If I Knew Then.. .

an old employer of mine once said, “If I’d known then, what I know now… (sigh). .
the Helluvit is.. I DID know then!”


I’ve written about a former teacher (not the above mentioned boss), Sean Kernan, before; here’s a pair of his latest blog posts that seems worth passing on.

First, from his thoughts on visiting a new show at the Metropolitan Museum:
“Jeff Rosenheim, who curated the (Robert Frank) show, said that for him encountering the work was like encountering an old lover. For me it was more complex and a bit odder than that. It  was like.. .”




Dating my daughters

When I was a young man, I remember a slight shudder running up my spine at the idea of any future daughters, upon their beginning to date young men. As it turned out, my only “daughters” are my creative productions.. photographs, drawings, radio programs, stage performances, etc.


Recently, I came across a blog post by Andrew Ilachinski, at his Tao of Photography , on viewers viewing gallery art. Go give it a read, if you find that interesting; I’ll wait… . ..    .                   .

For the rest of you:

Reminded of my experience, years ago, at a gallery showing of two themes of my black and white photographs, I joined into the comments on his post:

“I once noticed an interchange between two viewers (of my own work,including some almost abstract closeup studies of line texture, in a friend’s gallery) which suggested a conclusion about art and perception. One of them, from the opposite side of the long narrow gallery space, came and got her friend who was looking at another image just below where I was standing, taking her to the one she had been looking at. Neither realized I was present, maybe not even knowing I Was the photographer. The first woman said (something like), “Look. I can see (whatever it was she saw) in this. See it?” The second said (approximately),”No.. I don’t see that.. but what I DO see is (whatever She said she saw), as plain as day”
And they were definite, but quite different impressions, at least with respect to their respective “images”, but interestingly, it seemed to me both impressions were similar in character or “feel”.
Rather than feel as if my work had failed, I began to wonder if it had succeeded on a whole other level, since they seemed to have gotten similar emotional experiences on viewing the same image. They just explained or interpreted their emotional response with different “specifics”?
In the end, I began to think that it doesn’t matter what the “abstract” image actually “portrays” to those who bother to look; maybe what matters is that we make an image that has the organization and technical skill that clears the way, distills the experience, so that a viewer can bring his/her inner experience to the image. Sloppy images may provide a “confused path” to/through the image, while an image made by someone who composes somewhat cleanly, with organized elements and dynamics if you will, lets the image be a mirror for the viewer.
I take that as a high calling, actually… maybe Just as great as showing them what I saw.”

Fit Pictures that Don't Quite.. .

I was fortunate in finding Sean Kernan’s workshop, years ago, now. For me, he exemplified some key qualities as a teacher. Foremost, for me, was that he approached us with a kind of quiet openness to who we were and what we might be about. Then, with respect to our “come from’s” and “go to’s” (and also properly disregarding them), he guided rather than directed, suggested rather than taught, nudged rather than “ruled”. His suggestions as to how we approached each others’ work, during the class, gave us each and all room for what he called for in his workshop descriptions, “We’ll work deep, wake up, and have fun and we’ll prize audacious failures over small, safe successes.” We were asked to see what we see and say what we see in any of the photos up for feedback, each day. Feedback is the key word, not Critique. Anyone can trash or praise a photograph, but to actually read it, see what’s there, simply report what we see, so the artist can make choices based on what the image is communicating/representing? That’s Powerful.

In a world where everyone has native opinions, finding simple reflections for our visions was like breathing fresh air together, instead of braving the hot stale draughts of “my way is better”. Giving feedback like that was not only refreshing to do, but was Great practice at seeing; we could approach making images like a mirror as well as a window.

What a great way to photograph, yes, maybe life, too? At least as a powerful option.

Sean’s recent blog post includes a few images that he says “…just don’t fall into categories easily…except maybe the  ‘Look at that!‘ category.”


They Do fit into a category of mine, though; they exemplify images that start out as a kind of discovery and (my bias, here, maybe) Transmit a sense of discovery to the viewer. Their call to look a little deeper can easily fall on “deaf eyes”, but the opening is there to appreciate more than a viewer’s first presumptions. I find that Sean’s sensitive work –also wonderfully crafted– makes this easy.