Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Steve Pyke on editing

It became apparent to me from the beginning of my career the importance of the photo 'edit'. often the events that happen during a portrait session can be spontaneous, exciting and therefore subjective. the edit comes later and is more objective, the decisions made in editing are based on a distance from the session and reflect that. I think its refreshing to get this perspective, to sleep on things if you like. The idea of editing whilst making the images, which is common today for me personally would disrupt the place I am with the sitter. Time changes your perspective on sittings, whether its 24 hours or 24 years. the edit i can make whilst revisiting past work can be radically different from the edit made at the time.

Working at The New Yorker always involves my photo editor, also the creative director; Elisabeth Biondi. Often certain images on a contact will stand out and its the easier choice to take. But its also the case that we see different elements in the session and pick differently. Working with good editors who have involvement and input into the final edit is an imperative part of the creative process.

I recently worked with Fader magazine who were devoting an issue to David Byrne. I had photographed David in London in 1985 and there were two images I edited that became iconic of Bryne at this time. Phil Bicker the creative director at Fader wanted to revisit the session and maybe find something else there. there was an image we found which appears on this cover that was very powerful, yet was completely overlooked at the time. looking back in 2009 at portraits i had made in 1985 other images spring out, why had i chosen this image at the time over this new one? its all to do with getting a perspective which to me seems inevitably linked to time.

Steve Pyke NYC May 2009

Fader Cover May, 2009

Steve Pyke Philosophers book coming out on Oxford University Press late this year (2010)

Philosophers 1989
-1996 © Steve Pyke

Here is a little background information on the series from Steve,

The History: I was commissioned to photograph a portrait of Sir A.J.Ayer in London October 1988. He was very poorly but the ten minutes I was promised stretched to three hours, we got talking and by the end of our conversation he suggested I should make studies of other philosophers. From this sprung a series of 100 of the western worlds leading philosophers, including Noam Chomsky, Iris Murdoch and Jurgen Habermas.

A J Ayer, London, 5 October 1988 © Steve Pyke

Iris Murdoch, Oxford, 13 November 1990 © Steve Pyke

Jurgen Habermas, Frankfurt, 6 November 1991 © Steve Pyke

As I photographed each philosopher I would ask them who they felt was central or had influence on their own work. As the list grew, whenever the names cross-referenced I would write to them and try to arrange a sitting.

I prefer to photograph sitters at home, I don’t often however work with props or even show location, they seem sometimes to be a distraction in the portrait. Whilst with them I also asked if they could give me some idea in a few sentences what philosophy meant to them. I always use my old twin lens Rolleiflex, a camera I began my photographic work with thirty years ago.

It took nearly three years to photograph this generation of philosophers and culminated in a number of exhibitions. Many of the portraits are now in both private and public collections, such as the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Noam Chomsky, Boston, 29 May 1990 © Steve Pyke

This work was funded on my own faith, the sale of my apartment and a strong commitment from my gallery. It was originally published by Cornerhouse Publications (ISBN 0-948797-76-2) this edition quickly sold out and was republished by my gallery Zelda Cheatle Press. The resulting book Philosophers (ISBN 0 951837 18 4) is now very much sought after and is similarly in collections and universities worldwide.

Inevitably with a project of this scale there were philosophers that I wanted to include but was not able to at the time. Now 20 years on I have completed a second stage of this odyssey photographing the contemporary generation of thinkers. This amounts so far to another hundred portraits

One of the wonderful aspects of my journey through the faces of philosophy has been the correspondence, the erudite hand written letter and now the e-mails defining philosophy.

SP NYC March 2010