Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series.
I recently gave my students in my basic photography class at Merced College a research assignment to write about a well-known photographer.
This is one of my favorite assignments to grade because I get to learn about photographers that I may not have known about through my student's research.
Most professional photographs that I know are also students of other photographer's work. That is how we learn, and, more importantly, sometimes get inspiration.
After much soul searching, I have come up with a list of six of my favorite photographers. It was not easy to narrow it down to just six, as there are so many great current and past image-makers. Interestingly, my list contains photographers that all started in film and four of the six began their careers in the early 1900s.
Because of space requirements I will share the first three here and another three in my next column. In no particular order, here are my first three favorite image-makers:
Jay Maisel began his career in photography in 1954 in New York City where he still resides. He is multi-talented and makes extraordinary images of almost anything he points his camera at, from New York City street scenes to wilderness landscapes. His use of light, color, texture and space is amazing. Maisel's commercial efforts include: advertising, editorial work, album covers (one of his most well-known covers is of jazz artist Miles Davis for his album "Kind of Blue") and annual report photography. He quit taking on commercial assignments in the late '90s but continues to work on personal projects and is noted as being a great teacher through his workshops.
Dorthea Lange, who has been called America's greatest documentary photographer, made a name for herself with her images of the Great Depression and photographs of migrant farmworkers during the 1930s. She created these images for the U.S. Farm Security Administration investigating living conditions of farmworkers and their families. Most of the workers had come west to escape the Dust Bowl, the lengthy drought that devastated millions of acres of farmland in the Midwest. Many of her photographs were made here in the Central Valley. Her gritty, powerful black-and-white images show the pain and suffering of months on the road of these families trying to find their place in this difficult time in America. Her most famous photograph, entitled "Migrant Mother," shows the worried, hardened face of a mother with three of her children at her side. My favorite Lange image, however, is a shot of a couple walking down a dusty California road carrying all of their belongings. In the background is a large billboard with the message: "Next time relax and take the train." She died in 1965 at the age of 70 in Indio.
I first learned of Galen Rowell not as a landscape and adventure photographer but a world-class mountain climber in the late '70s. I knew that he took pictures of his mountain adventures but did not realize how gifted he was as an image-maker until my parents gave me a book of his called "In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods." I was an instant fan. This book chronicled a climbing expedition to the world's second-highest mountain, K2, in the Karakoram Range in Pakistan. The photographs were the most amazing mountain photography I had ever seen. One image that has stayed with me to this day showed a lone tent sitting high on an exposed snow-covered ridge at very high altitude at night. The summit of K2 was in the background and thousands of stars dotted the cold, night sky. The orange tent was illuminated from inside by the climbers flashlights. The photo captured the cold, lonely landscape of one of the most remote spots on earth and a small pocket of humanity. It showed just how small we are in the great vastness of the earth. Tragically, Galen, his wife Barbara and two other people died in a small-plane crash in Bishop in the eastern Sierra where they lived. They were returning from teaching a photography workshop in August 2002. Galen's family still runs the Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop where his images live on. I hope that you have time to look up these great photographers' work and check out their images.
Jay Sousa, a former Sun-Star photographer, has his own photography business in Merced, conducts private classes and teaches photography at Merced College.