Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Matinee: Pirkle Jones Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

29 November 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the sixty-first in our series of Saturday matinees today: Pirkle Jones.

In just over seven minutes, this Pix Channel interview with Pickle Jones covers over half a century in the history of photography.

"I'm a very intense person who focuses on what I'm doing and I empty my mind completely of other things," Jones begins the clip filmed at his San Rafael home. He works, he explains, on an emotional level, without planning his photos.

He cites his teachers, starting with Ansel Adams, whose assistant he was. "His pictures will live with you," Adams once said of him, "and with the world, as long as there are people to observe and appreciate." Minor White, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange were also friends, colleagues and influences.

That leads to a discussion of his Death of a Valley project which he shot in 1956 with Lange for Life magazine in the Berryessa Valley of Northern California. The two photographed life in the year before the valley was intentionally flooded by the Monticello Dam project, becoming Lake Berryessa. A few of the images are shown as he talks about what he described as "one of the most meaningful photographic experiences of my professional life.'

Beauty is only one part of the picture, he says. The sociological conditions in the world had a direct influence on what and how he shot. Berryessa was just one such project. His work and wife, the photographer Marion Baruch, collaborated on a project in 1968 covering the Black Panthers.

From July to October, Jones and his wife followed the Black Panthers, documenting their activity to better understand them. The subsequent exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco drew over 100,000 visitors and led to the publication of Black Panthers 1968.

His career, he once said, has been "bridge between the classic photography of Ansel Adams and the documentary work of Dorothea Lange." Beauty and social relevance.

A lot of modern work, he notes sadly, is very negative and unconcerned with beauty. "There's plenty of that [negativity] in the world," he says.

He speaks briefly about his 28 years teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, where Adams and Minor White also taught. He enjoyed beginning students more than the graduate students but we'll let him tell why <g>.

"You must please yourself first," he says, explaining why he was never impressed by students who imitated his work.

He also advised his students on the personality required to go professional and his advice is just as apt today.

Near the end, at a book signing, he admits to taking hundreds of photographs a day -- but without a camera. It's really a way of life, he points out. You can't help doing otherwise.

BackBack to Photo Corners