An Interview with Photographer and Smithsonian Associates Instructor Leland Bryant
Leland Bryant has been instructing photography for over 25 years and producing inspiring photographs for even longer. He leads The Smithsonian Associate’s Fine Printing course in which intermediate photographers develop black-and-white negatives into archival prints.
How did you get into photography?
It’s quite a story. When I was 10 my aunt had a Leica G, which was a pre-WWII camera. I just fell in love with it. So, she let me play with it. We went out the next day and turned [the negatives] in to the People’s Drugstore and they came back shiny, glossy, black-and-white prints – I was hooked. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Your work varies in location and subject matter from parking lots to British architecture, but there is a recurring theme of finding the beauty in the ordinary. How do you choose your subjects?
They speak to me when I see them. You have to be in the kind of mood where you’re not worrying about being late or what you’re doing or who you have to pick up. You have to be in a therapeutic place where you’re looking for another input, for something that will take you out of yourself into an external awareness that lets the left and right brain take on each other, battle each other, and leave you at peace. There is no such thing as a boring thing (except for politics). There is a visual language and dialogue that we need to learn. When I’m behind the camera looking at a subject I am totally unaware of external problems, except for where the sun will be in 20 minutes.
Is that what you’re hoping the viewer feels as they see your work?
My goal is to have the viewer stop for a minute. To silence that internal dialogue chattering away in their brains and have them say, what’s that?
Your piece “The Monster and the Wizard” really caught me. As soon as I saw the title I saw [the forms], but I never would have ordinarily stopped and seen that.
Titles are really important. To leave something untitled is like having kids without names. It’s their personality. So I try not to hang anything that says “untitled”. I got tired of [the “Views from the Parking Lot”] series after I had it on my website. You just need to set things down after a while and come back to them. I picked up my 4x5 and started shooting again in black-and-white, going back to my roots.
What is your favorite part about the Fine Printing course here at the Smithsonian?
These people – the many people who love photography, who battle to come in here, keep this place open, and take the extra time to do something a little better. Because photography is really easy; the magic of electronics has done a very good job. The camera [I’m holding] has more computer power than the first guy who went to the moon. When you think about what a Canon EOS2 can do, it’s astounding. It will give you good pictures, but it won’t put the feet back on in the picture if you did not capture them when you initially took the shot. It won’t put the top of the head back in the photograph or correct your focus. We’re still in charge.
To be continued.