On influence

As an artist, it is all but impossible to avoid influences. The world is full of them, from the obvious like other artists to the smallest details of everyday life. An artist is an observer, someone who takes in everything around him / her and attempts to create something unique from the many disparate parts. The combinations are limitless, as are the personalities of the observer. What one person revels in will go completely unnoticed by another. It is this aspect of creation that makes art so interesting. One artist's talents will be different than another's, as will any number of different aspects of a work of art, from the methods to the materials to the mood to the presentation.

Taylor’s Place, near Greensboro, Alabama, 1974 by William Christenberry

Taylor’s Place, near Greensboro, Alabama, 1974 by William Christenberry

In my case, influences will also vary over time, some replaced as I grow and others sticking with me for the long haul. But my work is still mine, however slightly different than it was a few years ago and unknowingly undeveloped compared to what will follow in the coming years.  For instance, the work of William Christenberry (photo above) was one of my first influences. Christenberry's aesthetic and focus on a sense of place and time remains a big part of who I've become as an artist. On the other hand, I was once very much into the work of Jason Fulford. Fulford takes rather mundane scenes and creates quirky photographs that may lack depth but are highly entertaining. His aesthetic is very visible in my work for ninety-three but doesn't show up much in my more current work.

 El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975 by Stephen Shore

 El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975 by Stephen Shore

And then there are influences that evolved themselves, creating work that carries through from one stage of my life to another. Stephen Shore is such a photographer. His earlier work, including American Surfaces, is more along the lines of Fulford's work: Less depth and perhaps a bit gimmicky. As time progressed, he developed a much more complicated sense of composition and began to capture images with many more layers to them. Shore's Uncommon Places remains a big influence on my work, especially as I attempt to become a little more nuanced in my use of composition and depth in photographs. His use of color for such photographs was also considered ground-breaking in the 1970's, something that has had a big influence of art photography in general ever since. 

Beyond photography, I have been influenced by many other artists, none more than some of the musicians I have come to love.  Artists like the Mountain Goats, the Weakerthans, Wilco, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, etc. have all had a big impact on who I am and how I choose to live my life. The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle writes lyrics that tell a story, generally with a strong sense of place and a touching level of humanity that I'm afraid that I will never be able to achieve in my work. 

Jazz has become a big influence for me over the past year or two, slowly moving me away from all of the rock-based music I've been listening to for as long as I can remember. Right now, I'm stuck on almost everything Mose Allison did, especially at the beginning of his career. Jazz is about listening and observing, taking the time to allow a composition to become familiar and part of you in some small way. It's best enjoyed in a certain mood or moment, such as on a long, rainy day. I'm learning to look at photography in a similar way, attempting to find a way to achieve the same aesthetic in what I create. 

Victor, Iowa from  Familiar Places

Victor, Iowa from Familiar Places

Of course, the biggest influences on me have little to do with art or photography. It's everything else, all the personal experiences and people in my life, that shape my work (and my self) in a multitude of ways. My parents have had a huge impact on everything I've done, as have many other friends and family. Familiar Places, for instance, was my exploration of the places in and around where my parents and grandparents grew up. The photograph above is of the home just outside of Victor, Iowa where my grandfather lived when he was born in 1927.  To me, family means a lot, and I've tried to remain true to that in some of my concepts and photographs.

All of this adds up to me and my photography.