Thursday, August 21, 2014

John Sexton Gets It

I was studying the work of the great landscape photographer John Sexton. In his book "Recollections" Mr. Sexton accomplishes all of his work with the simplest of tools. He uses one type of film Tmax in 2 speeds 100 and 400 ASA and 5-6 lens for the entire book. This really goes to show how a great photographer needs minimum tools even thou he shoots a variety of landscape subjects in all kinds of light. John S gets it, its not about using dozens of films and developer combos, multiple cameras and a truck load of lens. What makes a great photographer is learning and understanding your craft and tools thoroughly and then forgetting all that film, gadget crap and TRULY SEEING AND CREATING.

When photographers like the great landscape John Sexton and great documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado can capture great images with simple tools it is a lesson to all of us.

Whenever I am teaching I tell my students limit yourself and by doing that your actually expanding your ability to create Use one lens, one camera, one film, one developer for a long time before branching out with a few more tools. There is no need at all to use multiple films, developers and cameras, maybe 2 films and a couple of developers at most, NO MORE. Four or 5 lens is more than enough, maybe to many, it is the photographers heart and mind that sees and creates. If you have to many options it can distract, confuse and destroy your ability to create.

Some hobbyists I think love the tools of photography more than the actual photographs, they are into testing more than creating, into fondling equipment more than making pics. I tell my students to not fall into that trap, do not buy and buy and test and test, never settling on what they want to do or how they want to do it, even after a lifetime of photography. The gadget photo hobby types are continually in flux and unsure, they shoot with a shaky hand and fragmentary knowledge of what works and what doesn't work, they simply have way to many variables, they become drunk with their toys. It is like their vision is continually out of focus. Simplicity in shooting creates better photographs than all the shiny lens and all the fancy films in the world.

My advise for what it's worth is do not be dazzled by all the bells and whistles of photography, use basic tools to tell complex stories. Make up your mind what works for you then use those simple tools to make pics, forget the never ending testing and experimenting, CHOOSE AND CREATE!

John Sexton is probably the greatest living landscape photographer, if it's good enough for him, it is certainly good enough for me! He does not need the extra shit to create masterworks, why should I?

Note* Sexton used Tri-x for some of his very early work but stopped using it after  the T-max came out. He limits himself to one film in two speeds now,  T-max 100 and 400.
Note* Salgado shot Tri-x his entire career with Leica's and 3 or 4 lens.

I am not to much into landscapes, I just feel that photos of people are a thousand times more important than photos of rocks. Still beauty and recording the landscape is challenging and worthwhile pursuit. Here is a wonderful John Sexton photograph from his book "Quiet Light", the composition works so well.

Rice Field and Pine Forest, Japan 1985 by John Sexton