A Theory of Photography

With a nod to the American conceptual artist, Mel Bochner, who created a work entitled “Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography)  in 1971, I’m borrowing a quote from that work by the French novelist and playwright, Emil Zola, “In my opinion, you cannot have thoroughly seen anything until you have a photograph of it.”

Photography makes us see the world differently.  Literally, if you’ll pardon the intentional pun, through a different lens.

A camera, and by that I mean any type of device or camera ranging from a pinhole to a photogram (which means no camera at all, actually), which allows us to capture a moment in time and space and make it permanent, notwithstanding those websites and social media devices that are entirely transitory, is a tool of great importance. It allows us to experience a magical moment. Henri Cartier Bresson called it the “decisive moment.”  It’s the essence of what makes a photograph a photograph.  In the day of Emil Zola, photographers were worried that George Eastman and his box camera were going to ruin photography.  “You Press The Button, We Do The Rest” was the slogan of the Eastman Kodak Company.  Everyone was now capable of making photographs.  The same is true today, but photographers need not worry.  Despite the fact that more than 1.8 billion photographs are uploaded to the internet every day, there is still a need for all photographers, amateurs and pros alike. With those billions of photographs that make it into social media, it’s my hope that they are allowing people to “see” the world better.  With the work created by photojournalists and art photographers every day, I hope that they too help people see the world better.  It’s how photography brings us beauty, truth, sorrow, pain, and so many other human emotions.  For those that worry that photography in the traditional sense is dying, don’t.  It didn’t happen 130 years ago and it’s not happening now. Enjoy the world more.  See anew.  Look at a photograph.  

On the Art of Fixing a Shadow

My older brother, Michael, who is also a wonderful photographer, once commented to me when I said I was a photographer of light and shadows and how vitally important it was to have great light, “it’s all about the light!”

In 1839, William Henry Fox Talbot, an Englishman acknowledged to be one of the inventors of photography, wrote about his experiences in capturing permanent images on film.

“The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our “natural magic,” and may be fixed forever in the position which it seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy… Such is the fact, that we may receive on paper the fleeting shadow, arrest it there in and in the space of a single minute, fix it there so firmly as to be no more capable of change, even if thrown back into the sunbeam from which it was derived.”

Although technology has changed the means by which we capture this fleeting moment, the idea and the art behind are the same   I’m always on the lookout for shapes, shadows, and interesting compositions.  Someone recently called me a landscape photographer.  Hardly.  It’s all about the light.  Whether that light is on a natural subject, something man made, or a combination of the two, abstracted or totally representational, my singular aspiration is to capture that magical moment for all time.  That is the essence of photography.  And, in a way, all of life.   

My photographs are memories that never go away.

My photographs are memories that never go away.

        Francis (Ferenc) Haar,  Hungarian-American photographer, 2001

For more than 20 years, I have been working on a book and exhibition project that will showcase the amazing wave of photographers that came to the United States from Hungary in the 20th century after World War I.   Loosely titled, American, born Hungary, it looks at the influence and impact of this talented yet under-recognized group of photographers on the world of art and trade.  Household names such as Andre Kertesz, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Kepes, Robert Capa, Cornell Capa, Nicholas Muray, and more than 50 others will be included in this exhibition that will premier at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2019.  Their work has influenced so many photographers during the past century, including me.  To them, and to my father, a Hungarian-American who was mesmerized by the magic of photography and from whom I inherited that passion,  I am indebted.

In this season of thanksgiving, we have much for which to be thankful. I have the good fortune of traveling often. I use every day as an opportunity to capture images of life that surrounds us. While running early in the morning, when the sunlight is the best, I record snippets of the world at large. Translating them into black and white, I attempt to amplify the beauty in all that I see. I have added a number of new images to my website from travels that have taken me far and wide this past year: to Auvillar in southern France, home to the French outpost of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, VCCA; to Barcelona, where I visited with the sculptor Jaume Plensa and saw Sean Scully’s spectacular chapel installation; to Beijing, China to participate in the Palace Museum’s global gathering of leaders who shared their thoughts on the future of art museums in the 21st century; to Mexico City, where I visited the studio and foundry of the late sculptor Leonora Carrington; to Redondo Beach, California where my son Robert, an aspiring young filmmaker lives with his delightful and charming girlfriend Ashley; and to San Francisco, where I spoke at a gathering of museum trustees from across the country.    I hope you enjoy.

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