David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.
To anyone unaware of the photographer Richard L. Shenk (my dad), this picture is perfectly mundane. A man holding a camera.
To his family and friends, it is a miraculous and triumphant event. Fifty-five weeks ago, Dad was in a catastrophic plane crash. His injuries were horrific, and he was not expected to live. He struggled in the hospital for more than a year.
Last week he came home. His life will never be as it was, but we're all hoping he can find his old creative spark. Today, we drove to his office/darkroom in Basalt, Colorado, cranked up some Springsteen ('75), and dusted off one of his Hasselblads for a short photo session. An artist returning to his art.
We also spent a few hours looking over his photographs for his upcoming photographic show in Aspen. Yes, he's my Dad, so I'm partial as hell. But to me, his work has all the elements of great art: it is visually arresting, emotionally provocative, and forces the viewer to see and be curious about the world in a new way.
Just a few favorites:
I'm also partial to my Dad's work because he taught me how to be creative, how to think differently, how to pursue a vision, how to relentlessly hone your craft.
Very soon, after we've dotted all the i's on my book and I get permission from my editor, I hope to start posting excerpts from my forthcoming book. Until then, one thing I can do is post some book outtakes: material that to me is interesting but for one reason or another didn't make it into the final text.
One theme in the book is that great achievers almost always need to be engaged in some sort of rivalry. Healthy competition and rivalry can help bring out people's best work. Here's a bit that touches on that:
"From a distance, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso spent a lifetime in as peers and rivals
whose work was inextricably intertwined with one another.[i]
"At certain key moments," says art historian Yve-Alain Bois,
"both felt they were in a kind of boxing ring -- or that they were
players/partners in a sort of game. And the stake of that game was, for both of
them, the very practice of painting." Picasso's 1929 "Large Nude
in Red Armchair," for example, was a clear
parody of Mattisse's 1926 "Odalisque with a Tambourine." His
"Acrobat" and "The Dance of Youth" also both clearly
reference Matisse's "The Dance." From the other end, Matisse's
confidence was powerfully shaken by Picasso's early cubism; he later created
his "Reclining Nude in the Studio" as an homage to Picasso's nudes
from that same era.[ii] "It's
spectacular," says Bois, "the way each tries to introduce, in his own
language, some trope of the other -- and to do something with it. It's like:
'You do this, I do that; you do this, I do that.'"