Discuss a William Gedney and Shelby Lee Adams Photograph
Thought I would change the focus of the conversation from one photograph to a couple of photographs from two different photographers.
The first, a William Gedney photo here, and the second by Shelby Lee Adams, here.
The late Bill Gedney photographed in Appalachia in the mid 60's early 70's with a 35mm camera. He stayed with a couple of different families during his time there. More of his work can be seen here.
Adam's grew up in Appalachia, and continues to go back during the summers to photograph. More of his work is here. He still shoots every summer, I think, in Kentucky.
Each approached this subject completely differently, but I think both bring a compassionate eye to a subject which has been exploited and sterotyped in a lot of different mediums. I would like to read your thoughts on photographing poverty, and the work of these two photographers in particular.
Do Gedney's more documentary photographs or Adams well lit and posed images speak to you more?
Last edited by SuzanneR; 12-01-2006 at 09:10 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Maybe it's just me (or my computer) but them thar links aint a-workin'
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
I'm having trouble with both your links -- there may be an extra "http".
But speaking of Appalachia, one book I've never managed to get back from my octogenarion mother is Wendy Ewald's "Portraits and Dreams"....
"I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright
Ok.. think I fixed the links!
Depth vs. breadth
I think that your idea of presenting the two together is an excellent one.
I saw a Gedney retrospective a few years ago at MOMA in San Francisco, and felt that he certainly made extensive coverage of his material, but there is no depth to it. Adams, on the other hand, judging from the DVD of his work, digs deeply into his somewhat banal subject matter, but there is a definite paucity of the breadth of his coverage (thanks in part to his method of working with the view camera). Neither of these men present a very honest picture of the people of Appalachia.
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I think they both show the influence of Evans and Lange. Gedney seems more "detached" and documentary whereas Adams wants to "engage" his subjects.
Both are effective in portraying the "plight of poverty" although, to be honest, I think the Adams photo also subtly shows the "misplaced priorities (values?)" of some poor folk which dooms them to continued poverty. The late model pickup and "flashy, if cheap" bicycle stand in stark contrast to the rundown trailer home in the background.
This is the kind of "ingrained poverty" one finds up here in Copake. One where a well-worn trailer home sports a brand-new pickup in front of it and a DTV antenna on the roof. Arguably, this kind of disparity can be said to just be an "alternative lifestyle" since it goes on, generation after generation.
The Gedney picture, to me, is a bit more "uplifting" in the sense that it suggests that despite the daily poverty faced by these girls they portray a "spirited approach to life" that suggests they can rise above it all (as symbolized by the sunshine in the window?).
But then again, there may also be that spanking new pickup outside and that DTV antenna on the roof and no real desire to move beyond the poverty that has existed in the family for generation after generation.
Always interesting how we see the same things differently. Me, I really like the Wm Gedney 35mm photograph - I feel like I'm in that kitchen, unnoticed, these three girls off in their own separate little worlds, lazing in the summer heat with no place in particular to go, bored, the pile of dirty dishes - boys - not their problem yet. And I'm moved to wonder where their lives took them. (With a daughter and a granddaughter you do that.)
The S L Adams example however seems too trick, too posed, just a stolen 'poor-person' trophy to mount over the fireplace.
Equipment isn't the problem here, it's how it was used.
Thanks Suzanne for the thoughtful question.
PS Found the rest of their stuff on both their websites like what Bill said and more - pretty much banal of banal.
Last edited by bruce terry; 12-02-2006 at 04:04 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I hate to say it, but I find both images totally banal. I really get no feeling of why they have been made or of what viewpoint the photographers have. Failing this, I am always suspicious of photographers being exploitative, although I have no evidence one way or the other in these cases.
I find the "photographer's being exploitative" a tired argument. Are you suggesting that they should not have made these photographs? Can photographers ever approach a difficult or sensitive subject matter without being accused of exploiting it?
And, really, aren't we always exploiting what we photograph? Including the landscape?
If you find these photographs banal... why?
Interesting comparison of two photographers from the "one step ahead of photographing the homeless" school.
I think I get a different impression from comparing the two photographs you've specifically introduced than I do from the portfolios I've looked at. Of the two photographs, I by far prefer the Gedney for its lighting and composition. The Adams photo, by comparison I'd think of as being a contrived snapshot with few qualities to mark this out as the work of a photographer rather than a random person with a camera.
But looking at wider portfolios evens things up a lot in my view. Sure some of the trappings are different but that's because there's thirty years between the photographs and even though the people are continuingly poor their lives have changed a lot in that time. I can't say that the meaning or purpose of either set of photographs is at all clear to me though. and whether they are campaigning photojournalism, detached documentary or downright exploitative isn't a judgment I'm able to make. Which isn't a strength of either portfolio in my view.