One of my favorite biographies of a photographer is Sue Davidson Lowe’s, Stieglitz: A Memoir. It really captures of one the great love stories of modern photography. Not the one between Alfred Steglitz and Gerogia O’Keefe, but the one between Stieglitz and Paul Strand. Strand, after studying with Lewis Hine found his way to Stieglitz as a young photographer. During the review of his work, Stieglitz gave him suggestions on his form and technique, which spurred Strand on to create the style which made him famous. Strand was a 291 favorite, Stieglitz gave him his first solo show there, and regularly published his photographs in Camera Work. But as the years went on, Strand’s success grew and a natural competition developed between the two men. Eventually differences in their ideas about photography, politics, and some wife swapping, destroyed their relationship.
The student teacher relationship no matter how fruitful is always complex. It is natural to go through a period of adolescent rebellion and disavow your mentor. Sometimes it is only subconscious tension, or in the case of Strand and Stieglitz a total break up. Or as I mentioned about Alec Soth in my post yesterday, perhaps only to want to be judged on your own work, not always in relation to your teacher. It is necessary to shift to developing your own thoughts and ideas about your work, if not you never find your individual voice as an artist. But you always have an imaginary creative umbilical cord to your mentor. Joel has only ever had good things to say about Alec, and I know that they have a great relationship (which Alec himself spoke of in a lovely email to me yesterday.). I think that it is rare to find someone who can help you find something within yourself that you perhaps did not know existed. And when you find it, although is may have some pitfalls, what you gain is invaluable. I am glad that so many people enjoyed Joel’s article and my post and I would love to hear stories from other people about their mentor experiences.