GQ- April, 2008 Issue

- - Magazines

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I really like this quote from the Alex Pappademas story. Works for photographers too.

“Y’know, I grew up in a different generation. I grew up after World War II, and boys did different things in those days. You went camping. You went hunting. You boxed. And the image of a writer, to someone starting off in those days was not some schmuck who went to graduate school. It was Jack London, Nelson Algren, Ernest Hemingway. Especially coming from Chicago–a writer was a knock-around guy. Someone who got a job as a reporter or drove a cab. I think the reason there are a lot of novels about How Mean My Mother Was to Me and all that shit is because the writers may have learned something called ‘technique,’ but they’ve neglected to have a life. What the fuck are they gonna write about?”

–David Mamet

There’s also and excellent profile of Terry Richardson written by Andrew Corsello that furthers my theory of how a photographers DNA imprint in pictures cannot be replicated or taught. Calling it talent is not very accurate because it’s the sum of everything you know and have experienced and it leaves a mark on the photographs. I’ve always liked Terry’s work and I’m somewhat floored by the story of his hellish/crazy upbringing and how that fed his photographic style and subject selection. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to walk and inch in his shoes if that’s what it takes to become a much sought-after photographer with an original point of view.

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There Are 28 Comments On This Article.

  1. I always encourage photographers to read/inform themselves. I don’t care if they traditionally read or listen to books, or watch lots of (good) television & movies, etc., but the better informed they are, the more exposed they are to ideas, the better their work is. There is a direct connection between stuff in the brain and what that brain produces. I can see it in the work and usually can tell who reads a lot and who doesn’t.

    Now, when I say “read” I don’t mean technical books about lighting or the like–I mean novels, etc. Non-fiction outside of photography is good too–like biographies and topical issues.

    The more you put in your brain, the more you have to put out in your work. That goes for life experiences too. Photographers need to get out there and live–see the world, or at least someplace other than their studio or back yard–to be able to have the input to make great work.

  2. Referring to the quote, maybe that’s why there is so much banal photography lately? Banal life = banal photography?

    Certainly there are a lot of photographers who are supported by team “mom and dad”, but that’s probably nothing new. There were some “great” artists over many generations that were supported by their family. I don’t know whether one’s life has got to be difficult to produce excellent work, but perhaps a natural inquisitiveness is necessary.

  3. You know, TR is a tremendously talented and successful commercial photographer. And his background, issues, pathologies, obviously play into his look. But, at its core, it is only a “look”. Its fashion, its about style. There is no meaning or emotion there. It is a style that was appropriated from Larry Clark. Clark was exploring his past, his own pathologies, was looking for meaning, and asking questions. Terry took that visual style, threw out the emotion and the reality, and turned it into a commodity. Its not original, which in the commercial realm is not terribly important. It takes a certain vision, marketing skill, and focus to make it work the way he has but I would be a little careful using the word “original”.

  4. Not Bitter Photog.

    David Mamet is spot on. Most of what is foisted on the public as liturature these days is bloodless upper middle class suburban MFA crap. Franzen, Moody et al write novels that are stilted versions of “16 Candels”, with an Freudian bent. Delillo always says that writers should be “dangerous”, which is one of the themes underpining Mao II.

  5. I thought our job was to copy Alec Soth and win prizes? ;-)
    Srsly though, while I totally dig Terry’s junk (not package mind you) you have to go back to photogs like Jurgen Teller and Wolfgang Tillmans who were doing the same thing in late ’80. and before that it was Walter Pfiffer.
    Terry’s style is far from new. I think a majority of his success is in fact being “son of Bob” which he admits in that awesome article.
    Most photogs are empty suits just copying to get along. I’m curious to see who takes TR’s style to next level and relegates HIM to the ranks of Walter Pfiffer etc…

  6. Ok, not original to the history of photography. Certainly you would never make it in the commercial and editorial world with truly original photography.

    I meant unconventional.

  7. While one can’t deny TR’s success, but to ME, his craft & aesthetic is lacking. It just doesn’t do it for me. I know we has many fans but my boat isn’t floating. On the other hand I wish I had half his success.

  8. Any creative whose work causes people to say either “I love it” or “I hate it” is definitely on the right track. Great creative will always be hated by some, loved by others. For example, I’d rather poke myself in the eye than read Hemmingway or Faulkner, but I can appreciate that their creative voices speak to others.

