Gertrude Käsebier is one of the earliest American female photographers and is known for her portraits of Native Americans and for her work depicting motherhood. I had never heard of Käsebier before this assignment, but strangely enough, I discovered that we share the same hometown. Käsebier was born in 1852 in Fort Des Moines, which is now the city of Des Moines and the capitol of Iowa. When she was only eight, her family moved to Golden, Colorado to join her father during the days of the prosperous gold rush. After her father’s death, Käsebier’s mother moved the family to Brooklyn. When Käsebier was 22, she married Eduard Käsebier and entered into a very unhappy marriage. Despite their unhappy marriage, her husband supported her and paid for her to enter art school when she was in her late 30s. This was surely a way for Käsebier to escape her miserable married life. Käsebier took several art courses but was particularly attracted to photography which she pursued abroad in Europe. Within a short amount of time after returning to the US she pursued becoming a professional photographer. She was immediately successful and had many solo shows and within a year had achieved critical success across the country and internationally. Her connections even gave her the opportunity to photograph Auguste Rodin. Her portraits are known for capturing the individuality and the expression of those who sat for her.
On Tuesday we watched a dvd on Debbie Fleming Caffery. She shoots in black and white and explained how her style has changed over time. Throughout her photography career she has photographed the harvest of sugar cane fields, her family, her friend Polly, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and her experiences in Mexico in brothels and with circuses. One of the people interviewed in the film pointed out that she keeps the integrity of her subjects, no matter who they may be. Many photographers hunt for subjects and then once they get the shot, they forget the subject. She approached her photography of post-Katrina through a curiosity about the interiors of the wrecked buildings. She knew that she would be welcome in the churches so she started there. Many of her photographs have a strong presence of faith in them and despite the sense of loss that is evident in those photographs, there is also more hope than disaster. I thought it was interesting how she repeatedly said that she views the world in black and white because that is the film that she shoots.
Last Thursday in my Photography Portfolio class we watched a documentary about the work of Shelby Lee Adams. The documentary is called “The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia.” I hadn’t heard of this photographer before, but he has created some absolutely stunning images of Appalachia that have received a lot of criticism throughout the years. The documentary brought up several different themes that show up throughout Adams’ work as well as the argument of his critics, who question his motivations for photographing his chosen subjects. The subjects that Adams focuses on are the people who live at the head of the “holler” who are stereotypically the most “hillbilly-esque” as well as followers of a religion called Holiness Pentecostal, who interpret the bible literally and choose to handle serpents as part of their faith, and families with children who are mentally retarded.
As part of this write-up, I am supposed to discuss the similarities
and differences I have found between Adams’ work and my own. After experiencing one documentary on the artist, I don’t feel that I am enough of an expert to make large generalizations about our differences, but I have noticed a few things we have in common. The first of which is we both photograph what we know, whether if be family and friends or aspects of society. Adams said in the documentary that he “identifies with people suffering and people who are in pain.” Artists are kindred spirits with melancholy souls. Although not necessarily to the same extreme, I believe that nearly all artists have this quality in common, and it is one that I think comes out in some of my work as well.