29 July 2011

Jerry Liebling's Approach to Teaching Young Photographers

"Jerry Liebling’s photography classes — at least in the late ’70s, when I studied under him — consisted mostly of his lecturing about everything but photography. He would talk about Greek philosophy, German history, Jungian psychology, 16th-century Flemish painting and French cinema. In the same lecture! Only rarely would the names of Edward Weston or Lewis Hine come into the conversation. Then, a half-hour would be devoted to his tough critiques of our photographs.

While the lectures were thrilling, I was often frustrated. Jerry refused to teach technique. He insisted that it was unimportant. No matter how much I asked, he wouldn’t show me how to use a 4-by-5 camera. Learn it yourself, he told me.

I wanted to know the secrets that would allow me to be a great photographer. After all, Jerry had been in the New York Photo League as a young man, with giants like Aaron Siskind and Paul Strand.

But he wanted me to learn to think. He insisted that it was all about what you had to say, not how you said it."
This testimony comes from one of Leibling's very successful students. It seems Leibling's views converge with my own - photography is a tool we use to see, imagine and think with. It is the thinking that counts. As I noted yesterday Leibling died earlier in the week. You can find his web page here.

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