Thursday, August 07, 2008

Paul Caponigro: Hearing Through the Eyes

"Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."
- Frederic Chopin

Paul Caponigro is my favorite photographer. I know little about the analysis and technical aspects by which great photos are judged but I am always compelled to linger over his images. There is a stillness and mystery simply portrayed in his photos, which are largely black and white (silver tones) and devoted to landscapes, arrangements of natural objects, or ancient remnants of man now subsumed into landscape.

Caponigro was born in Boston and was strongly affected by jaunts with his family to the woods and shores of New England. He later traveled and absorbed the particular
landscapes of California, Arizona, Ireland, Britain and Japan. In the 40's and 50's he received formative, personal instruction from Ansel Adams and, especially, Minor White; retaining aspects of their approach in his own work but forging a different style.

He was also a musician; well-trained as a classical pianist since early youth who chose not to follow the rigors of classical performance and training which were not aligned to the intuitive and mystical bent of chance-taking that photography provided him with. However, music remains a parallel love that would seem to permeate his work.
The musical thread surfaces in many of his own thoughts regarding his work: for example, "At the root of creativity is an impulse to understand, to make sense of random and often unrelated details. For me, photography provides an intersection of time, space, light, and emotional stance. One needs to be still enough, observant enough, and aware enough to recognize the life of the materials, to be able to 'hear through the eyes'."

Caponigro cites a lesson from his piano teacher that guided him in his art, "...that the effort, diligence, and care required in practicing must be quickly suspended when pressure coming from anxiety or a desire for fast results causes them to degenerate."

Paul Caponigro describes photos as "dreams locked in silver.", that grant us admission "if only for brief moments, to sense the thread which holds all things together."

To enclose the circle and exit the proceedings with gentle flourish, I offer up (courtesy of myspace) a recital of Chopin's Grande Polonaise Opus 22 A

*I am much indebted to the fine photography site, Soul Catcher Studio for quotes and a wonderful selection of his pictures.
* Please note that Paul Caponigro is not to be confused with his son John Paul Caponigro, who is also a talented photographer working in digital-based color imagery.


Anonymous said...

That guy could take a photograph!
Breathless, they look like hallucinations, almost. Not that I would know what hallucinations looked like. Tom, You do right by Mr. Paul Caponigro.....very poetic insight, he would be pleased. I am.

Michael Leddy said...

The fourth photograph is especially painterly, almost difficult for me to see it as a photograph and not a painting. Those clouds!

Bill Stankus said...

Caponigro loosely follows in the tradition of Ed Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams.
That is, nature becomes something more than rocks and twigs. He was good at the elusive - his work typically was thoughtful - very composed. Minor White was chasing down his iconic images and was more photo poet than photo realist and his influence can be subtly seen in PS's work.

Adams also was trained in classical music and he referred to his photos as music compositions.

The era of "grand" photos is probably over. Of course there will always be good and great photographs but Weston, Adams, and to a degree, Caponigro had that moment in time when what they did was unique and without peer.

Digital is another critter altogether - and so very different than the images of silver paper and it's various grain qualities.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Laree: there's certainly a drama to some of these images; as if the landscape itself was reacting to the viewer's emotional state. Reminiscent of some peyote visions i've heard some say :)

Michael: I'm with you on that. As a sometime painter and lover of painting itself I find myself in a familiar element with Caponigro.

Bill: that grain is a major component of these pictures. I've been looking a lot at "View Camera" magazine ( large format oriented ) that has featured Caponigro and others of his ilk. As a fine photographer yourself I
wouldn't doubt that you've caught a glance at it.
Minor White seems to shed light on the subtle and interior ("Zen" factor) while Adams seems more symphonic. Somehow Caponigro fuses the two and adds his own take.

Anonymous said...

I did not know that I was looking at a photograph of an apple. I kept thinking that I was looking at some far away galaxy with a black hole at the end of it. I've had a little too much cough syrup.

Matthew H Camp said...

great quotes too, on the naute of art/music. was just quoting you today as I taught someone the E Phrygian scale. You put it well: to practice at a speed where there was absolutely no tension at all... and then when you get that down, you can work on speed.

TheElementary said...

My favourites are the second and third pictures.
"I know little about the analysis and technical aspects by which great photos are judged" - you do know how to choose superb photographs. It's about what we like, and always should be.
As well as the pictures I liked this writing on the nature of art turning into something awkward less- when we apply such things as profit, results or perfection then the element of simple joy is not felt anymore. You can always tell when somebody creates something from the sheer joy of doing so.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Matthew - As much as i espouse such gems of wisdom :) ,actually consistently following my own advice is a different thing!

Elementary - I suppose, in my own way, i was qualifying my lack of expertise on the subject as far as someone who devotes a lot of time to it; both as a personal art/profession/hobby etc. or mere observer. Absorption in such things causes one to see things with "new eyes". But then, I like yourself, believe that what is genuine and hearfelt, transcends analysis and can be perceived by those without formal training. Somewhere there is a balance between the two.

persephone2u said...

Paul Caponigro certainly has a distinct style that is all his own. I'd never heard of his work before now, but really like the photographs that you've chosen for your blog.

I particularly like his photograph of the water puddle with the trees reflecting in them. And the photograph of the apple could almost double as a photograph of outer space, in my humble opinion. At least this is what I thought at first glance. Then, too, the photograph of the desert had a certain quality that's hard to describe...

Note: just before submitting this comment I read the other comments and see that I wasn't alone in thinking that the apple looked like a far away galaxy -- and I've had no cough syrup either. =P

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Persephone -

I always thought the far-away galaxy look was a given and Caponigro's intent. Such resemblances must have been a sign to the ancients that plants, trees, animals, and what-nots had correspondences in the heavens; the whole "as above so below" philosophy.

Like a trainspotter, without narcotic aid, i could easily while-a-way the day looking at patterns that clouds make. The other day i saw storybook castle turrets nestled in towering mountains that that were encircled by thin wafery wisps of clouds - but of course it was ALL clouds.
At that point I'd probably slowed down by 29 mph on the highway up north, driving motorists with a mission bonkers.

persephone2u said...

Looking forward to more enlightening blogs from you now that you're off Facebook. :-(

I've killed my blog and am going to begin anew with another name soon.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

persephone -
just added a new blogspot as you may see by now...look forward to see your new blog!
Facebook was engrossing at times and I found myself checking up on it a little too often...maybe if i had more willpower i could have let it be!
great to hear from you!

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