That is a question I have never asked of myself nor have ever thought of answering. What it will ultimately be, if there is one at all, will be for others to decide. So it is perhaps, presumptious of me to answer, but being one to not let a challenge pass by, I'll make a stab at it.
I once defined a photograph as being a "rhythmic event." At least that is what my photographs are to me. It is my hope that the rhythms in my photographs coincide with life rhythms, much in the same way that great music does. If they do, they have a chance of adding to the art of the centuries that moves us.
In his time, J.S. Bach was considered a great organist, but not much of a composer, since Baroque music had already been done. Later we found that he had made a great contribution indeed. Similarly, traditional, straight photography has already been done. I would hope that the rhythms in my photographs take it beyond what has already been done. Do they? As I said above, that will be for others to decide.
The legacy any photographers work has is partly a function of how visible it is. Think of Disfarmer or Heber Springs. No legacy at all, until someone discovered this small town photographer's portraits and published a book of them. Is it important to leave a legacy? Not really. What is important is to do the work. Do Paula and I work at getting our photographs "out there"? We sure do. But it is not for the sake of a leaving a legacy--for us it is a matter of survival and of being able to continue making photographs.
Jdef: I'd like to know more about the rhythyms you describe. How is photographing a rythmic event, and how would you describe "life rhythms"
I'll do my best with this one in a day or two, but I think it should be a new thread.
Jdef: I'd like to know more about the rhythms you describe. How is photographing a rhythmic event, and how would you describe "life rhythms"
Here goes: I did not say that photographing was a rhythmic event. I did say that I look at photographs as rhythmic events. What do I mean by that? First I'll answer the other question.
I would describe "life rhythms" as being the traces of life energy. So that we don't get embroiled in an irrelevant discussion, let me preface this by saying that this is my opinion and my way of understanding the universe. I have worked with enough experimental alternative science to know that this is true, or if some may prefer, substitute for "to know that this is true," "that I believe this to be true."
Life is created from energy. Energy moves in certain lawful ways. Form is frozen life energy. See the first photograph in the current issue of the American B&W magazine in the article about me and Paula in the January/February issue. It was made in 1967 and reflects my understanding of form and the way frozen energy manifests itself. Later, "all-over" work--traces of which are in photographs in the article (though none specifically)--reflects my further understanding of the flickering movement of the energy itself. Life rhythms" are rhythms that are in accord with the way the energy moves and are in accord with that energy in its frozen state. The energy can take an infinite number of forms, so this is not limiting in any way.
Although during the act of seeing and exposing a negative I never consciously try to make photographs that exemplify this, I feel that my photographs are successful if they impel the viewer's eyes to navigate the entire picture space--and to do so in a way that, through the act of viewing, the viewer's eyes move through the picture space in accord with life rhythms. Thus, through my photographs, I hope the viewer, through the movement of his or her eyes, is impelled to join with and participate in the great cosmic life rhythms.
To me the "greatest" photographs, whether mine or someone else's, or indeed the greatest works of art in any medium, are those that perform this function the best. The result is that, as audience, we feel more connected to the world and to each other (since we are all part of the world).
Something added that is a little off track here, but is nonetheless not irrelevant, I think. Just last week I saw this on the wall in a museum: "The viewer must recognize that the act of seeing, of receiving, is a participation in the creative process no less essential than the artist's own."
I hope that explains it. Let me know if it does not.