Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thinking about generations

Today I read the post on Alex Novak's e-newsletter about the passing of Cornell Capa. I have not written anything about Mr. Capa's death even though he's the founder of an organization to which I'm very close. I felt that, since I never met him, I wasn't in a position to speak about him. Then I read in his column that Alex only met Cornell once! Somehow this information liberated my mind to think and write about the subject.

I wonder whether it is a common thought to feel that an important previous generation was just missed? In my former career as a violinist this was very true for me. Colleagues who were 25 years my senior had all met, performed with, or heard live Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Vladimir Horowitz, and their ilk. I was lucky enough to play in an orchestra behind Nathan Milstein, but he was many years past his prime. I know that these names will be foreign to many readers of this blog, but please take my word that this was a golden age of classical performers that has not been reproduced today. Have I similarly missed a golden age of photographers?

When I speak with friends in the photo world just a few years my senior, I hear stories of their encounters with Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kértesz, Harry Callahan, Bill Brandt, Ilse Bing, and on and on. Is there a qualitative difference between those photographers and the ones than preceded them? is there a qualitative difference between those photographers and the artists alive for me to meet? Those are squirrelly questions that evade objective answers. My gut response is that there is not a real difference. I mean, I cannot talk to Walker Evans, but I could talk to Robert Frank. I missed John Szarkowski and Garry Winogrand, but Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston are here for me to enjoy. It speaks to the depth of the genius contained in the photo world that there is such an enduring legacy of greatness and accomplishment. Speaking to my experience in music, this is not true in every field. One has only to look to sports to see that there can be fallow periods.

Still, with the loss of towering figures like Mr. Capa and Mr. Szarkowski, one cannot help but be a little nostalgic for a generation passed. Though I am happy to experience their contributions to the field through their writings and the anecdotes of those who knew them, I am jealous of those who got to experience working with them first hand. Granted, my nostalgia is a selfish and solipsistic one, but I miss them nonetheless. Their absence is felt.

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