The ICP, Earth Day and me: Celebrating the beauty that surrounds us

Squash Blossom, Vermont, 1974 In the ICP's  permanent collection
Squash Blossom, Vermont, 1974
In the ICP’s permanent collection

Over the week-end a friend sent me a link to a blog featuring my work. Fans in a Flashbulb: Images from the collections of The International Center for Photography is a blog that shares photographs from the ICP’s permanent collection with text by members of the staff. The International Center for Photography has 93 of my photographs in its permanent collection, which were acquired in the early 80’s. You can view all of them here.

I was pleased to see my work featured in this blog, and intrigued by the choice. Instead of focusing on my well-known street and Coney Island work, writer Francesca Teodori chose to highlight my nature studies — both black and white and color. The color in this case, is not the work published in my seven color books, but rather my 35 mm work that I call Sky Flowers. This body of work consists of flowers I held in my hand against the sky. I had these printed in both Cibachrome and dye transfer prints. The ICP has 20 dye transfers.

Cattleya Orchid,  1980
Cattleya Orchid, 1980

In tracing the evolution of my work, Francesca gets a few details incorrect. She mentions a “change of focus” away from street photography and toward the natural world in the 1970’s. But it isn’t that I made a deliberate change of focus as much as I changed my location! In the late 50’s and later in the early 70’s I took teaching opportunities that brought me to rural environs. I became one of the first teaching fellows at the newly opened Annenberg School of Communications in 1959, which took me to the great city of Philadelphia, but also the rural communities of New Hope, PA and Ringoes, NJ. In the 70’s I taught at Windham College in Putney, Vermont.

Twin Suns on Misty River's  Edge, Ringoes, NJ, 1962  In the ICP permanent collection
Twin Suns on Misty River’s Edge, Ringoes, NJ, 1962 In the ICP permanent collection

I tell my students “You don’t go looking for pictures, the pictures are looking for you! Your job is to see, and the seeing itself sucks in your imagery.” So wherever we are, there is a photograph and that’s why I got seduced by birds and sheep and grasses and flowers and shells and whatever else is in my surroundings. It’s all beautiful as far as I’m concerned.

Those who know me well know that I’m fond of saying “people are my favorite trees”, which makes Coney Island one of the most verdant forests in the world! But I’ve also said: “I pick up my camera and God puts something beautiful in front of it.” It’s all there all the time. If you can’t be with the one you love….love the one you’re with!

I’m grateful for how A.D. Coleman expressed this in the introduction to my first color book, One Hundred Flowers. Guessing that some might scratch their head in confusion as to how a small camera black and white photographer, known for street photography, would suddenly produce a book of large format digital flower photographs, he suggests that it is the reverence for all living things that ties the seemingly diverse bodies of work together. ”

A cluster of smiling faces on a beach blanket suddenly becomes a bouquet; a thoughtful scrutiny of an opened blossom suggests a portrait. Part and parcel of the same encompassing worldview, they need no further justification.”

My favorite expression is L’Chaim — to Life! To reveal the miracle of what I believe to be God’s creation in whatever form it appears has been my path with the camera, even though I was unaware of this until later in my life.

This ICP blog posting came my way as I was contemplating how I might want to celebrate Earth Day today, and provided a perfect context for my musings about this incredible place we call home. Some years ago Judith bought me two BBC series on DVD — Planet Earth and Blue Planet. They have become my favorite films and I recommend them to you if you haven’t seen them. I never stopped being awed by this beautiful planet we call home.

As I was in the process of doing my first book of flowers, I would often get up late at night and write poetry to the flowers. I later called this series, a Garden of Psalms, and a number of my flower exhibitions have taken on this name featuring the psalms together with the flowers. LIFE Magazine also produced a short video about my floral work called A Garden of Psalms.

White Peony, 1999
White Peony, 1999

From where did you come?
Yes, I know, but, tell me my sweet ones, what rapture carved those wings,
those white flames whose curves leave me faint.
Was Brancusi watching?

On this Earth Day, I offer you a few more of my nature photographs from the ICP collection and wish you all a moment of reverence for all the beauty that surrounds us!

Horse in Misty Pasture, Vermont, 1973
Horse in Misty Pasture, Vermont, 1973

Duck On The Riverbank, Ringoes, NJ, 1962
Duck On The Riverbank, Ringoes, NJ, 1962