My Uncle gave me a copy of Linda Gordon's biography of Dorethea Lange a few months back. Lange was a photographer whose work I worshipped when I was in high school. Everything about her romantic aesthetic appealed to me and although my tastes have changed somewhat I was still looking forward to reading about her life.
The author, Linda Gordon, is a writer of history rather than a art or photography authority and I have to sadly say it shows. The book is punctuated with her own takes on what it would have been like to be Lange in those times, and anecdotes about the historical context of when Lange was working rather than any real insight into who she is as a person. Lange was part of the San Fransisco scene in the pre depression, she hobnobbed with Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo when the visited. She lived a debauchery filled bohemian lifestyle before the Depression, she was considered one of the cities most distinguished photographers married a sexy cowboy named Maynard Dixon and two sons. But once the signs of the Depression hit the city she could no longer ignore it. She started photographing the realities of what she saw which lead her down the path of becoming the artist she became.
I had hoped " A life beyond limits" would be able to sit comfortably alongside Patricia Bosworth's biography of Diane Arbus as a life changer. I have read Bosworths unauthorised biography of Arbus over 20 times and I often read key chapters when I am feeling particularly unsure of myself. An insight is given into Arbus' hunger to photograph, how her need to do so was aching. But it also goes into great depth about how this need was in opposition to her upbringing as a wealthy good jewish girl. Arbus married young and had her two daughters before she was 31 and died at the age 48 but managed to amass a body of work which completely changed the way people think about photography and the world. I think that's what has always appealed to me about Arbus as an artist- beyond the power of her work I have always found it amazing that the woman found time to create this work in such a short lifetime.
It's a strange thing wanting to get to know the person behind the art you love. I have always enjoyed watching documentaries that show a painter at work or follow a photographer around. I own the dvd "war photographer" and viewed it greedily when I was at uni, hoping that by watching James Natchwey in action I would somehow learn his tricks. I think my need to understand how some artists can propel their work so much further than most people will never end. How can it be that all photography equipment really does the same thing, yet two photographers will always take different photos of the same subject?
With this in mind I am finalizing my enrollment in Mary Ellen Mark's workshop today. I have nothing but excitement and hard work ahead of me with the course and in a way I cannot wait for it to be over so I can have all the new perspectives working with her will leave imprinted on my work.