Accidental Homage to Larry Towell

Okay folks I’m really glad this happened.

This image is from my recent trip to Panama, dusk near the outskirts of Panama City. I’m calling this the “Accidental homage to Larry Towell,” so if you don’t know what I’m talking about then this post is SPECIFICALLY for you and comes with REQUIRED homework.

Larry Towell. Look him up. LARRY TOWELL

Mr. Towell is what I would classify as a classic documentary photographer. He does things that would be considered more modern, recording sound, making movies, etc, but the CORE of Mr. Towell is a really, really good study of the human condition.

I’ve noticed a fair number of wedding photographers following me here on the blog, and I feel it my MISSION in life to broaden the perspective of the modern wedding photographer. Remember, we are first and foremost photographers, and ONLY secondarily are we wedding photographers.

Towell is a master of shooting documentary work, work that can and should teach you LOADS about how to make pictures at a wedding. If this seems puzzling to you, that’s okay, send me a note or post a question in the community and I’ll learn you best I can.

And for those of you in Southern California, you might be too late, but Towell is speaking at the Annenberg in LA in the coming weeks. Send them a note, beg them, do whatever you have to do to check out the lecture. And if you are asking, “What is the Annenberg?” Well, I’m not sure how to answer that. Don’t make me come over there.

So my homage is a reference to a SPECIFIC picture Towell made. Can you describe it? Can ya? Here is the homework I’m talking about. Find it, learn it, live it and report back to me.

And on a parting note, in my humble opinion, Towell’s Mennonites work is perhaps one of the best essays I’ve ever seen. I feel this work really sets the bar for what all documentary photographers are striving to do. Today, this very day, I had a conversation with a photographer consultant in LA, someone who works with fine-art photographers, commercial photographers and advertising photographers and we each gushed like prom dates about how great the Mennonite work really is. We also spoke about how few people are really doing this work anymore because of the time required and the difficulty involved.
And finally, Towell released a book last year, “The World From My Front Porch,” which is a MUST have if you are collecting books. Yes I have it. Oh, speaking of that, I’ve got to give my copy to a friend to have it signed at the Annenberg. I want take a second to thank myself for reminding myself. Man I’m cool.

19 responses to “Accidental Homage to Larry Towell”

  1. Love his work. Good inspiration for the wedding I’m shooting tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

    • Smogranch says:

      I met him briefly at The Getty a few months ago. Seemed like a truly nice guy. I love how he just does his thing. You don’t hear a lot about him, you just see great work when he decides he has something to say. One of the best Magnum photogs in my mind. Do you know the picture I’m referencing??????

  2. sabrina says:

    I think I found the image to which you pay homage in your post. Is it the one taken in El Salvador with the dog?

    Thanks for introducing Larry Towell to us. I am looking forward to getting my hands on a couple of his books.

  3. I knew the moment I saw the photo, but I didn’t know who it was until you mentioned his name. The photograph you reference is one with a dog I believe, and his glasses are in frame, as if to tell the viewer – look, I was here, this is what I’m experiencing, this is what I see..
    I’m quite glad I found your blog last month – if you wrote daily on here I’d read it all. You should also post more photos =)
    http://www.andreasphoto.ca
    http://www.andreasphoto.net

    • Smogranch says:

      Really? More stuff? Well, I’m a busy dude these days, but more is in my intention list so stay tuned.
      email me your address: daniel (at)smogranch.com

  4. Suzanne Revy says:

    Towell is one of my biggest influences. The work he’s done of his family moves me. One of these I may just have to buy a print! And the book is one of my favorites.

    For the pictures of his family… I read somewhere (PDN, like 13years ago?) that he would keep a camera on top of the fridge ready to go. Something interesting would go on… he’d make the pictures.

    • Smogranch says:

      Me too. I hadn’t looked at the Mennonite work for a few years, then I got the new book and was like “Oh.”
      Those spreads of that work are just mind blowing to me. Each one is just damn good. Makes me realize how much further I have to go. Scary but cool.

  5. Becky Trist says:

    Wow his photographs are wonderful. Thanks for sharing. Have added him to my web favorites so I can go back and look again. Found the photo similiar like yours above. Great lead in to introducing him to us.

  6. Larry says:

    Here’s a link to the film trailer.
    Larry Towell Film

  7. I love doc wedding work, I try with a little success but I know I have a long way to go and I really wish there were more great doc photographers applying their trade in the wedding industry. There are a few, Ascough is one of my heros.

    I just think it’s very hard for the “Modern Wedding Photographer” to do seeing that the vast majority of wedding photographers these day have what less then 5 years of shooting experience and to be a really good doc shooter takes years. I have respect for the photographers out there that can dream up amazing photographs and then bring them to life. Shooters like Avadon, Leibovitz, Gardiner. But what I think takes just as much skill is having a eye and skill to see and capture real moments that could only last a fraction of a second….That’s image badassery!

    • Smogranch says:

      Well, I think you are right about many modern wedding photographers with a short time in the business, but as you can see in many cases, doesn’t really matter much. I’ve seen people with ZERO background in photography, or even knowledge of photography buy a digital camera, have a site built for them, and with the right marketing plan get work, a lot of work, right away. In some ways that is one great thing about modern photography. There is a flip side of this equation however.
      I think you can be a good documentary photographer in a short time, it just depends on many different things. I’ve seen people pick up a camera and be good from day one. It’s really, really rare, but “being good” surely isn’t a requirement in modern photography.
      Also remember that being a wedding photographer comes with baggage. Why do so many photographers quickly say, “Oh, I’d never shoot weddings.” I’ve written about this a lot about the stigma of being a wedding photographer. I’ve lost a few shoots due to this, but hey, it’s part of the game I guess.

  8. I am a wedding shooter. Have been full time for six years. I came from an advertising background. You’re right, as soon as I tell people I shoot weddings….if they are potential clients for something other than weddings they frown on it..sort of silly considering how hard it is to do what we do (when you’re shooting for a story in a book and not directing posing or staging and trying hard to stick to a purely doc feel to the images).

    • Smogranch says:

      It’s the same for me. You mention weddings around “real” photographers and many times you get the spoiled milk look or the internal laugh. But, I have to say, this happened A LOT more ten years ago. Now, so many of those laughing are out pillaging the wedding world for any penny they can because their genres are in shambles. Seriously, I’ve seen legions of these folks, or in many cases I’ve been contacted by many of them over the years, suddenly keen on learning all things wedding. Take one peak at PJ, editorial, fashion, commercial photography and you will know why. It’s really a drag this has happened, but at the heart of all problems photographic……the photographers.

  9. Paul Gero says:

    Dan,
    I was living in DC in the mid 80s when I first saw Towell’s work published in a magazine called Regardies. It was his work from Central America.

    It was published in a type of grid format and even though relatively small in size for the photographs, they were striking.

    The minute I first saw those images, I said to myself: Who IS this guy?

    It was like that when I first saw Salgado’s work too.

    Simply beautiful and profound work. I agree with Suzanne, his family work is an inspiration.

  10. Smogranch says:

    Paulie,

    His latest book is filled with magazine spreads. They are mesmerizing, ONE because someone actually published them that way. Two, after looking at them I can’t figure out why people don’t publish like that anymore. And three you realize just how good the guy is. Same for Salgado and a few others. I love his family stuff as well.

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