As part of the PhotoPlus Expo, I attended a lecture with legendary photographer Albert Watson, and had the opportunity to view some his personal favorite work. It was quite moving to hear him speak – he is famous for shooting over 250 covers for Vogue magazine, yet as down-to-earth as can be (although not unaided by the ever-charming Scottish accent).
One thing he said that reminded me so much of what is important was, “If you’re a photographer, you’re lucky.” It is so easy to get wrapped up in the daily challenges of one’s vocation, and forget about finding the joy and love you have for it in your regular experiences. Here was a well-accomplished, world-renowned artist appreciating his own good fortune. Who am I to behave differently?
He also spoke about doing assignments that one is not thrilled with, saying “No matter what the assignment, you don’t get the day back.” In other words, yes, sometimes you will be assigned to do what you consider to be unimportant, uninspiring, or just plain annoying. But it is your day, your life, your art, and you owe it to yourself to try to make something that pleases you – to squeeze it in additionally to or, if you can manage, within the assignment. If one wants to get great, one ought to use every opportunity possible. And, in any case, one might as well enjoy the day!
In addition to being inspired by his words, I bought his latest book (which he signed for me), as a follow-up lesson to the slide show presentation during the lecture. Not surprisingly, given my specialty, I was fond of the reportage style images he did in China, as well as the more cinematic black-and-white editorial spreads. But overall, what struck me as much as the craftsmanship in his work, was the sense of “idea.” There is a palpable sense in his work of having a very specific idea to convey, and the images are charged with authenticity. His subject matter varies greatly, as does the concept behind his work, so it is hard to speak about it more specifically. But the consistency in the quality of his prints and the uniqueness of the ideas he created was flawless.
The one specific thing I will say is that the double-exposure he created of Mick Jagger’s and a leopard’s face is stroke of genius, both in its motivation, and in its reliance (as all photography has this reliance to some extent) on the absolute uncertainty of the luck of things aligning in the moment the shutter is released. (In this case, twice.)
I find great value in hearing great artists speak about their work. Just in speaking about the way things come together, a lot is revealed about their nature, and it is interesting to try to see glimpses of that nature in the work. It inspires me to trust in my own nature, and to let my work become a greater vehicle for that nature.