Photographs by Builder Levy
Today is the birthday of West Virginia, which was admitted to the Union as its own state on June 20, 1863 after seceding from Virginia. It is the state in which I was born and raised, and for that I am proud. While I have taken many photographs in and of the state, today I’d rather share the work of Builder Levy. He is one of my favorite photographers to have documented Appalachia and its people — and they are some of the most honest, objective and beautiful images of the subject. I recommend checking out his book Appalachia USA, in which these few images can be found. Also, have a listen to my uncle Jerry Andrick’s song “West Virginia” at the bottom of the post.