Ansel Adams’ famous quote about technical proficiency in photography is more apt today than ever. Camera manufactures and photography ‘gearheads’ continue to peddle a narrow narrative concerning the importance of mathematically machined photographic equipment and its importance if you want to ‘shoot like a pro’. British photographer Pennie Smith has proven otherwise. Her iconic photo of Paul Simonon smashing his guitar on stage during a show in New York City in 1979 is a perfect example of the visceral power of an imperfect photograph that is perfectly flawed. It’s out of focus and grainy. A technocrats worst nightmare. Yet it became one of the most famous images in Rock’n’Roll when used as cover art for The Clash’s London Calling album. A fuzzy photo that captures the energy and vitality of life will always win out against a sterile photo that’s perfectly sharp.
Interview with Pennie Smith via Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/showstudio-official/showstudio-punk-photography-4
Chris Duffy, son of legendary fashion photographer Brian Duffy, guides us through the work of one of the most creative collaborations between a performing artist and photographer in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. Their working partnership resulted in some of the most iconic album art ever conceived – Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Lodger.
I remember being in awe of this photograph when I first saw it back in the early 80s. So simple. So graphic. But also so painterly in its treatment of light and composition. I was a junior pencil-sharpner in a Dublin ad agency at the time and realised great conceptual ad work was being produced in tandem with beautifully crafted images by photographers like Brian Griffin in the UK. So I left for Paris:) And the rest is geography. (line pinched from copy king Peter Russell). Check out Griffin’s masterful photographic work that helped make the London ad scene a powerhouse of advertising creativity right through the 70s, 80s and 90s. Thanks to David Dye for posting this interview on his blog and reminding me why I wanted to work in advertising in the first place. It really was an incredibly creative and innovative time to be in the business. I miss it. Link to interview: IN-CAMERA 1: Brian Griffin..
While reviewing this collection of album cover portraits (see link), I noticed one possible criteria for selection that was completely absent: one of technical excellence. Dylan’s portrait for his “Blond on Blond” album, for example, is a photograph with “camera shake” – usually the bane of many a photographer when the camera or subject (or both) are moving in unison with a slow shutter speed. These photographs usually get binned. Nevertheless, this photo has succeed in becoming part of the iconic vocabulary of modern music. In this day and age where precision and rationality are venerated – and have the technology to deliver it – we are in danger of forgetting why things “work” and why they don’t. Perfection doesn’t work. Perfection rarely interests people. It’s boring. Like music itself, it’s the seemingly random empty spaces between notes that confers harmony and emotion and not only the perfect notes themselves. Photographers don’t need to be perfect technicians to make great photographs – they need to be able to capture images that convey emotion with sublime subjectivity. The best photographers are usually humanists. They understand that life is messy (like this poorly written piece) and transient and create work that celebrates this fact rather than trying to ‘perfect’ it.