Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ho boy Here I Go Again

I am still doing monochromes. I am trying to find subjects that require no “arranging” for two reasons. First, I am lousy at “arranging.” Secondly, I am trying to find examples of randomness, one of my favorite themes in photography as well as life.

However, I will share this one photograph that I did do some rearranging (mostly I had to move a lot of stuff before the camera could see what I wanted to include) but I still like it. It is, as many of my photographs are, from my extremely messy computer desk. I seem to have a hard time putting thing away. If I do, I just need it again and have to get it out. This way it is there when I need it next.

I am always intrigued by the elements of a photograph as to why an element is included or why it is excluded. It will take me a while to figure out why I would want to combine an Oxford Dictionary, a Reference Bible, a Triple A tag, keys and two wireless remotes both with the “panic” button clearly viable. All are elements with potentially strong symbolism.

House keys to lock out the world as I often do, wireless remote for the alarm to discourage intrusion, car keys for going out into the world, Triple A to call is there is car problems, The Bible, the house keys, the alarm remote with “stay” and “panic” included, “away” and “off” excluded. A lot of things that offer protection. Why? Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. I must be having one heck of a good time.

“Every photograph makes two statements; one about the subject, one about the photographer.” Some photographs are more about the photographer than they are about the subject. This may be one of those.

Below the dictionary is a poetry book, which is not identifiable. Poetry competes heavily with the Bible and frequently wins when I need a lift, so why is the poetry book hidden under a dictionary? If I knew the answer to that question I might know why I take photographs.


  1. Love the shot. love how black and gray it is. Great contrast. And after reading your description, i am more confused now than last week. If the image is an entity of its own, then how is it two things? Just trying to understand you more.

  2. Paul, First, Thank You! No one has ever openly questioned, ignored maybe but not questioned, my philosophies before because I don’t generally share them beyond sound bites. So this is good.

    This is a which came first the chicken or the egg situation. This is going to be long, so grab a beer or a bagel and relax.

    You mention my photograph of protections; all that is missing is a condom, as great blacks and grays. That is technique, the sentence structure. I work very hard at putting words on paper that express my ideas, sometimes or most times very ineffectively. But you don’t look at the words, you look at the meaning of the words as combined in a sentence. The same for photography, if you only look at technique you are only seeing the words that need to be understood from how they are combined in an image with the elements. The elements are the nouns and verbs, the technique is the adjectives, adverbs and even dangling participles of the image. The question is, how does the technique modify the elements; bible, dictionary, remotes, keys, panic buttons.

    May I suggest an experiment? For a few days, or weeks, or hopefully years, when you are holding a photograph in your hands say to yourself, “This is it. This is the image and ask yourself, what is it telling me.” Assume that nothing exists outside of the boundaries of the photograph. Examine the elements to discover the nouns and adverbs and the technique as modifiers. Put out of your mind the subject and see the photographs as an entity that exists wholly within itself.

    Do not look at a photograph of a flower and recall the odor, the texture of the pedals or leave, the stiffness or flexibility of the stem, the movement as it sways in the breeze, the sound of the ice cream vendor in the distance. Just simply look at the photograph and learn what the photograph is saying about a flower. That is what I mean by the photograph fails or succeeds entirely by what is within it borders.

    Hopefully it goes beyond documenting that this is a pretty flower, that is a snapshot. Where it is one of your own photographs this is often very difficult to do because it becomes almost impossible for the photograph to divorce himself from the reality of the moment of conception.

    All these weird things that I say are so interrelated that it is hard to explain any one by itself. “the photograph is an entity unto itself wholly separate from the subject,” “technique is the sentence structure of a visual language,” “the photographer can not divorce himself from the reality of the moment of conception.”

    Let me recount what may have been the beginning of this journey. It was a photo exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston back in the seventies. I do not recall the name of the photographer but there was a photograph there that struck me as powerfully as Albright’s Ida had struck me years before. It was so powerful that it changed entirely my concept of the photographic image.

    I know most people usually get here by reading the great thinkers. Being a simpleminded fool, I am willing to let them think what they may. I read Emerson and was convinced that what I think is what was important. That was an aside.

    The photograph at the CAM was shot on a public bathing beach, a number of people, fairly close, one heavy set person sitting on the sand filled most of the left side of the photograph but the interesting thing was the blown highlights and I mean blown highlights, even flesh was burned away. Janet almost died laughing when I remarked what a great photograph it was. Janet’s Germanic heritage predisposes her to be very technically oriented and blown highlights are worse than a Captain Kangaroo No No.

    I had seen hundreds of photographs of bathers on the Rivera and at Coney Island, but what I saw on the wall was the first photograph I had ever seen where I could feel the heat of the summer sun beating down on bare skin. I saw a photograph that was the essence of being on a beach and from the photograph I knew the experience of being on the beach in the summer.. I was practically mesmerized by the photograph. I had no idea that a photograph could say that. I could not convince Janet that it did.

    That was the beginning of my belief that there is no such thing as good or bad technique only technique appropriately or inappropriately applied. That meant that I had to examine a lot of my other beliefs about photography which evolved into “entity,” “sentence structure” and so forth.

    Again, thanks for the opportunity to reexamine my thinking. I am sure the water is as muddy as ever.