“The camera makes you forget you're there. It's not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.” – Annie Leibovitz
I’ve always admired the images of Annie Leibovitz, who is widely recognized as perhaps the greatest American portrait photographer. Gallerist Sundaram Tagore said,
"Through her powerful images, Annie has encapsulated the history of our times as viewed through her lens."
She was the head photographer for Rolling Stone magazine for 10 years and the last person to professionally photograph John Lennon (see photo) before he was shot and killed five hours later.
I first started taking photographs in 1999 at the age of 49. It was a time when I was looking for ways to be more in the moment and searching for an antidote to the political frustrations of living in the Washington, D.C., area. So, I hired a newspaper photographer to teach me the basics of digital photography and Photoshop. Then my new camera and I wandered in nature looking for anything that inspired me. It was definitely a cure for the common malaise.
“Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.” — Ann Patchett, Bel Canto (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
I think it’s too easy for people to discount their role as an active participant in the world of culture and art. Without people who appreciate the arts, institutions like museums and concert venues would be as useful as the sound of one hand clapping. The picture viewer is just as important as the picture taker. We who make art do it for inner exploration and enjoyment but also for the satisfaction of sharing with others.
“I'm more interested in being good than being famous.”
As a writer, then photographer and musician, I had to periodically back away from an insidious desire for the recognition I didn’t get as a child. Eventually, I came to realize that I do my most satisfying work when I’m creating something for its own sake and to encourage others as opposed to making money or receiving accolades.
With the exception of writing, my artistic endeavors have usually been unpaid hobbies. So, especially during this pandemic, my heart goes out to the millions of creative people who were already barely getting by financially. Ironically, Leibovitz has been shadowed by a long history of less than careful financial dealings even though she has made millions of dollars a year with her photography.
"I wish I was smarter,"
"I felt as an artist I was only supposed to focus on the creative side. I let someone else take control of the business ... It was a big kick in the pants. I blame myself for it."
Clearly there is a valuable lesson to be learned from her experience.
It is my hope that someday the next generation will be able to influence government to fully fund artistic education and expression at all levels of our society. I think these words by Daisaku Ikeda sum up quite beautifully the importance of photography and all the arts to the health of human culture.
“The emotion generated by a work of art, be it poetry, painting, or music, may be that tangible, unquestionable feeling of a broadening of the self. It is a feeling of fullness, borne from a mysterious rhythm, a kind of flight toward the infinite, lived as a sharing, an exchange, whose source is our interior world.”
Stay safe out there!