HOW TO WORK THE WAY I WORK
1. MAKE THEM SELF-PORTRAITS
Many of my photographs are difficult to make. Some can even be dangerous. I do not want to have someone else coming in harm’s way taking the risks I need to take: to lean out off a cliff or stay underwater for the sake of my picture. We control how much pain we can tolerate; such information is unknowable by anyone else. Some of my pictures might look simple, but in reality they can test the limits of what a human body is capable of or willing to risk. Thus I title them self-portraits, so the viewer knows who is in the picture and who took it.
Grand Canyon, 1995
2. TRUST YOUR CAMERA
As you leave the viewfinder, trust the camera to finish the job. I do not use an assistant to look through the camera; otherwise she or he also becomes the photographer. Instead, I have nine seconds to get into the scene, or if I am using a long cable release bulb, I can press it and throw it out of the picture, knowing nine seconds later the camera will fire.
Jamestown, Rhode Island, 1974
3. MAKE THEM SINGLE NEGATIVES
This means no manipulation of any kind, no double exposures or overlapping negatives. Fortunately I began decades before Photoshop was invented. What you see happening in the frame of my image happened inside the viewfinder of my camera. It’s a line I wrote as a copywriter in an advertising agency in New York working on a camera account: What Happens Inside Your Mind, Can Happen Inside A Camera. I believed in the concept strongly enough that I wanted to become a photographer myself.
Fosters Pond, 1996
4. WORK THE WAY A DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER WORKS
If you are going to be under the snow, be under the snow. “Out of limitations new forms emerge,” Georges Braque said. My translation: know what you will not do. For me this means embracing reality as a collaborator in the invention of the image, not overlaying multiple images to create such impressions. In the end, my negatives will never give away how I made any one of my photographs. They will always print with the same information as found in them the day the negatives were made.
5. IMAGINE LIKE A CAMERA
What the camera sees at the moment of exposure is what I try to envision in my mind. Therein lies the magic of photography for me. It’s why it is always Christmas in my darkroom.
Nude Descending a Staircase, Rockport, Maine, 2005
6. TRY NOT TO AGE
Claude Cahun likely created the longest spanning self-portrait in the short history of photography. I am slowly getting there. I made my first self-portraits in 1970 in our studio apartment in Manhattan. Performance art did not start until 1973—at Apeiron Workshops in Millerton, New York—I stood naked in front of a mirror I had placed in the grass. The following year I am floating on ice surrounded by flames, a performance artist I suppose, but performance art didn’t start until a year later.
Pachaug, Connecticut, 1972
7. CREATE CONTINUITY
Here is a group of images taken in Finland over four decades. The math is simple: 1973 + 12 years = 1985 + 13 years = 1998 + 11 years = 2009. Or, I was 28 in 1973, 64 in 2009: same guy, same body—different birch trees, different bodies of water.
Nauvo, 1973 • Virolahti, 1985 • Väisälänsaari, 1998 • Paltaniemi, 2009
8. WORK IN THE NUDE
Create an equal sign between nature and nudity. Aim for timelessness every now and then.
9. EMBRACE MYSTERY
Only the camera knows what happened. You will not find out until you see the negative and make the positive. In good pictures, the mystery will still be a mystery.
10. ACCEPT FAILURE
Artists who believe they control everything control what they know. Artists who allow outside forces to intervene are like canoes going down rapids. The rocks are there. If you fight them, you fly off the bow. If you allow the current to take you, you can pass through swimmingly. It is a rare gift at every bend.
Pachaug, Connecticut, 1972
11. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY
I borrowed the waste paper container from the men’s room at the advertising agency back in 1972. I painted it black and hauled it 200 miles to Connecticut. I put the camera on the tripod, advanced the film, set the timer, got in the thing and waded out into the water, extension bulb in hand. Swiveling around to face the camera I squeezed and waited for the shutter. It fired. That’s when the question arose. How do I get out of this thing?
12. HAVE FUN
A Fan of Myself, Rockport, Maine, 2003
- GALLERY REPRESENTATIONS
- BEIJING — See + Art Space Gallery
- BOSTON — Robert Klein Gallery
- BRUXELLES — Galerie Valerié Bach
- HELSINKI — Galerie Anhava
- NEW YORK — Barry Friedman Ltd.
- NEW YORK — Tibor de Nagy Gallery
- PARIS — Galerie Agathe Gaillard
- TORINO — Photo & Contemporary