For a photography buff, the discovery of a talented photographer is as if a hungry man walked into a feast laden table. You begin by gently tasting the appetizers, looking at individual pieces to see if the artist has their own style. Once you see that they have an independent message, different to what you are used to seeing you begin to try to understand the style and genre of the photographer just as a hungry man would attack the large chunks of meat. This means going through as much of the artists material as you can get your hands on.
You then start to look at the side dishes, seeing what sort of experimentation the artist went through, did they try a different style, a different medium perhaps a new perspective. You go through their body of work noting the different themes and how they all interconnect.
Then you move into dessert, as you look to see what may have influenced the photographer. What other art were they exposed to, did they interact with other artists, can you gain access to their notes. You want to understand where the photographer was coming from when their inspiration hit.
Unlike a feast however, with photography you can return to that same table and enjoy your favorite dishes all over again. The first trip is one of discovery and introduction, the second trip has given you time to absorb their work and put it into better perspective, so you pick over the pieces enjoying the details never noticed on the first trip.
Then there is the third trip, here you know the dishes well, you know what you like and what missed the mark, you are still awed by your favorites but are bored with the misses. On this third trip you understand the artist and what they are trying to do, where they came from and how they created their art.
The fourth trip is the same as all the subsequent trips, the discovery is gone and it is replaced with a soothing familiarity. All the marrow has been sucked out but the taste lingers on. You already know what the artist was trying to teach, but you still enjoy reminding yourself of its lessons.
So the discovery of a talented photographer fills me with a great deal of excitement because I recognize the feast, and can already see my return trips and the hours of enjoyment and learning I have in front of me.
And so it was this weekend, as I discovered Francesca Woodman, an amazing photographer but one that adds a complexity I am uncomfortable with. You see, she took her own life at the tender age of 22. It is difficult to look at her art without this altering the message. The problem is that I do not see this as a central message she wanted to transmit but it is tainted. It is as if a horrible smell wafted into the room where the wonderful feast was laid.
The food continues to taste the same but the smell is so different, so off of what the food tastes like that it masks it. The taste is there but you need to concentrate on it. You must focus on the smell and taste of the food and ignore the rest.
Oh, how I wish I could enjoy the meal without the smell! How I wish I could look at Francesca's work without the influence of the tragic outcome of her life! Why can't these images teach me what she wanted them to, without my reading so much more into them?
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.