Writ­ing With Light

Geist - - Findings - WADE DAVIS

From Wade Davis: Pho­to­graphs©. Pub­lished by Dou­glas & Mcin­tyre in 2016. Reprinted with the pub­lisher’s per­mis­sion. Davis is the au­thor of twenty books, in­clud­ing Into the Si­lence and One River, and was Ex­plorer-in-res­i­dence with the Na­tional Geo­graphic So­ci­ety for thirteen years. He di­vides his time be­tween Wash­ing­ton, DC, Van­cou­ver and the Stikine Val­ley of north­ern Bri­tish Columbia.

When I was a col­lege se­nior a bril­liant and ir­rev­er­ent pho­tog­ra­pher, Tod Pa­pa­george, later di­rec­tor of the grad­u­ate pho­tog­ra­phy depart­ment at Yale for three decades, came to Har­vard as a vis­it­ing artist to teach an ad­vanced sem­i­nar. It was de­signed only for those few highly ac­com­plished pho­tog­ra­phers who had ma­jored in vis­ual stud­ies and in­tended to work as pro­fes­sion­als in the field.

In no way did I qual­ify, but by good for­tune sev­eral of the young pho­tog­ra­phers were close friends and

they es­sen­tially obliged Pa­pa­george to ac­cept me in the class, if only to pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment value. And that was about all I could come up with for the first weeks of term. But Pa­pa­george was an in­spired teacher, in good mea­sure be­cause he had no in­ter­est in so­lic­it­ing student opin­ion about any­thing. Each week he pro­jected on the screen the work of the mas­ters and for two hours, with­out pause, he ex­plained why a pho­to­graph was good. He did not tol­er­ate dis­cus­sion and thus the at­mos­phere of the class was mer­ci­fully un­clut­tered by idle opin­ion. His laser in­sights went right to the source and like the pho­to­graphs them­selves be­came in­deli­bly im­printed on the emul­sion sheet of one’s mind. I can still see At­get’s Paris in the morn­ing mist, the raw ur­ban notes of Robert Frank, the time­less land­scapes of Ansel Adams that led Henri Cartier­bres­son in frus­tra­tion to lament dur­ing the 1940s that the en­tire world was fall­ing apart and Ansel was still tak­ing pic­tures of stones. “You are writ­ing with light,” Pa­pa­george would pro­claim; “go and find some­thing to say.”

After weeks of frus­tra­tion I went to Vir­ginia over spring break and found, in the shad­ows of a land­scape, some­thing mag­i­cal and mov­ing. I re­turned and showed Pa­pa­george my im­ages. Some­thing had hap­pened. Some­how I had got it right. It was not about tal­ent or skill or raw cre­ativ­ity. It was about lis­ten­ing and see­ing and pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.