In the early ’70-s, as a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design, I had the great privilege of studying with Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Lisette Model, and Minor White. Their classes were my introduction to the world of art, and their teachings remain a fundamental part of the way I see. Before RISD, as a young street photographer from New York, I never thought about what made photographs good or bad . . . I just took pictures.
Spending time with my teachers outside of school was an equally important part on my education. I drove Lisette from New York to Providence every week. Those were sacred hours for me, filled with discussions of everything from photography to philosophy. On a trip with Aaron to Goblin Valley, I remember his great excitement as he set up his camera in front of a rock. Not seeing the rock as anything other than ordinary, I looked through his old Rollie, and there it was— the picture was right there, hidden in plain sight. Through the lens of Aaron’s camera, the rock was brought to life.
What makes a picture come alive? Why do some photographs remain in our consciousness, while others fall away? These are the questions I ask, as a photographer, in a world where the boundaries of well-crafted commercialism and fine art have blurred. I tell myself the seeing should be clear but not too obvious. Spending countless hours at my computer, I have to remind myself not to remain at the surface. Beautiful prints are very seductive and can have considerable visual impact. I pause to remember art is not only an arrangement of form and content, but of responsibility and awareness, of visual impact and contemplation. Art is our affirmation that life is worth living, like Siskind’s ordinary rock that is full of life and charm, frozen in time, kept alive by human connection.