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Life on Life's Terms

Roger Watts | United States

Autistic Boy, Alexandria VA 1978

Produced over the course of 40 years, my exhibit shows the range of technique I have used to communicate about people and the lives they live.

In the beginning, my work was that of an amateur making photographs of the world around me. Then, as a photojournalist in the 1908s, my work became a document of the life I saw as reflected mostly through the needs of editors. Now, my work has returned to its purest form as an amateur, and my eye focuses on segments of experience that intrigue me: I am again unfettered by the demands of anyone but myself for the clarity of what my photographs convey.

All my work began in the black and white genre and now continues there. I rarely make photographs in color and, only then, for a theater company to use for their needs. I believe that in the objective reality that images in black and white provide the viewer will find the richness and texture of the color they may add on their own through their mind's eye.

In 1981, my life changed. After working for in President Jimmy Carter's White House Press Office, when we lost the election in 1980, I was left with decisions about how I was to live my professional life.

My friend and eventual mentor, the documentary and Magnum photographer Homer Page, encouraged me to use the opportunity I had at the time to explore the possibilities of working as a photojournalist. I had some experience with cameras, but had never worked as a photographer since my stint as a wedding photographer for a small country studio during my college years.

In 1981, as my very first self-assignment, I photographed the first launch of the space shuttle Columbia, and one of my photographs appeared in Newsweek's coverage. So began a career in photojournalism that spanned just over 10 years.

Page moved me in many ways. He drew out of me "my personal vision," and set rigorous standards for me in my work through the Gamma Liaison Picture Agency's Washington DC office. I moved news and documentary photographs through Gamma's office in Paris for a number of years. My work was to handle the stories and assignments that the more established Gamma photographer would not do: It was journeyman's work that both broadened and deepened my capacity to communicate with visual images within the context of the written word and dive deeply into the documentary style.

In the mid-to-late1980s I ventured into the photo-editing business with a national magazine. Unfortunately, I gradually drifted away from working on stories for Gamma and on my own, and my formal photographic career ended in the early 1990s.

For many years, the only photographs I made were of family and social gatherings. I worked as a therapist for many years until retiring from that field last year. After getting a PhD in Psychology, I started university teaching five years ago and still do so at a fine liberal arts college.

I became determined to leave a visual legacy of my personal vision of the world two years ago, and I decided that I wanted to own what is arguably one of the finest photographic instruments made (the Leica M Monochrome) to do it. I began to make photographs of the life around me just for myself at first. Then, I also began to make photographs of a local theater community in Minneapolis and give them away to actors and the theater. In the course of this work, I also started a formal documentary project to visually study the life of local actors and their roles that I continue to update.

Last year I created my own website that holds many of the photographs that are most important to me dating from the earliest time I began making pictures... www.rogerpwatts.com. It not only serves as an archive of my work through the years, but is also a medium to display my current work with theater photography and the documentary project with actors.

I have made a deliberate decision to devote my energy to black and white photography only. I rarely make color photographs today (except for the theatrical production photographs), relying on the casual recording of people, places, and things to the camera on my phone. Instead, I work to interpret the world around me in the vibrant chiaroscuro of life as a challenge to my ability to work in a constrained way with the technology so the subject matter of the life around me will be felt in powerful and objective ways that only black and white work can do.

Roger P. Watts

www.rogerpwatts.com

roger@rogerpwatts.com

952-843-3884

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