Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Listening to Others

John Burke

For those of you who follow the blog from out of town, September is usually our hottest month here in LA. Summer starts late after the June Gloom. I though it a good idea to go to a talk by Simon Norfolk this evening, both because of the nature of his project and also because of the added benefit of extended air conditioning time during the heat wave.

I did not regret my decision. Having studied foreign policy for my undergrad degree, the topic of Afghanistan and Simon's presentation of his experience there were particularly fascinating to me. I post about these talks because I usually find them worthwhile. They give special insight into projects I'm already interested in and I find myself leaving with a renewed hunger and motivation to create better work myself. Tonight was no exception so I thought I'd share some insight instead of just posting beforehand and not reporting what I've learned.

I learned a lot tonight but aside from the historical, Norfolk's presentation of John Burke's work and life was fascinating. Largely forgotten by history, Burke's work is being revived by Norfolk's project. I'd posted a thought about using historical projects as a basis for ones own but Norfolk's gone a step further than I could almost imagine anyone else engaging in such an endeavor doing. He believes Burke to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, photojournalists ever. Without getting into the details of why he believes this, I'd like to point out that he has engaged in deep study into Burke's life and practices and could, I imagine, be considered one of the preeminent experts on these.

He said at multiple points during his talk that he learned so much from studying Burke's photographs, evolving as a photographer as a result of that study. Truly, Burke seemed a photographic hero to him.

Just last night, in my internet travels, I stumbled upon this video of the comedian, Luis CK giving a tribute speech to George Carlin. In the speech, he says "everything that I do that's good is due to this guy..." He was touched so much by something Carlin said in a talk he'd heard that had inspired him in a difficult time to try a new direction, that he felt he owed his success to that moment and to Carlin.

I can't say that I've had a similar moment, but surely I've been touched, tormented, inspired, and ashamed (in a good way) by other photographers work, which makes me gradually a better photographer. This is why I feel it is important to view work, research, and go to talks like these.

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