This near-worldwide lockdown we’re experiencing for the moment in de midst of the Coronacrisis is a weird time. It’s a time for self-reflection among other things, but even that gets old after a while. For artists who suffer from a lack of inspiration, a mandatory lockdown can be a gift from heaven. The obligation to re-explore your work, past and present, can give way to insights previously thought out of reach. Isolation can also however provide newfound inspiration. Being stuck inside I’ve started browsing my 100+ collection of photo books. (Sidenote : the Japanese have a word specifically for this, the art of accumulating books that you haven’t yet read or might never endeavour to read : ‘Tsundoku’).
Cartier bresson famously said “Il n’y a plus d’idees nouvelles. Que des nouvelles interpretations d’idees existantes”.
Roughly translated it states that there are no new ideas. Only new interpretations. If a photographer that brilliant was faced with the same problem so many years ago, surely we can get over it. It also has a secondary negative effect, collateral damage one might say. It’s an incredibly bad feeling that can really, really put you in a bad space and place. You see so much amazing work that you want to do that it becomes overwhelming and you end up doing nothing. Bodie wrote “Apathy is the glove in which evil slips his hand”. I believe this is quite true. The less you do, the less creative you become. Being creatively active incites creative action of it’s own.
When that happens, I like to focus myself on one project, one type of thing and concentrate on that. When I lose my focus on street photography I read articles or view videos on street photography to rekindle and refocus my interest. Going to museums, galleries, exhibitions is one of the best ways to rekindle and fascination and restart activity for me.
Two books I’ve had for a while but never really studied in depth are Pete Souza’s books on Obama’s presidency. ‘Obama : an intimate portrait’ and ‘Shade : A Tale of Two Presidents”. To many of you his name will draw a blank. However, in my opinion he is one of the best photographers in his line of work that you’ve never heard of.
Pete Souza was the official White House photographer during Obama’s two terms as president. That means he records every moment of the President and his entourage during his presidency. Every meeting, Every intimate moment, Every travel is documented through his lens. This man has an amazing life. He has an almost uncapped access to the most inner workings of one of the most mysterious offices in the world. Pete is everywhere. He has a close working relationship with the President, but also with the rest of the staff in the White House. You can’t help but smile when you look at his pictures. I shows the family spirit that resides within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and it is a testament to the camaraderie people know when they work closely in controlled surroundings.
I love reportage photography. Classic photojournalistic reportagework like Cartier-Bresson, Nachtwey, and others shows the sides of life you tend to overlook. The whole point is to focus on and capture details, moments, nuances of a part of life that you either don’t have access to, or overloop unconsciously.
Reportage work is a high-pressure situation. You have to depict what happens in front of your nose and it has to be true. People who aren’t there have to be able picture it for themselves. That is already a difficult job that Souza does effortlessly.
However he adds an aesthetic to it that I have not often seen. He manages to capture these moments and frame them fantastically. Some images he produces are amazing. You have to look for the details, like in the image above the fact that Obama’s hands, and only his hands are lit. Every picture holds some little details that pulls the whole photograph to another level. That to me, is amazing journalism. This is why Pete Souza is one of the greatest photographers living today. To be able to combine such a high-pressure job and still find time for the aesthetic of the thing is amazing. I’ve included some of his best work according to me, but you can find all of his work on the White House flickr account. It goes back to 2009 so there is a lot to go through.
PBS shot a documentary about him in 2009 I believe that you can watch for free on their site. It is an amazing documentary, a must-see definitely. It is called : The President’s Photographer : Fifty Years inside the Oval Office and you can watch it here