Wednesday, January 21, 2009

cover songs

Years ago, while still in grad school, I had the good fortune to have my work reviewed by John Gossage. Moments before my scheduled session, painfully aware of the incomplete and foggy state of my work at the time, I mentioned to my good friend Mericle, that I really didn't want to have him even look at my work, but I just wanted to sit and hear him dispense wisdom. I didn't really want counseling, or advice even, I just wanted inspiration. I wanted a sermon.

Fortunately, for me, that's almost exactly what happened. At one point, fairly early on in the process, Gossage stopped at this photograph and said "You've got to get rid of that one. It's too much like the Stephen Shore picture. You know the one."

mine. forgive the color/sloppiness. This is the only one I could find and it's not worth the time today.

He was right. It was like the Stephen Shore photograph, but that was intentional. At the time, I felt like it was an allusion; a tip of the hat, a nod to a respected forefather, the recognition of my own life intersecting with that of the photographs that had inspired me or some such thing, but when Gossage came across it, he seemed to read it simply as some poor schmuck copying Stephen Shore. It left me feeling sheepish, as if I'd been caught trying to get away with something. Luckily, that photo led Gossage to some Stephen Shore story which led to some sort of Bill Eggleston-with-drink-in-hand-in-the-back-of-the-car story which led to some Bob Adams story, etc. and fortunately, we both just kind of ignored the work that I'd spread out before him and I soaked up his tales as if I were drinking beer in an Elk's Lodge.

Since that time, I've made the occasional photographic nod to other images, but never anything that sticks or seems to be anything more significant than blog fodder. Even so, I'm still really excited about the idea of "covering" other photographs, the way that musicians do. But of course, I guess the trick is that your work is good enough that it's got a voice of its own first (in hindsight, that was my problem with Gossage), but also that the original is recognizable enough that it's properly acknowledged & respected. Of course, you also need to be playing for the right audience too.

I don't know if there's anyone still out there, but if so, please, send in your "cover song" photographs or others that you're aware of. I know Aperture used to have a section devoted to this sort of thing: was it "Photo Echos" maybe? Something like that. How many of you have done a version of Eggleston's red ceiling /light bulb, or maybe even an Ansel Adam's Yosemite or some such thing?


j. russell said...

yay! you are back.

Matt Niebuhr said...

hi shawn - Like your "cover songs" notions - it strikes a similar interest for me too. I'm guilty of imagining a comparison here and there also, sometimes with foresight - sometimes only after a realization... Here's loose interpretation example I've posted on -

Continue to enjoy your posts... MN

shawn said...

Thanks guys.

Matt, the cover songs conversation has moved over to the photolucida blog. I'd love to post yours up there... Handsome.

Ibnu said...

i love cover songs..