Thursday, November 30, 2006

Of Denis, and Alec and who knows who else

I was sent a message this morning by Todd Korol, a very good, smart, photographer living in Canada, far enough up north that plugging your car's block heater is something you do when you park at a parking meter (geez, how smart IS he, anyway?) Frankly, if you never were cold enough to plug in a block heater, then you really dont deserve the comfort of Miami or Puerta Vallarta. It's the kind of bone chilling cold that makes you think -- if our ancestors really did cross the polar ice cap to get here from Russia --- ok mine didnt, they wussed out and took the boat from Amsterdam --- then they must have been tough hombres and had a pretty good selection of H&M mastadon fur jackets. Anyway, Todd mentioned that there was a very good blog by Alec Soth, a Minneapolis based photographer, recently joined to Magnum, and who does, well, some wacky and wonderful things with an 8x10" camera. His site is HERE, I think. Im still struggling with LINKS... not patties. Patties I have all figured out, especially the spicy ones with basted eggs, but the links are still driving me nuts. On his site, which I read while on my Laptop equipped Exercise Bike, I read much of the past few weeks posts about photo related subjects, and came across a mention he made of the passing of Denis Cameron, a photographer I new when I was in Vietnam in 1970-72, and who was one of the grown ups. Well, ok, he didn't always ACT like a grown up, but I think I learned a lot from him just by hanging around some crappy firebase with him. Education by osmosis. Alec had a short q&a with Denis' son Marc, young enough that I didn't even know there WAS a son, but old enough to be a real adult (32). As Denis is about the 6th or 7th great photographer to have passed away in the past 8 months, I wrote Alec a little note, and include that below:

Alec, here's to you for finding the time to pursue your blog, along with all the other elements of your life. My wife and I write a blob (no, not a blog, a Blob!) though she writes much more on it than I do, and finding the time to commit is always the toughest part. I knew Denis Cameron in Cambodia and Vietnam in 70-72, and always enjoyed the insouciance he seemed to bring to a very heavy subject. You knew Denis was thinking all the time... just the way he would look around during a conversation, the kind of wandering eyes which let you know that at any second this conversation might abruptly end while he grabs his Leica and resumes his mission. He was a wonderful steady guy to hang around with. I was never someone very comfy with being a 'war photographer' and I think that the chance of just hanging out in his presence probably aided me in seeing things calmly. Like so many others, sadly, his loss this year is one of a large group of very good photographers (in the last year, 6 former LIFE staffers have died) who are leaving todays world. One of the things I fear of the 'digital age' is that as photographers, especially younger ones who have bascially never known 'film' and its issues and joys, seem to think that photography started about five years ago. The navel-gazing habit of chimping on the back of your camera, seeing your images on your screen immediately all reinforce the feelings that nothing has gone before. This is a rather sad trend, and in many ways robs especially younger photographers of knowing the joys of imagery that preceded them. Having been part of the "me" generation, though mostly unaware of it at the time ( me? you mean ME?...) I see the ongoing patterns of supra-self indulgence threatening the new generations from knowing how good those people were ahead of them. Denis was one of those guys. As Marc (his son) said, for Denis the story was always the Story, and it wasn't really about him, except that he needed to be there to see it. TV has done terrible damage to our society by feeding the WHOreportsIT beast (Anderson Cooper.. better known than Ed Murrow? Ouch!) John Durniak, the legendary TIME photo editor in the early 70s and who worked with Denis, used to say that "the still photographer is, pound for pound, the most efficient reporting machine there is..." and I think it's still true today. It would be great if we could find a Denis Cameron book by next year's Christmas, as even the little bit I know of his work was more than deserving. A tip of my boonie hat to you Denis. We're just sayin.... David

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