Friday, February 10, 2012

Andreas, Thank You

I honestly do not know where to begin this. There are times when I feel as if I have passed through this world making hardly a ripple. That has never disturbed me; rippling has never been a big thing with me. It’s just that you have to wonder the whats and whys of such a life.

Yes, I know my photographic guru was somewhat of a nut case. I figured that was okay because I always thought that I was also. Ralph highly stressed living your life through the camera and I always have. To my disappointment, not as much as I would have liked. He never let anything remain under the surface. The thrust of Ralph’s teachings was in bringing out your hopes, fears, dreams, disappointments, successes, failures—just letting it all hang out. One he frequently mentioned was that the greatest gift you can give to another person is to let them know that you are every bit as vile, corrupt and perverted as they are. I appreciate that because I, in truth, am a very inwardly turned individual. To share has always been difficult because I know how vile, corrupt and perverted I am and was never sure I wanted everyone else to know. But because of Ralph I understood that I was at least abnormally normal or normally abnormal, everwhich. I always felt that I had been a little screwed up by spending so much time with Emerson and Hattersley—today, I think I was wrong. I guess, assuming Socrates was correct and the correlation can be drawn, I have lived a life worth living because I have surely lived an examined life. Although, I’m not entirely sure it works both ways.

For the last ten years of Janet’s life I photographed her constantly. I said it was to make up for the first twenty-seven years of our marriage when I was absolutely forbidden to take photographs of her. That was part of it but there must have been more to it than that. I have always used the camera to try to understand life, to make some stupid sense of life and that was never more so than with the photographs of Janet. It wasn’t Thoreau’s life of quiet desperation but we shared a life that was quiet and unassuming. I found in Janet all that I needed in life and I wanted to understand that through the photographs. To the end she was my sanctuary and I can only pray to God that I was hers. Her last years were so difficult, there were only questions, no answers; guessing and never knowing whether or not I was doing what she needed, what I should be doing. I relive those years and all their fears daily.

Family, for the most part, ignored the photographs. Maybe they did not know how to talk about them. Maybe they just didn’t care. I don’t know. My photography is hardly ever a family discussion. Friends did comment, said they liked the photographs, but I know that at least toward the end the photographs were difficult to view—much to private—and I’m sure many felt exploiting, I was never sure myself that they weren't.

Today, there was a brief post to the blog thread where I announced that Janet has passed away. He sent me a link to a post that he had made on his blog regarding the taking of emotionally charged images. I have often wondered if I would every take a photograph that would have a profound effect on another individual. Thank you so much Andreas for letting me know that I did.  Your words about my photographs has touched me very, very deeply. It does affirm one of my long held beliefs—the only worthwhile photography comes from the very deepest recesses of being—when it all hangs out.


  1. Gary, would you mind sharing Andreas post with us? I would be interested in reading it.

    There are so many photographs I could take here in Indonesia of human suffering but I refuse to let myself. I asked myself for what purpose would I record that and what would I possibly achieve by sharing it with others.

    At this point, I feel like some of the photos I could take would be too repulsive to even look at and I also think I would feel that I would somehow be violating further the suffering of some of these people.

    In more practical terms, they would also be shot from the back seat of a car. Not only would my driver know I was taking them (what would he think of me?) but the persons being photographed would know it and nothing in me has allowed me to do that to date. Your thoughts?

  2. Jan, I should have put a link to Andreas post before I sent the post. I have since. It's in the last paragraph.

    The discussion on Andreas' blog is long but it is all about just exactly what you are talking about--photographing strangers. So I think you will find it interesting.

    I am also going to find Discovering Yourself Through Photography and post a list that Hattersley did on the pros and cons of taking photographs of people. The cons are always easy to remember--as photographers we all experience them. It's harder to remember the pros.

  3. We are so locked into--what will people think of me if I do this. One of the comments on Andreas' blox makes a comment that our grandchildren will not understand our generation the way we understand earlier generations because be have photographs. But our generation is so reluctant to photograph other people that a grandchildren will not have the photographs to study.

  4. Andreas' story lead me here, and reading you response really started me thinking: "I have always used the camera to try to understand life, to make some stupid sense of life and that was never more so than with the photographs of Janet. It wasn’t Thoreau’s life of quiet desperation but we shared a life that was quiet and unassuming. I found in Janet all that I needed in life and I wanted to understand that through the photographs."

