Sunday, April 19, 2009

Essays: Michael More on Phillip Perkis, Hollis Frampton on Paul Strand, and Joel Sternfeld on Robert Frank

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Helen Levitt's delicate photographic work since her death a few weeks ago at the age of 95. Stumbling upon a few interviews with Helen recently, I've come to find that one of Helen's favorite photographers was Phillip Perkis. Perkis is a well-respected photographer and photographic educator known for his nontraditional methods of encouraging students to develop their own ways of seeing and thinking. He studied with Dorothea Lange and Minor White, has received numerous fellowships and grants, and is a Guggenheim fellow. In 2001, Owen Butler, a professor of mine at RIT, published a book of some of Perkis' interrelated musings on teaching the art of photography, including many of Perkis' famed dictums and visual exercises. As one of a small class of well-respected photographers of his time period, he is still virtually unknown outside of the realm of his contemporaries, many receiving a notoriety in the world of photographic history today that has never found a place for Perkis.

This past week I've been pouring over Perkis' book, "The Sadness of Men." Here is a short essay on Perkis, his work, and the book. (*Open or Save as a PDF)

One of my new obsessions in the realm of artists and thinkers on the verge of madness and unintelligibility as a result of the unhindered and unquestionable otherness of their originality and unpredictability of thought is Hollis Frampton. Frampton taught at SUNY Buffalo for decades without ever graduating from high school. He was an experimental filmmaker, photographer, and critic of the media arts. Not suprisingly, Frampton wrote an acute elaboration on Paul Strand and his work. You can read his "Meditations Around Paul Strand," in PDF form here.

Joel Sternfeld, from what I've read and what I've been told, is one of the kindest and most supporting educators that exists in the small (but oftentimes tediously disconsolate and brazen) world of photographic education. He has a head of chaotic, disheveled hair, his office is a disaster, but somehow he still finds it his first priority to weave a cocoon of security, trust, and encouragement for all his students at Sarah Lawrence, regardless of skill. Sternfeld, miraculously, was able to be with Robert Frank as Steidl was publishing a "final edition" of Frank's "The Americans," the most iconic and most praised book of photographs that exists in all space and time. Sternfeld's essay on being with Frank during the publishing of this final edition of the Americans is one of the most enjoyable essays I've ever read in my twenty-two years. The marriage of humanity, gentleness, understanding, and a simultaneous commitment to photographic perfection within these two men is astounding and humbling.

Here is Sternfeld on his mythical, yet wholly human encounter with the miracle of Robert Frank.

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