HEROES Penny Hockney & Picasso

 Irving Penn

Everyone who s visited Applehomepage recently will have seen STEVE BLOOMimage of Zebras in flight, advertising the Retina display on the new Macbook Pro. He tells which artists have inspired his way of seeing.

You ve told me that your heroes are Irving Penn, David Hockney and Pablo Picasso. How has Irving Penn inspired you?

SB: One of the things that struck me with Irving Penn was his cigarette hands. He made these magnificent platinum prints of cigarette hands and he showed me that you can find beauty in the most unexpected of subjects. You can go into the details and photograph the textures, and transform the mundane into the absolutely exquisite. He made his prints well into his old age which shows that if you re driven by the passion of aesthetics you will find the energy to keep working. That s one of the great things about creativity, the passion and drive is there, you can t retire.

Penn went back to traditional techniques and I think we forget in this digital age we were able to make the most incredible photos with film and conventional processes. I just had an exhibition at the London Festival of Photography of my work in the 1970s in South Africa, and these were old, scratched 35mm black and white Tri-X negatives I had developed in a garage using cat litter trays because I couldn t afford proper developing trays. Although the negatives have been digitally restored and printed since, it s what s in those negatives that determines the ultimate quality of the prints. When you look into the grain of those negatives theresomething in them that triggers an emotional response in people and I think thatwhy theresuch an interest in old techniques. I think we ve been very quick to forget the magic of yesterday as we move on to the technological advancements of tomorrow.

What about David Hockney, what has he taught you?

SB: David Hockney is quite anti-photography and in a way thatwhat I like about him. He challenges photography and he s described the photograph as the process of a one-eyed person looking down a tube for a split-second. I agree with him, because we donsee Life as single, frozen images. He taught me how we see, how our eyes dart around and we have this unfolding synthesis of images which are formed in our retina, go onto our brain for a few seconds and then fade, and then itthe next image. We move through time and space and see things from different viewpoints as we move around. A photograph is not like that. David Hockney experimented with this photo collages and moved the camera around, starting with Polaroids in the 1980s, capturing a lot of different viewpoints and assembling them in a collage.

It showed the faceted way in which we see things. It s almost like photography had always been looking through a window and David Hockney jumped through the window into the outside world and suddenly everything was around you. That inspired me to experiment more with multiple exposure photography. Iwritten a book called The Merchants of Nairobi and in it thereone picture where I walk down a Nairobi street threatened with developers knocking down the buildings, and I wanted to capture the vibrancy and sparkle of that road today. The way I did it was to take one photograph, walk four paces, take another one, walk another four paces and so on until I had taken 80 or 90 and walked along the entire length of the road, and I stitched them all together. As a single photograph itincredibly long, about 17 pages of the book, and as your eye moves along you move through time and space and you have different viewpoints. I think there s a time and space for Cartier-Bressondecisive moment school of thought, but there are also other ways of portraying life with photography which go completely against the whole idea of the decisive moment. And I think David Hockney demonstrated how you can go way beyond the decisive moment and use photography in a different way.

That brings us nicely on to your third hero, Picasso?

SB: Picasso didn t really have that much time for photography but he was a genius at seeing. And he had a clarity of vision which I find very inspiring. He also reinvented himself all the time. If you look at his early work and compare it to his cubism or his later work, itall completely different. Even with a sculpture he showed what you can do with the simplest things; you can make a sculpture of a bull using a pair of handle bars. He showed me how you can be incredibly inventive in the way you approach the process of image making, and how you can be free to experiment. He said, try to be original, don t go with the flow and you can break the rules of aesthetics to find new ways of expressing yourself. I think just like the cubism that influenced David Hockney, Picasso was very much interested in how we see from different viewpoints, and his cubist pictures were multifaceted. That has inspired me to think beyond the single frame and think about how you ve got to face up to the challenge of encapsulating an experience with your camera rather than a single, tiny slice of a moment squashed through a lens and spread onto a flat surface. Try to go a little bit beyond.

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