Favorite Photographs for 2012 – What I learned about photography and “awe”

I found the exercise of coming up with my ten favorite photographs for 2012 curious for what it tells me I personally like in a photograph.  And also for what it teaches me about the meaning of photography.

Let’s start with some statistics.

There were four nudes:

  1. Edward Weston, Nude in the Dunes, 1930
  2. Annie Leibovitz, Portrait of Keith Haring, 1987
  3. Judy Dater, Imogen and Twinka, Yosemite, 1974
  4. Anne Brigman, The Bubble, 1909

There were four portraits:

  1. Annie Leibovitz, Portrait of Keith Haring, 1987
  2. Judy Dater, Imogen and Twinka, Yosemite, 1974
  3. Julia Margaret Cameron Portrait of Sir John Herschel with Cap, 1867
  4. Yousuf Karsh, Audrey Hepburn,1956

And four landscapes:

  1. Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, NM, 1941
  2. Abelardo Morell, Umbrian Landscape Over Bed, Umbertide, Italy, 2000
  3. Edward Steichen, The Flatiron Building at Night, 1904
  4. Beth Moon, Kapok

Also, all of the images chosen were in black and white except, arguably, “The Flatiron Building at Night, 1904,” which is really only toned in color, albeit quite effectively.  I truly prefer black and whit photography both in the seeing and in the taking.  I find that color can easily take over, even to the point that the whole exercise becomes trivial.  Although, I will freely admit that in certain photographs the color demands itself.

I do not know, indeed I would like to understand whether this is merely photographic tradition or whether there is a aesthetic psychology that defines the power of black and white.  But for me, it is always about good light, good contrast, good composition, and good dynamic range

As for landscape photography, its appeal is two fold.  First, it is part of an artistic tradition and through the greats, like Adams, a photographic tradition.  Second, and more profoundly, we stand in awe of nature and things man-made that emulate nature, such as the beauty of the Flatiron building at night, colored with the amazing artistry of the master’s hand.  The meaning of the word “awe” was expressed so wonderfully by the great theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book “Who is Man?”

Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding, insight into a meaning greater than ourselves. The beginning of awe is wonder, and the beginning of wisdom is awe.
Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple: to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.

As for nudes, as we have discussed there is certainly a wonder of abstraction as well as a beauty in the sensuous.  But ultimately they connect so directly with “awe” in landscape, so much so that they define the same sense.  I was reading an article in the September/October 2012 issue of View Camera by Ian Leake who specializes in photographing nudes.  He expressed the connection so wonderfully and concisely:

I work primarily with female nudes because the human body is a universal language of life – and arguably, anything that is worth saying about life can be said with the human body.”

And finally, we have to recognize that portraiture attempts to capture the meaning of a person’s life.  Keith Haring becomes his art.  We look into John Herschel’s eyes and in the classic sense are given admission to his soul.

The awe is in all three of these photographic forms.  Therin, lies their wonderful connection!





This entry was posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings.