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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 Storyteller

Pedro Meyer — Image and Photograph

In the early 1990s — also known affectionately as the photographic Jurassic period — photography was still exclusively about prints and secondarily — but a distant second — books. Wandering through an electronics superstore looking for software and with my mind not thinking photographically at all, I stumbled across a digital photographic "publication" — actually a computer CD — by Pedro Meyer titled I Photograph To Remember.

I Photograph To Remember is a very personal story Pedro Meyer tells about his aging parents and their battle with cancer. The publication consisted of a single CD that contained a true multimedia presentation. Think a slideshow with voiceover. By today's standards it was a bit primitive, but in the pre-Internet age it was a mind-boggling and, for me, earth shaking publication. In essence, it was a presentation of still photographs narrated by Meyer himself with some occasional instrumental accompaniment. Logistically and from a media point of view, it is still, black-and-white photography; emotionally it is amazingly powerful both because of its content and how well content was unveiled through the power of his spoken word combined with the images. Viewing I Photograph To Remember was the first experience in my life where I realized the potential of my still photography as a component in multimedia.

Having cut my photographic teeth in the world of physical prints, it had never occurred to me that an image and a photograph were two different things. A photograph was a printed image and the printed image was a photograph. If someone had used the term a "printed photograph" I would have responded that such a phrase was a tautology. Pedro Meyer shattered that illusion. Perhaps it's easier to see if I use a different example. In 1970, if I had said I had just read Stephen King's newest book, you would naturally assume by the term "book" I was referring to a physical thing with paper pages. If, however, today I were to say I had just read Stephen King's latest book, such an assumption would be unfounded based on a touch of semantic confusion. A book is a physical thing with pages and is thoroughly independent of its content — which would more accurately be termed a novel. Today, to be perfectly accurate and media agnostic, I should say I have just read Stephen King's latest novel — that word having no connotation about the medium of delivery. A novel and a book are different things — although a novel may be manifest in the form of a book and throughout all of history was manifest in the form of a book. But today, those limitations no longer exist. A novel can be read on a Kindle device, a tablet, a smart phone, a computer screen, and in the comfortable confines of the bound pages of a book. To be accurate and up-to-date, we have had to adapt our thinking to allow for books that are not on printed paper pages and allow that a book and a novel can be simultaneously synonymous and non-synonymous terms.

Similarly, a photograph can be a thing on paper (or that awful fake substitute known as "RC paper"), but doesn't have to be on paper. We still use the term photograph to referred to what should be more accurately an image. It never occurred to me to distinguish between the concept of an image in the concept of a photograph until Pedro Meyer demonstrated it so convincingly. For a long time print maker, this was a revolutionary concept that struck me like the proverbial lightning bolt unexpectedly. Here again, I found that myself image was being challenged and that perhaps I needed to rethink my identity as a photographer. Where Linda Butler had inspired me to let go of the word photographer and start thinking of myself as a storyteller, Pedro Meyer encouraged me to let go of the word photographer and start thinking of myself as an image maker, the difference being that an image maker is not limited to printed media.

Once I found myself capable of thinking beyond the print, it became possible for me to consider various forms of digital publication, as Pedro Meyer had done. This not only removed paper is a necessary component, but also introduced the idea of performance to my artwork. On one level, Pedro Meyer's performance was his own voice adding narrative to his images. But voice over is not the limit of creative possibilities when presenting images. I realized that typography, layout and design, and other graphic components had a role to play in the presentation images. Pedro Myer's project inspired me not just to consider my images as potential material for a slideshow, but also to consider every aspect of media and its production as a component in my creative process. By liberating the image from the medium of printed paper, Meyer showed how the image was an independent entity, separate from all media, yet capable of being manifest by many.  Through Pedro Myer's example, I realized I was an imagemaker and that changed everything.