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Those Who Inspire Me (and Why) — A Media Book by Brooks Jensen

Each Thursday Brooks records another commentary and we post it here at LensWork Online. The audio versions are found here. There is also a text version for each commentary for those who prefer to read rather than listen.

From the Author's Preface:

"I started writing this book about 7 years ago. After considerable thought, instead of publishing this content as traditional book, Those Who Inspire Me (and Why) will be published here, as a series of downloadable audios and text. Consider it a small token of my immense gratitude to all those who have pioneered this way of life that I love, and a passing-on of the invaluable contributions they've made to our creative lives." Brooks Jensen, Anacortes, Washington, 2019

A Contemporary Explorer

George Tice — Teaching Us How to See

I have always thought of George Tice as a photographer's photographer — and by that I intend to mean a very high compliment. His photographic craft and vision are second to none, but I doubt he will never achieve the fame and notoriety of the first tier of photographers. He should, he deserves it. But Tice has perpetually eschewed the kinds of photographing subjects that propel one to the stratosphere. Tice is perhaps best known for his photographs of Paterson New Jersey, presented in two books so named. I mean no disrespect to Patterson, but it is not Yosemite.

That's not to say that it isn't photogenic, and Tice as proved that through his work. In fact, that is precisely why I find George Tice such an inspiration. He has accepted the challenge of showing us, through his photographs, how to see and what is important before our very eyes. This is no small feat, not easily accomplished, and perhaps why so few photographers have been as successful as Tice has been.

Although these best-known for Patterson it's some of his other books that I found even more inspiring. In his book Lincoln, for example, he presents us with 47 photographs of statues and signs, buildings and memorials of Abraham Lincoln in various cities, often in public spaces like parks and municipal buildings. He shows us the ubiquity of the Lincoln mythos in America. I wouldn't go so far as to say that any of these photographs rise to the level of greatest hits in the history of photography, but as a photographic project it does a commendable job of showing us what we might otherwise tend to ignore. Isn't that one of the highest callings of photography? Isn't it one of the highest compliments we can pay a photographer is that they taught us how to see in ways we could not teach ourselves?

One of my favorite photographs of all time is Tice's simple photograph of a porch, titled Porch, Monhegan Island, 1971. It consists of medium gray sky, a medium gray support column for the roof, a medium gray fence, and a medium gray porch, and a slightly darker gray roof above. Nothing spectacular is going on. There is no event he is attempting portray — unless you consider the event he is showing us is that which occurs completely within our emotional state of mind. This photograph captures a feeling, a mood, a tranquility, a peace, a smile — none of which are visible as components of the photograph. The subject of this photograph is not a thing, but the emotion we experience having looked at the thing. This is the common thread that runs through all of George Tice's work and books. His photographs are mirrors as well as a portrait of the things he photographed. One of Minor White's great books is title Mirrors, Messages, and Manifestations. If I were pressed to do so, I would lift that title from Minor White and apply it to George Tice's entire photographic career.

Clearly, I am an unapologetic fan Tice's work. His work itself I find a tremendous inspiration, but having met him and interviewed him for LensWork, there is another aspect of George Tice that I find encouraging. I suspect I am no different from any of you in that I constantly hope and wish for a larger audience for my photographs. We all do, to some degree or another. We all want to be published, exhibited, acknowledged, validated. It is a secondary aspect to doing our work, but nonetheless is a part of the reason we do it. It is so easy to assume that those we admire — like George Tice — through their books and their fame would find a certain sense of satisfaction in their accomplishments. I have no doubt that George Tice does. But when I interviewed him for LensWork, I was impressed how enthusiastic he was about connecting with our LensWork readers. He was excited about the opportunity to have his work appear in our publication and also spent some time talking about his, then, upcoming retrospective exhibitions at several important museums. Here was a man fairly late in a very successful career who still, nonetheless, was excited about sharing his work and connecting with the new audience. I guess I would've thought that after a certain level of success and achievement had been attained that one would lose the enthusiasm publication and distribution of one's work. Tice, through the example of his life, convinced me otherwise. If we are passionate about our artmaking, it goes hand-in-hand with a desire to share our work with others — perhaps even into the latest stages of our artistic life. I've always felt ever so slightly guilty about craving an audience for my work. What inadequacy in my upbringing or personality drives my desire to connect with the audience for my artwork? If pressed, I might resist psychotherapy because of the fear my art life might expose some deep-rooted psychosis. I have no compulsion to cut off my ear, but what has happened once in the history of art could, I suppose, happen again. While talking with Tice, I was comforted with the realization it's perfectly natural to want an audience for one's work — and that desire never goes away. Both my years can rest assured they are securely attached. Thank you, Mr. Tice, from the bottom of my ears.