    I think my use of the camera has a somewhat similar purpose, but a different approach. In addition to family members I find deep connections when walking in nature, in forests as so on, using the camera as a tool to see what I see.

    However, I don't post photographs of family members publicly, but this can of course change some day. Anyway, as they say, the camera always points both ways.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Well, thank YOU. As I said, I've been following your blog for a long time and even before Janet passed away, in the time when you basically described trivialities of everyday life, it was deeply touching in a quiet and soothing way, admirable and humane.

  6. Juha, thank you for the post. Sorry to be so long in replying. It may be surprising, but I hardly ever take family photographs. Janet and I have no children and when Janet became ill we lost contact with most of the family. Saying it seems a little sad but it really wasn’t. We were both reclusive by nature. It is not that we do not like or enjoy people it just seemed that we didn’t need a lot more than each other. Because of that I am having an extremely difficult time getting past her death, but I am doing better. I stay extremely busy with photography; mostly of the thing I most enjoy photographing—people. I used to think that I enjoyed photographing people because I was such a recluse. I thought that maybe I was simply collecting paper friends. Friends that didn’t require any commitment; that didn’t ask attention, that I could look at closely, fanaticize about. I worried that there was some less than honorable motive behind my people pictures. I’ve gotten past that. It’s a very long story that probably goes back to an art teacher when I was about ten or eleven and Life Magazine’s story on the Sistine Chapel. I just find people extremely beautiful, extremely interesting. I have many friends that have the same connection with nature that you do. I envy them. I love being in nature. I grew up in the country, as such I spent a great deal of time in nature; much of it au naturel. I thoroughly love being in nature, feeling nature, experiencing nature; but I cannot enjoy nature in a photograph the way that others do and I have no great desire to photograph nature. I do enjoy doing photographs that contrast what I call the planned chaos of nature against the severity of manmade objects. Beyond that, I can’t make a deep connection to a photograph of a flower or a sunset or landscape. The posts on Andrea’s blog brings up so many topics for discussion about the pros and cons of people photography and relations between that and nature photography. I hope to follow your conversations.

  7. This was very, very interesting: "I cannot enjoy nature in a photograph the way that others do and I have no great desire to photograph nature."

    I don't know whether I actually take photographs of nature either, at least my photographs rarely resemble those taken by the famous "nature photographers". It is more that I want to capture some things which happen to me when walking or skiing in nature (or sometimes in a city); the subject is myself, looking outwards, and not nature itself.

  8. Juha, I do not know which of the posts specifically said they preferred nature photography. I just got that general impression from the lot of them. I have spent some time on Light Sources and yes, I was surprised by the number of urban shots—there is so much to discuss there. You live in a world that is so foreign to any I have known. I love numerous things about your photographs—the colors are fascinating, especially skies. I can hardly wait to find out what color the sky will be in the next one; the use of automobiles and other vehicles in your photographs. So many of your photographs seem to be about light and the color of light. I have to wonder if that is because of the short daylight winter hours. However, back in mid January you have some forest photographs posted—you went to a conference outside Helsinki. You have nature photographs there that do rival the famous nature photographers. The only difference is location. Actually they remind me very much of the photographs of Elliott Porter in complexity. There are many other examples, but on the post of Jan 14th for example Firs and Curves are simply wonderful nature photographs. So I disagree. You are an excellent nature photographer. Your photographs show a strong connection. However, you are not only a nature photographer. BTW, may I steal your line, “…the McDonalization of museums.” Only I would employ it to a much wider segment of society than simply museums. LOL I was fascinated with your comments on the Finnish education system. “What I was thinking today while walking and taking photographs is the sad situation we have in society, when nothing seems to have an intrinsic value.” I very much agree. You express very well much of what I was bemoaning in the later post on people pictures.

    Your statement, “…the subject is myself looking outwards” is a wonderful way to approach photography. This is easily seen in your photographs.

  9. Gary, thanks for the kind words.

    I have been thinking about the Finnish school system, and while it mostly is good, I don't think our society is without problems. And we have had cases of school shootings, just as in the States, shocking the nation.

    The short days in winter do have a kind of special feeling, as the twilight time is very long then. And the artificial lights reflected from the snow up to the clouds often color the sky in unpredictable ways.

  10. I am deeply moved by your post Gary, and the responses. The term 'searching our soul' seems to come to mind while reading this.

    Very thought provoking and meaningful. It has left me quietly contemplative.