"And then I saw Henry Wessel’s multi-room exhibition at SFMOMA. Changed everything—or at least verified that I was now indeed on a better path with my cameras." - Jason Lee
Written by Jason Lee
I started shooting photos in 2001. Once I was locked in, I never looked back. I was hornier for photography than a perv at a porn convention. I bought cameras and film and practiced like an addict, every day. I’d pick people’s brains, read books, test films, take notes and buy more cameras. It was thrilling. For the first few years it was mainly experimenting. I bought strobe lights and such, and did versions of what I thought at the time was photography—‘fashion’ portraits and whatnot; I even tried to get ‘artsy’ about it. But once I’d discovered being out on the road with my cameras and photographing simpler things, I started leaning more on that stripped-down approach to shooting. And then I saw Henry Wessel’s multi-room exhibition at SFMOMA. Changed everything—or at least verified that I was now indeed on a better path with my cameras.
His work was amazing: simple, sometimes plain, but always real—an approach I’d never really been exposed to before. It was then that I knew that photography had absolutely nothing to do with anything conceptual, and that it was in fact not an ‘artistic endeavor,’ and that it should never shine a light on the photographer but should rather focus on the subject. I’d been trying to ‘be’ a photographer, but photography isn’t about the photographer at all. And a good photographer, like Wessel, knows how to stay out of the way and let the subject be the author. As John Szarkowski put it: ‘The photographer’s vision convinces us to the degree that the photographer hides his hand.’ Damn right—stay out of the way.
Wessel is as unassuming as you can get. When he came to my house some years back, having given me the opportunity to photograph him with 8×10 Polaroid film, he showed up in a Honda sedan, wearing cargo shorts, a t-shirt and New Balance sneakers. Had he not had his Leica M6 forever in his hand, I would have taken him for a simple, everyday, working-class Joe. Why did my brain go there? Why was I expecting more? Because I suppose I’ve had my own share of brainwashing that has told me that an artist must be ‘different’ or ‘interesting’, and even ‘weird’. Seeing Wessel as he was, just a man and his camera, shook me loose of whatever remnants I’d had of that strange and false notion. It solidified to me just how little a person’s appearance and demeanor have to do with what the person creates, and how the person creates—and, particularly, how they have nothing at all to do with WHY the person creates.
Here is a man that simply shoots photographs. Quiet, reserved, at home with his Leica. I learned a lot that day, and he liked my photo of him. I was happy.
To see this article in the flesh, you can buy Monster Children issue #48 here.