On Reading — stealing from the best
Nearly all of my photographs organize themselves into loosely defined, open-ended projects that are never finished but often stop at an interesting place for a portfolio, show, or hand-made book.
People often ask; “Where do you get ideas for your projects?” British photographer and educator, David Hurn says; “Our advice to photographers is best expressed by Calvin Trilling: ‘The immature artist borrows; the mature artist steals.’ So steal from the best.”
I’m certainly stealing from the best for this one. In the 1970’s the great Andre Kertesz published a charming book titled “On Reading”. Quite a few years later I stumbled upon it in the public library and not too long after that my wonderful wife (at the time a used book dealer) found me a copy of my own. It has since been reprinted in paper cover but my vintage hardback is way cooler.
The Seattle area (where we live) is more than a bit bookish so it isn’t at all hard to find raw material for my own “On Reading” project. In fact, I sorted through my negatives and found quite a few already there and I’ve added to the project from time to time ever since. People who are reading are easy marks — lost in their book the rest of the world kind of fades away. Here’s one from Honolulu:
I put this photograph up on my website and some months later received an email from an author/educator who was writing a textbook for aspiring primary grade teachers She wanted to use it as the cover photograph on her book. Here’s the good part: She teaches at the University of Silesia in Poland! Isn’t the internet wonderful sometimes?
Closer to home is this vendor at a farmers’ market in Portland, Oregon. She was definitely paying more attention to the latest Barbara Kingsolver novel than to her baked goods. Books are a good conversation starter — we talked current novels for a few minutes before she sold me a chocolate croissant and went back to reading.
And the most recent. If I just go out to take photographs I usually come back empty-handed. If I go out to photograph with the agenda of working on a given project I will usually come back with something I like but not necessarily what I expected. I suspect that this has to do with looking for something instead of just looking. This day I started out looking for photographs of street musicians and came back with this.
All images ©Ron Hammond
About The Author
I have been actively photographing for over 50 years, full time since retiring from a long career in scientific software and control systems. While largely self-taught, I formally studied photography at the Keenan Center for the Arts in Lockport NY, privately with Russell Drisch in Buffalo NY, at Bellevue Community College, privately with Nick Hansen in Seattle, at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, and at the Coupeville Center for the Arts.
My heroes are the great humanist photographers; Andre Kertesz, Helen Levitt, Peter Turnley, Edouard Boubat, Milton Rogovin, … and especially Willy Ronis and Robert Doisneau.
Like my heroes, I am much more interested in people and their everyday lives than in spectacular places or momentous events. One of these heroes, Robert Doisneau, described himself as a “fisherman of images“. I like the metaphor of patiently waiting with baited camera at an interesting time and place.