    Originality is a difficult term to use for any creative work–perhaps on the surface something is, or is not, apparently original, but maybe it is in how it came into being or what its meaning to the artist is. Judging work using terms like “original” is inherently fraught with difficulties because of this.

    I think the best we can do is to recognize that any art–Warhol, daVinci, Hemmingway, or Richardson–will always be subjective and every artist in influenced by others, and their own experiences. We need to step off judging the work on those subjective terms–like original.

    Of course, though, deliberately copying others will never get you into the “big leagues;” but rather by being true to your own creative vision/voice is the best shot you have at it. Again, the more informed you are, the more informed your work will be and the better chance it will be something that at least some people will call “great” or “original.” And if someone says you’re work isn’t original or that they don’t like it, so what–the next person may love it.

  9. I have to admit too that while I respect what he’s accomplished in his career, I’m not really a fan of his work either I’m afraid.
    But I’m sure Terry won’t lose any sleep over that :)

  10. But I think to a degree, TR’s style has poisoned the pool. I mean how many eds out there simply want models up against a white wall shot with a pop flash as a cheap way to get a TR style shot w/o shelling out for the real thing!

  11. Wow…Not much love for Mr Richardson. I for one like his work…. Even if is subjects are underage looking girls flashing the camera, I think he draws a different emotional response than what would be expected. So much of today’s photography (my own included) is so contrived and lifeless that it generates little emotional response. Sometimes we will look at photos and say “wow, esthetically that is a great image”, or, like the previous comment suggested…”That is a great copy of Alec Soth’s work etc.” It seems like every graduate of an art school is so tainted by what is trendy at the moment among art directors and artbuyers, that little exploration into the emotional response is given…. It is like POP music vs music inspired by life events. One is merely a production, while the other is an almost religious experience. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for both in the market, just as there is room for pop music. I just feel that guys like Terry do care somewhat about the emotional response rather than just producing an image for a pay check.

  12. If you look at it from a photo directors standpoint when you have a celebrity to shoot, there are not that many styles of photography you’re going to get past the publicist and the fact that Terry makes the cut is pretty incredible. Having the option for that style of photography makes him very valuable.

  13. I understand that reading a lot might make one a better photographer, but does looking at many photos improve one’s ability to write?

  14. Nick The Click

    Sister Wendy, comfortable art. If you are adamantly for it or adamantly against it, you are comfortable with the way you feel about it. Uncomfortable art is the best. Challenge the complacency of the viewer,Dan Biferi.

  15. Smashing Freud

    I picked up the magazine today and read it at lunch. Yes, fascinating article. Speaks to the Mamet quote perfectly, even though the content of his childhood was not pretty. It’s a good read. Yet, you will be forced to buy the printed copy, because there’s apprarently nothing to be found on the GQ site. Nothing there but video of other breasts. More dead trees; more lost opportunities.

    What I wondered when reading it — what else is left to expose? How garish can we be? What will the next generation of “shocker” have to do shock us?

    Still, I loved how the article discussed Richardson’s concept of “moving energy”, rather than only/solely obsessing about the finished photographs. Also loved the quote about how he disliked the overly retouched photographs that are everywhere nowadays — “It’s not a beautiful woman; it’s someone’s IDEA of a beautiful woman”.

    Richardson: two thumbs up.

  16. I get the feeling that richardson is playing a part and he enjoys playing it. Someone had to cum all over someones face, make a huge print and put it in a gallery, and it might as well be him. He plays the part well. Whether you like the character is separate matter.

  17. “bloodless upper middle class suburban MFA crap.”

    TR is great, his work may not come across as serious but that makes it MORE POTENT because his viewpoint can seep into your brain in a more subconscious way

    to post #1 Leslie B’DA, a lot of times it’s the ones who read too much and put too much of their “knowledge” into their work which comes across as too contrived, trying too hard.
    Sometimes it’s good to be a bit dumb and ignorant.
    There are many many artists I know who make it a point NOT to go out and see other people’s works, and I actually find that helps to keep you focused and obsessed on your own vision.

