Cross-media Talented Photographers
Steve Willard emailed an observation about how many photographers are talented in other arts:
It seems that as a group, photographers have produced talented writers like no other — painter, sculptors, musicians, etc. — you agree? Perhaps it's because I've been interested in photography for so long, but I can think of quite a number of photographers who have written extensively, and well. Weston of course, and Adams, Evans, Porter, Sexton, Tice, and on. I stop here not because I can't think of more, but because the list is so long. I'm not talking so much about books on technique, as I am about books about the art of photography and being a photographer. — Steve
I can't say whether or not this observation is statistically accurate — that is, whether or not photographers are more numerous than other artists at exhibiting talent in multiple media — but there certainly are lots and lots of examples. It's not just writing, by the way. A more common observation is how many photographers are also pianists — perhaps an even lengthier list than photographers who are writers.
I do have my own little theory about this I'll share, just for fun. Photography, more than any other art medium, requires an equal measure of aesthetics and science. Sure, there are painters who have been knowledgeable about the chemistry of their craft to the point that they could make significant technological improvements — Rembrandt comes to mind. For most painters, however, this is not a prerequisite. It is, however, for photographers — at least to a functional level of mastery.
There are very few exceptions in the world of fine art photography where a successful photographic artist isn't also knowledgeable about the chemistry — at least enough that they can mix their own darkroom chemicals and understand the rudimentary mathematics of optics and cameras. Said another way, there is a certain kind of wholeness of mind and thought that is required in photography, without which the pursuit is almost impossible. I'm not talking about mental discipline here — all arts require mental discipline. It's always seemed to me that photography is different than the other arts in that it requires such different kinds of mental discipline — both aesthetic and technical/mechanical/chemical. My theory about cross media-photographers is simply based on the idea that once that multiple-disciplinary mindset is invoked, it's an easy leap to other disciplines as well.
Let me try this from another angle. I believe there is something quantifiable as "the creative process." Once an individual catches hold of this idea and engages a creative path, that path can be translated into other expressive disciplines. I may not have the dexterity to become an accomplished painter because of genetics or simple lack of physical training. Nonetheless, I can understand the creative path of painting to some degree because I understand it in photography — or least I understand a small corner of it. I can see that what I do in photography can be translated to the same creative path in painting, music, or any other discipline. The same could be said of someone who understands the creative path and painting — they can easily see how to apply it to photography, music, etc. The difference, however, may be that photographers are more likely to make that transition simply because they are more predisposed to embrace alternative media.
Think of it this way: Photography books go hand in hand with writing; photographic images go hand in hand with moving video images — that is, photography leads so naturally to layout and design, to typography, to videography, to storytelling and script writing, to any number of disciplines in the neighborhood. I'm not sure I see painting, sculpting, playing an instrument, or novel-writing lead to other disciplines in the same way. It was perfectly natural for Wright Morris to add text to his photographs and produce The Home Place. It was perfectly natural for Lou Stoumen to adapt his movie directing to books of still images. It was perfectly natural for Edward Weston to do a book of his California travels. I'm not sure I see it as natural a path for Jackson Pollock to start playing the violin or for Itzhak Perlman to chisel out a Madonna in marble.
I may be thoroughly wrong about this, but I've often found it a comforting train of thought.