In reading a proof copy of a soon-to-be-published meditation-like biography on the abstract painter Joan Mitchell today, I was struck by a quote of hers: “A bridge to me is beautiful…I like the idea of getting from one side to the other”. Mitchell’s grandfather was an engineer who was responsible for designing many of the bridges that span the Chicago River. She became fascinated with his drawings; bold and dramatic black lines on brilliant white paper. When one thinks of her work, you can clearly see what this early influence meant to her work as a painter.
I was raised in a city that was surrounded by water - Lake Ontario stretched for endless miles along the northern border and the dramatic Genesee River cuts a rugged path through the center of the city, tumbling over tall, rocky falls and passing under ancient aqueducts that once carried the Erie Canal. Water was an inspiration from an early day and continues to be a source of fascination for me. My being a Pisces should come as no surprise, if you believe in astrology.
Until reading that Joan Mitchell line, I had never thought about the meaning behind bridges or why I am so fascinated by them. Whenever I encounter a bridge, I am instantly drawn to it. I love the architectural beauty of stone arches stretching across raging waters. There is something sublime and quieting about them despite the roar of the rushing river. The metaphorical idea of a bridge, though, adds an interesting and intriguing dimension. I am always interested in getting to the other side. Accomplishments, large and small, important and inconsequential, are of equal importance. I am as happy with the joy of finishing reading a good book as I am at receiving a major honor. Cooking a meal for friends is as satisfying as printing a great new photograph. Having read what inspired Joan Mitchell, I am not sure I will be able to look at another bridge without thinking about it more intensely. Where does the bridge go? Where does it start? Why is it there? Who has crossed it? Why?
I’ve encountered many fascinating bridges, from the Chain Bridge that spans the Danube and connects Buda to Pest in Hungary, to Arlington Memorial Bridge that spans the Potomac and brings Virginia and the District of Columbia together. Richmond, Virginia is blessed with many wonderful bridges. As a major rail center, both now and in the 19th century, there are both active bridges and numerous ruins of structures that crossed the James River. I have captured images in the fog, during the chill of winter, and in the first light of morning. I look for their beauty, their history, and their romance. Often I shoot from high atop the bridges, looking down at the expanse of rushing waters, whirling eddies, and little islands with wonder and amazement. From the shore, I see bridges that once carried commerce and made Richmond a center of trade and more modern structures whose graceful arches carry the endless streams of traffic north and south.
Thank you Joan Mitchell for your enlightenment. I hope we will all look at bridges with a newfound sense of wonder. May we all successfully get from one side to the other.
“My photography is a visual diary…It is very much a tool, to express and describe my life, the same way poets or writers describe their life experiences.”
Photography is a medium that allows us to weave light, images, and thoughts into a visual mosaic that carries with it the power of words and the wonders of the eye. André Kertész was one of the cornerstone modernist photographers of the 20th century. He helped us change the way we see the world around us. He has been among the most important influences on my work, especially how I seek visual evidence of what moves me emotionally. Like Kertész, I try to imbue my photographs with inner meaning while capturing images of poetic beauty. It is this same passion that informs painters, writers, and sculptors. Photography as art is more than a literal translation of the visual, but a way to truly experience life.
“I interpret what I feel in a given moment. Not what I see, but what I feel.”
As a photographer and photo historian I am both blessed and cursed. I have command of a huge swath of photographic history ranging from the earliest days of the medium to the present. It informs my work with the vast array of images I’ve seen in museums, studios, books, and galleries. I try not to allow it to limit my own creativity.
My interest as an art historian has long been focused (the pun was unintentional but warranted) on photography of the early and middle 20th century, especially modernism. For more years than I can remember, I have been working on a very special project: a survey of Hungarian expatriate photographers who made America their home. It’s never been done in a thorough and systemic fashion and it’s a story that needs to be told.
The legacy of Hungarian photographers in this country is rich and deep. Andre Kertesz, Lazlo Moholy Nagy, Georgy Kepes, Robert Capa, Nikolas Muray, and dozens more, departed their native land between WWI and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, made their way to Berlin and Paris, and, eventually, the United States. Hungary, arguably, is among the very most significant exporters of great photographic talent and a reservoir of artistic genius almost unequaled in the 20th century. I have been doing research and looking at photographs in collections across the country and in Europe. The task of curating this exhibit and writing the catalogue is daunting in only one way: there is so much great photography to be seen and shared.
My readings have included countless biographies and histories. Archival research comes next. My most recent read was a book published under the auspices of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and their long time, brilliant photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker (who shares ties, like me, with both Rochester, N.Y. and Virginia). It was a set of letters written during a twenty year period by the great Parisian photographer, Brassai. A Hungarian, of course, (Gyula Halász was his real name), he first ventured to America in 1957 and then journeyed here several more times. Sadly, he never called America home so he falls outside the scope of my project, ever so slightly. In these letters to his parents, he writes of his trials and travails as a painter, writer, and then photographer. His first book, in 1931, Paris At Night, is a classic. In one of his letters he wrote something that could be a mantra for my own photography as well as a premise for what I love about art. I’ll close with this quote for you to ponder and enjoy:
“The task of art is not to be real but to express reality…our task is solely to translate [its] essence.”