Statement

On My Photography Work


    The first time I saw an image emerge in the developing tray I was hooked. Around this time I happened upon the work of Ansel Adams and was awed by the incredible quality, the feeling of light his prints contained. I was fortunate to know Ansel, to visit his home and darkroom. Ansel once mentioned to me that “Steiglitz told me light was the most important thing in a photograph and that it should be handled delicately.”


    Over time, I have known others who follow this “straight” tradition: Brett Weston, Paul Caponigro and in a more abstract vein Minor White and Aaron Siskind. I’m still in awe over what a direct photograph can be and my black & white artistic roots arise from this “straight” tradition of photography. For my finest work, I use the Zone System and previsualization. Most of my best black and white work is large format, archivally printed silver halide prints. Much of my recent work is digital and more experimental, though so far, little of it is as finely seen as my traditional photography work.


    I have an artistic dichotomy in my photographic work which has persisted through decades of photographing. First, I have a great interest in the purely visual elements in a subject, almost form for its own sake, regardless of content, usually flat and linear--abstracted images. A “formalistic” approach to pure forms which are there for all to see if one is sensitive enough.


    I often photograph the way something can look, as opposed to the way it does look or as Minor White once told me “Photograph things not only for what they are, but also for what else they are.” Beauty presented in a way which often cannot be readily recognized, for amazing things aren’t always recognizable for what they “really are”, notches on a rail look like abstract human forms, scratched paint look like clouds or a railroad snow scoop simply is a beautifully balanced pure image.


    Second, I like images of recognizable subject matter which involve the viewer in the “severe beauty”, the visual richness of the scene, some of which are almost romantic. I use photography’s powers of revelation to present a “romantic” reality which existed before the camera, but also more, a super reality.


    I very much like Hegel’s definition of art: “the sensuous is spiritualized, i.e. the spiritualized appears in sensuous form.” Brett Weston once told me that he couldn’t advise me to do anything differently, that I was on the right track and not to be deterred from presenting pure images. I try to achieve humanistic images that speak to the emotions through natural phenomenon and change, timeless images of temporal forces.

    

    Aaron Siskind once stated that Steiglitz bequeathed to photographers a tradition of “simple procedure and a rather uninvolved aesthetic”. I follow these tenants as opposed to manipulation and “over” conceptualization or “ideation” even when I’m working digitally. Minor once wrote to me “I see no reason to have an intellectually oriented aim for making pictures.” Paul Caponigro wrote me “Photography is taking new trends - and there is something right about that. It should, however, not totally forget or neglect the older traditions.”


    In the final analysis, I like Schopenhauer’s view of art as “the higher ascent . . . (that) more perfectly, with intention and intelligence, and therefore may be called, in the full significance of the word, the flower of life.”



small aspen tree



All rights reserved. © John H. Johnson 2017