Skating to the edge
In January, I took a workshop with Jeff Jacobson. Jeff’s class was incredible. I think its safe to say that he is a legend, a photographer’s photographer. Each day, he assigned us explore the city. It was the “rocketship” assignment: you have 24 hours to photograph what it feels like to be you today so that your photos can be sent into space to tell aliens what it is to be a human being. The next day, he looked at every photograph of every student. No outtakes, no hiding. It was like being naked. Worse than being naked. We looked at thousands of photos every day for a week, and Jeff edited them all. It was amazing to watch. The workshop completely reoriented my perspective and reignited my passion for making pictures.
At the beginning of the workshop, Jacobson gave us an essay by Charles Harbutt to read. It represents Jacobson’s photographic philosophy pretty well. Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs:
The photographic goal flows from the nature of the medium. Photography is the only medium that originates in and is caused by the real, historical, time-space event of a collision between a man [or woman], a camera and reality. But the photograph itself occupies its own time and space and is a separate thing from that real-time collusion. Most photographers see only one or the other of those aspects of the medium. Documentary, news, and street photographers see mainly the reality, the content or subject. “Artistic” and academic photographers see mainly the image, its style, technique, and fantasy associations. Great photographs exist not so much where image and reality meet and balance, but in the electric tension between real and unreal. The good photographer skates as close to the brink of total realism, while still honoring the otherness of the image, or he skates as close to otherness – the sheer, unique, two-dimensional object – while never leaving the direct realism of which the medium is capable. But the great photographer skates close to both brinks simultaneously and, in the process, frequently states new ways the problem can be perceived if not solved, new ways the rules can be broken if not observed. The result is a two-dimensional image that is a separate experience in itself while totally authentic to the real continuum which gave it birth.