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Photography: the art of observation

Photography: the art of observation

There’s something about photography exhibits that I can’t resist.

52  Suburbs, A is for Anzac

Photographs move me in a different way than other art forms. Perhaps it’s because it’s not created as much as captured: while the individual photographer is important, so are the surrounds. You can take awful photos on amazing cameras, and phenomenal photos on so-so cameras: it’s all about the person behind the lens and what fate has laid out in front of it, the happy circumstance of the right person at the right time.

Good photography exhibits inspire me, but also force me to ask myself what I’m contributing. I inevitably take a seat in front of a piece, and simply think about what I’m doing that moves people in the same way that these photos move me.

There’s also a sense of motivation. When I see a beautiful painting or sculpture, I appreciate it, but I’m unable to relate. I’ve never been able to replicate what I see in a cohesive fashion using pens or paint. And while people scare me–I’ll stick to photos of inanimate objects and sweeping landscapes, thank you very much–whenever I see an amazing portrait photography exhibit, I’m inspired. Maybe not to take a photo of someone, because just getting up the guts to ask would be too much, but to take a photo that makes someone stop, take it in, enjoy it.

Photography exhibits are one of my favorite things to see on my travels. It’s a beautiful glimpse into a local culture, either through the eyes of a local or an outsider.

52 Suburbs, Clovelly, the inspiration?

52 Suburbs: One of those concepts that is brilliant in its simplicity, and shines in its execution. After living in Sydney for 30 years and realizing she was still a stranger in her own city, Louise decided to explore and photograph one suburb a week for a year. She often pairs the photos and ties them together with a concise, witty, insightful caption. Particularly inspiring because she’s in a real-life MUSEUM now, and it all started with a good idea and a blog

Annie Leibowitz, Vogue photo shoot, The Wizard of Oz

Annie Leibovitz: The ultimate behind-the-scenes rock ‘n roll photographer, Annie Leibovitz can do a blow-out, glitzy celebrity photo shoot like no other. Her recent exhibit at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art had a fabulous video about her life: big-time cinema worthy in itself.

Robert Doisneau, couple in love in Paris

Robert Doisneau: His iconic black-and-white photos of post-war Paris are known the world over. Even if his famous kiss photos are staged, they still make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Being able to conjure up emotions like that is just as important as authenticity in my book.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, picnic on the river

Themes thumbnail

Henri-Cartier Bresson: The original travel photographer. He captured the nuances of different cultures in the days before worldwide travel insurance, before Instagram and Flickr, before frequent flier miles.

Richard Avedon, couple roller skating

Richard Avedon: He shot some of the biggest names in our modern world for Vogue, Life, Harpers Bazaar. Even so, he makes them seem like real, beautiful people with souls and flaws: unlike the “they’re-just-like-us-in-baggy-sweats-and-zits” to “they’re-so-photoshopped-they-don’t-even-have-pores” spectrum that celebrity photos seem to be on today.

*Note: For once, none of these images are mine. 

Are there any photographers or photography exhibits that have stood out to you on your travels?

  • Lindsay Rogers

    What type of camera do you use??? I’m looking for an affordable digital camera that will take good quality photos while I’m traveling, but I can’t afford to buy anything really pricey.  Any suggestions??  Love your blog, by the way…. it has inspired me to start one once I move abroad!

  • I’ve always liked Annie Leibowitz: 🙂 The colors in those 52 suburbs shots are stunning, I love the story of how she got started. 52 is a lot of suburbs!

    I love going through photographhy exhibits, too. I hadn’t really thought much about that aspect in terms of travel, though, but you’re right-it is a great way to see how locals see where they live 🙂

  • Love the 52Suburbs concept and blog. What a great idea. I should do something like that for the Bay Area in general. Even though I was born and raised here, there is so little that I really know about it. I feel very much at home, but also a stranger. Might be a good exercise!

    I saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit when it came to SFMOMA recently. It was wonderful. I was lucky to go with a classmates and the professor from a little weekend seminar on studio lighting that I took last year at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. Made it all the more enjoyable.

    As for afar, the first time I went to Europe in 2000 there was a free Earth from Above exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s amazing aerial images in Paris along the gates of Luxembourg Gardens. I’m not sure if I was more moved by the images, or the setting, but it was an incredible show. I also quite liked a very small exhibit last spring in Paris at a little gallery in the Marais of black-and-white flower photographs by Lee Friedlander. It was funny because one of my good friends is an assistant of his and I missed his retrospective when it came to SFMOMA, but then I managed to catch this tiny show in Paris, completely at random. Serendipity can be delightful that way, eh?

  • Love the 52Suburbs concept and blog. What a great idea. I should do something like that for the Bay Area in general. Even though I was born and raised here, there is so little that I really know about it. I feel very much at home, but also a stranger. Might be a good exercise!

    I saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit when it came to SFMOMA recently. It was wonderful. I was lucky to go with a classmates and the professor from a little weekend seminar on studio lighting that I took last year at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. Made it all the more enjoyable.

    As for afar, the first time I went to Europe in 2000 there was a free Earth from Above exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s amazing aerial images in Paris along the gates of Luxembourg Gardens. I’m not sure if I was more moved by the images, or the setting, but it was an incredible show. I also quite liked a very small exhibit last spring in Paris at a little gallery in the Marais of black-and-white flower photographs by Lee Friedlander. It was funny because one of my good friends is an assistant of his and I missed his retrospective when it came to SFMOMA, but then I managed to catch this tiny show in Paris, completely at random. Serendipity can be delightful that way, eh?

  • Love the 52Suburbs concept and blog. What a great idea. I should do something like that for the Bay Area in general. Even though I was born and raised here, there is so little that I really know about it. I feel very much at home, but also a stranger. Might be a good exercise!

