Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dave Jordano (and Humanist Photography)


Photo: Dave Jordano

Any time I hear the term "humanist" photography, a small part of me kinda cringes. That's because a certain part of that genre consists of feel good, 'positive' photography featuring photographs of the poor, the "disadvantaged," people with disabilities nobly overcoming the myriad of obstacles thrown their way with a great, big, happy smiley face (either actual or implied) conquering all. Chills me to the bone. Living under those conditions is not fun and sometimes damn near impossible. The last thing it makes people feel is 'happy;' even though countless people do confront these hardships each and every day in an incredibly positive manner (smiling or not).

But aren't photos of the same people living in the same conditions with not so happy faces just as cliche? Very much can be. But at the very least they remind us that that suffering is still out there and very much real- and that it is most definitely neither fun nor easy. The smiling faces give us reason to turn away believing that everything is getting better, it's under control; nothing to worry about here folks... when we damn well should know that everything sure as hell ain't- with or without the pictures!

Not all humanist photography goes that direction, the term can be used and abused in any number of ways, and fortunately, the photography can reflect a variety of styles and approaches. There is a need for balance, or better yet, for making sure all sides are told, no matter the imbalance between them.  Dave Jordano works in a very deliberate manner, he doesn't succumb to such easily quixotic formulas, his photographs are truly humanist, and therefore carry considerably more depth and subtlety. One does not easily forget his images.

It's not often that I have witnessed photographic exhibits that just leave me awed and humbled- but this is the first time that I can recall a photographer's work having like effect online. Jordano is a true American master. I started writing this post several weeks ago and fortunately, there have been a torrent of posts concerning Jordano, many of which I have been able to include here. Whether it's his early B&W work from the '70s, or his most recent color work Detroit- Unbroken Down, this is work that one can continually come back to, work that continually teaches, informs and ultimately moves...

PS- Those of you lucky enough to be in the NYC vicinity can catch his work this Feb-March!

Photo: Dave Jordano

6 comments:

TomRS said...

I have never heard of Dave Jordano, that's why you and the work you do here on this site is so valuable. Thanks Tom

Stan B. said...

Tom- This is a guy who should be on everyone's lips. As you can see by the sheer number of links, he's finally getting some of the recognition he so richly deserves. Why he hasn't been a household name for quite some time now is beyond me, especially since he's been so good for so long. Perhaps it's because he can do so much, so well- people can't pigeon hole him. B&W or color, portraits or photo journalism, whatever this guy does... he excels at!

TomRS said...

His early Detroit work in b&w's is particularly beautiful and a pleasure to view.

Stan B. said...

His B&W is a joy to look at (but then, I'm pretty much partial to... all his work).

It is amazing however how much those grainy little rectangles can stand up today in the vast ocean of super sharp, wall sized color images. Yes, it's long been an antiquated, increasingly irrelevant language- but there's something very intense (and do I dare say... intellectual?) that makes these monochrome (and now essentially minimalist) images shine even to this very day.

Brian said...

I went to Dave Jordano's opening in Brooklyn last week. Had only become familiar with his work in recent years. Wanted to say hello. Had a nice chat. I think his Detroit work is beautiful. It may be "unbroken" Detroit, but it is nevertheless a sobering view of people and place. Particularly, his portraits are powerful. There's a series in the show of street prostitutes. Hard to look at their faces, yet hard to look away.

Stan B. said...

Brian- Yes, those portraits are both powerful and sobering! And to his credit that he doesn't flinch from showing what is no doubt a multifaceted environment.