LensWork Online: A Membership website with content, content, content and even more content in 2017!
Newest Content Complete Content Tablet Editions Extended Computer Editions Support www.lenswork.com

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

Phil Borges — Breaking Tradition Within Tradition

Sometimes, if we're lucky, the perfect inspiration appears at exactly the moment we need it most. This is precisely what happened to me in discovering the work of Phil Borges. During the very earliest days of LensWork, I was confronting an artistic crisis as my training and tradition pulled me in one direction and the work I was beginning to feel was pulling me in a different direction. I've always been a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to image content, but because of that I was also pulled to traditional presentation methods — the beveled, window-cut white mat board. Unfortunately this left precious little room for artistic growth in terms of presentation logistics because the photographic art establishment appeared particularly inflexible about this. Fortunately, I stumbled across the work of Phil Borges which we published in LensWork #15.

Like me, Borges has been drawn toward what might be characterized as a traditional aesthetic, but within that framework he has an incredibly inventive and flexible eye towards the completion of work. In particular, the work he published in a book called Tibetan Portrait was part inspiration, but also some desperately needed validation for trends that had been developing in my own work. The images in his book use nontraditional borders, an important expository text to accompany each image, and perhaps most importantly a wonderful mix of cool tone black-and-white and warm tone black-and-white in the same image. To be specific, the portraits in his book all include people whose skin has been warm toned to a wonderful comfortable brown, whereas the rest of the image remains a neutral, gray, black and white. The combination of these three components made his work not only mesmerizing but artistically freeing. The images lack any sense of gimmickry, but instead seem quite sensitive and even humanistic. I was mightily impressed how Borges had managed to bend the rules of photography — and in particular photographic presentation — in order to make a project that was significantly more compelling than it would have been had he simply presented straight portraits with square borders, no text, and a monolithic tonality.

Seeing Borges' work was incredibly liberating. I had begun to experiment with image and text combinations, warm tone printing, and the presentation of photographs outside of the mat board. Seeing his project done so well without appearing to be either mere gimmickry nor visual anarchy gave me the nudge I needed to explore these kinds of ideas further. Perhaps that nudge didn't come exclusively from Borges, but his work was a major influence on the direction my work was to take in the coming years.

I think in particular, I should emphasize that his approach was such a wonderful blend of tradition and innovation that neither insulted tradition nor was innovation for the sake of innovation. His aesthetic choices were such a perfect match for his project that they seemed not merely comfortable, but perhaps even inevitable. There was nothing forced in his aesthetic decisions, but rather they were an outgrowth of the project itself. I had no difficulty in imagining Borges following the work and taking his clues from the direction the work itself wanted to follow. I know, such anthropomorphism is intellectually out of fashion, but that idea of listening to the work is an ancient one. Sculptors know the wisdom of following the patterns in the marble to take advantage of the direction the stone wants to go. There is a kind of artistic integrity in this approach. The polar opposite can be found in pop-culture figures like Madonna who found the edges of acceptable behavior and pushed those boundaries specifically for the purposes of drawing attention to themselves in a crowded marketing environment. The artist who listens to their material and allows it to guide them into more sensitive aesthetic decisions is not doing so for the purposes of selling more work, but rather for the loftier objective of clarifying and intensifying their artistic statement. Borges' somewhat humble book Tibetan Portrait was such an exquisitely sensitive combination of storytelling and aesthetics that it made his book one of the publishing cornerstones of his generation of photographers.