    I saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit when it came to SFMOMA recently. It was wonderful. I was lucky to go with a classmates and the professor from a little weekend seminar on studio lighting that I took last year at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. Made it all the more enjoyable.

    As for afar, the first time I went to Europe in 2000 there was a free Earth from Above exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s amazing aerial images in Paris along the gates of Luxembourg Gardens. I’m not sure if I was more moved by the images, or the setting, but it was an incredible show. I also quite liked a very small exhibit last spring in Paris at a little gallery in the Marais of black-and-white flower photographs by Lee Friedlander. It was funny because one of my good friends is an assistant of his and I missed his retrospective when it came to SFMOMA, but then I managed to catch this tiny show in Paris, completely at random. Serendipity can be delightful that way, eh?

  • Love the 52Suburbs concept and blog. What a great idea. I should do something like that for the Bay Area in general. Even though I was born and raised here, there is so little that I really know about it. I feel very much at home, but also a stranger. Might be a good exercise!

    I saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit when it came to SFMOMA recently. It was wonderful. I was lucky to go with a classmates and the professor from a little weekend seminar on studio lighting that I took last year at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. Made it all the more enjoyable.

    As for afar, the first time I went to Europe in 2000 there was a free Earth from Above exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s amazing aerial images in Paris along the gates of Luxembourg Gardens. I’m not sure if I was more moved by the images, or the setting, but it was an incredible show. I also quite liked a very small exhibit last spring in Paris at a little gallery in the Marais of black-and-white flower photographs by Lee Friedlander. It was funny because one of my good friends is an assistant of his and I missed his retrospective when it came to SFMOMA, but then I managed to catch this tiny show in Paris, completely at random. Serendipity can be delightful that way, eh?

  • Love the 52Suburbs concept and blog. What a great idea. I should do something like that for the Bay Area in general. Even though I was born and raised here, there is so little that I really know about it. I feel very much at home, but also a stranger. Might be a good exercise!

    I saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit when it came to SFMOMA recently. It was wonderful. I was lucky to go with a classmates and the professor from a little weekend seminar on studio lighting that I took last year at the California College of the Arts in Oakland. Made it all the more enjoyable.

    As for afar, the first time I went to Europe in 2000 there was a free Earth from Above exhibit of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s amazing aerial images in Paris along the gates of Luxembourg Gardens. I’m not sure if I was more moved by the images, or the setting, but it was an incredible show. I also quite liked a very small exhibit last spring in Paris at a little gallery in the Marais of black-and-white flower photographs by Lee Friedlander. It was funny because one of my good friends is an assistant of his and I missed his retrospective when it came to SFMOMA, but then I managed to catch this tiny show in Paris, completely at random. Serendipity can be delightful that way, eh?

  • I definitely agree that photography exhibitions are always interesting, even more so than other forms of art. Maybe it’s because it portrays actual scenes, things, people, as opposed to something of the imaginary? 

  • Anonymous

    I use a Canon Rebel XSi. Totally recommend it, and it’s not too expensive! Exciting news about moving abroad! Where are you headed?

  • Anonymous

    Sydney actually has more than 500 suburbs! She just decided to do 52 to make it a year-long project–such a fun idea!

  • Anonymous

    I saw the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the SFMOMA too–kind of stumbled across it, but absolutely loved it!

  • Anonymous

    Definitely think that’s a big part of the appeal….

  • Lindsay

    Hopefully to Spain in September to work as a language assistant… (as long as all goes well with my visa…. running into a couple road blocks!)

  • Anonymous

    So funny, I JUST went to the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation this past weekend! Was so looking forward to seeing the permanent collection of his work but instead it was an exhibit by Mitch Epstein  called “American Power” which was interesting but lacked information to provide context for each shot and, to be honest, was rather depressing. I’ve seen Doisneau’s work (have a print hanging in my bathroom!) and I even enjoyed David La Chappelle’s over the top, excessive representation of celebrity (saw him at the Musée de la Monnaie in Paris a couple years ago). I went to a gallery when I was in NY that moved me too – looks like we’re very similar, Christine! I don’t feel very inspired by paintings but photography does the trick. 

  • I have only recently (the last year) found a greater appreciation for the art of photography as I try to develop that skillset.  I realized that I really admired a lot of photos and wanted to be able to capture the same.  I love some of the photographers you mentioned, it seems we have similar tastes.  Like you I would rather take photos of things (usually food!) rather than people.

  • Great observations and I agree with your thoughts on photography….There are so many ingredients – technical, creative and also emotional – that must be just so in that moment of capture….Great post…..xv

  • Joya

    I love photography exhibits and travel has definitely inspired my love for taking a good photo. I loved Fotografiska in Stockholm which I saw in May. It’s only a year old but has amazing exhibits going on.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, yes European work visas–such a pain! Good luck!

  • Anonymous

    I went to the Doisneau exhibit in Paris probably 6-7 years ago–were you able to catch that one at the Hotel de Ville? That was probably the only time I’ve bought something at an exhibit gift shop–I picked up a small book of his photos that I absolutely love! He’s definitely one of my favorites, although I quite enjoyed the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the SFMOMA. You’ll have to go back when his permanent collection is there!

  • Anonymous

    The SFMOMA often has great photography exhibits on–I’ve seen a few of my favorites there! Definitely prefer taking food photos rather than people–agree on that point!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! Glad you were able to relate 🙂

  • Anonymous

    That was on my list when I was in Stockholm, but unfortunately I missed it–will make sure to catch it if I ever go back!

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  • I unfortunately missed the 52 suburbs one, but saw Annie Leibowitz. I love the hidden aspects she draws out of people when she photographs them.

  • Anonymous

    Ah what a bummer! Worth checking out the 52 Suburbs blog–she really captures another side of Sydney 🙂

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