  18. Well geez, not to oversimplify it, BUT:

    Niepce and Talbot begat Atget; Atget begat Lartigue who begat Brassai; Brassai begat Cartier-Bresson who begat Robert Frank; Robert Frank begat Arbus, Winogrand, Eggleston, Larry Clark and a slew of others; he also begat Arbus and Helmut who begat Bob (whose son we now debate), who begat Terry in the literal sense AND the figurative sense, although he was also begat from across the pacific by Araki (I can’t believe nobody has mentioned him – he made himself a character in his dirty photos long before Terry) and from Boston by Nan (so he’s kind of like Nan and Araki’s love child – scary thought). Oh yeah and there’s also that book Cindy Sherman and Juergen did, which is basically Terry without all the nasty porny stuff (that’s in Juergen’s other books), so combined they’re kind of like the parents of his mild mannered cousin.

    Of course, Terry’s begotten a few photographic love children at this point, so what is the point?

    The point is it’s pointless to try to dismiss his work as derivative because EVERYBODY is derivative in some way or another – the guy is a really good photographer in his own right and he’s obviously good at pushing buttons and this whole thread is ridiculous and you are all just bitter that it’s not YOU being profiled by GQ and hanging out with naked teens and trannies.

    And if any of you have worked with a celebrity publicist, you’ll see that Rob is SO RIGHT. What happens when a newbie publicist asks to see his website before confirming a shoot? They get smacked back into place by the senior publicist. I mean the guy got approved by Barak’s staff – a friggin presidential candidate.

    So that pretty much sums it up… the dude is good at what he does, as perverted as it is.

  19. We ‘are all just bitter that it’s not YOU hanging out with naked teens and trannies’

    Hmmm, not too sure about that to be honest…
    Can I just hang out with my girlfriend instead :)

    ‘Cartier-Bresson who begat Robert Frank’

    Hmmm, that Frank was one rebellious child.

  20. Predetermined Fate

    I consider this topic to be by far the most important thing that Rob has ever posted. Give this topic some thought. It has the possibility of impacting your work more than any other thing you could do. Really look under the hood of what’s being discussed in both the Mamet article and the Richardson article. Yes, definitely applies to photographers. Go live life. You’ve got to have a well to draw from.

  21. for the record I SO dig TR’s work. I own a 1st ed of Terryworld, Son of Bob and his Stern Portfolio (a series which, BTW would make an awesome blog post APE), so I’m with you. BUT if Gilles Bensimmon’s son took pics of his cock all day we’d be seeing him in mags too….just the way the woild works.

  22. @22,
    My point exactly. He is a great commercial shooter. He has found a style that is an extension of his personality – that alone is an accomplishment. I certainly respect anyone who can get hired to shoot a celebrity, handle all the BS of it and come away with shots in his style as well as a fat paycheck.

    BUT, since many of the photo greats have come up in this string the question remains should he be held in that regard? Or is he just one-offing himself for a buck. Is he a perverted Bensimon or Demarchelier or should he be discussed along the likes of Avedon & Lebovitz. Although they probably earn as much as Avedon (did) and Lebovitz, I don’t think that you are going to see a retrospective of Patrick or Gilles at MOMA or BAM anytime soon. (In fact, I ask the same question of Teller and Weber for that matter).

    My belief is that until he really exposes himself, in an emotional sense, that he will never move beyond the trendy downtown galleries. He certainly has the DNA to do some exploring but I imagine livin’ the high life can be pretty seductive. Avedon and Lebovitz have (had) the life but they are (were) motivated by a fervent desire to do great work and to be relevant artistically.

    My only point here is that if the discussion is to include the greats then he should be judged by the same standards that they are.

  23. The notion that great artists are often products of their personal suffering makes great copy. But with all the suffering in the world, you’d think there’d be many more great artists.

  24. I think TR is a genius, it’s not really about the style but it’s about his erotic humor that does it for me.
    He’s a breath of fresh hair, all the ppl that copy him don’t understand that is not about using a flash on a white background and make it look trashy, i think is about shooting a model holding a fish and make it look more outrageous than having the same girl have OSex in a porn scene.
    I hope i explained my point, sorry about my english i am italian.

  25. cb@23, maybe he is exposing his emotional world and you just don’t really understand it because it’s such a different world from yours?
    I don’t see how lebovitz’s work is more important than his
    simply because this guy is unashamedly ok with his life and his work?
    you don’t always have to be serious to be deep.

    hello Massimo!