What does it mean to be a "photographer"? Today it can be as simple as making a picture with a mobile phone, or a digital camera or it can mean that you are dedicated to a particular process that is no longer in the main stream. It does not necessarily mean that one is interested in making intentional images where the everyday is changed into something more. Robert Benjamin is one of those photographers who cares about the image more than any of the external recognition of being a photographer.
Notes from a Quiet Life is a culmination of his 40 years of documenting his family. It is the printed catalog of his exhibition from the Denver Art Museum from 2011. The relatively small sized book is a love letter to his family and the quiet life they have lived. As a physical object, the book inspires repeated readings. It does not overwhelm the viewer, but encourages one to carry it around. The printing is excellent and showing the Polaroids as scanned objects adds to the experience.
Eric Paddock, Curator of Photography at the Denver Art Museum, describes Benjamin as a "dad with a camera." That is a true statement, since Benjamin is a father who makes pictures, but the pictures he makes transcends the simple title. Common themes of nature, portraits and reflections tell of what he was able to put in front of his camera. His vision is direct and clean. He is more than a technician. The work bears traces of a contemporary practitioner and working at a high level.
Images like Sun Drying Tomatoes and Walker in the Volvo show the more common suburban experience in a new way. The portraits tend to be formal and direct, which adds to their intensity. The two pictures of his son asleep speak to those who have seen a young child contort himself in a deep slumber. Through careful sequencing Benjamin's color palette is subtle and comes to the forefront in places.
The small book shows a life that goes beyond what is normally seen in art photography. It is not an extreme lifestyle, but a common one. They are no extreme edges of society, but Western suburbs and Eastern foliage. There are clear-eyed images of his wife who confronts the camera directly and children who shift back and forth in age. It is a view into a life that is not often shown in museums or printed in books. This book offers up the quiet visual poetry of a photographer clearly in love with his subject.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.