Last night at camera club there was a brief discussion of Minor White prompted by Jerry Pierson's excellent 'in the style of' photographs. I shared one of my favorite quotes from White. Even though I had the essence of what White said, I garbled the quote. It should have been:
"One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.“
I got the usual 'duhs'. Here is another quote that may help explain what White was saying.
"While we cannot describe its appearance (the equivalent), we can define its function. When a photograph functions as an Equivalent we can say that at that moment, and for that person the photograph functions as an Equivalent. We can say that at that moment, and for that person the photograph acts as a symbol or plays the role of a metaphor for something that is beyond the subject photographed."
If I may use examples from my personal photography. Most know that a couple of years ago I did a portfolio of photographs of dead fish. Although I expected few to get the connection, for me at least, these were not images of dead fish—they were images of creatures that had been alive and their experience of death. I was photographing my own future and experiences to come—the experience of death, of dying. If you saw the photographs the way I saw them they were very powerful. I would say sobering. If you saw them as photographs of dead fish you probably thought they stunk and wondered why I wasted time and resources.
My portfolio of objects from my garage, Forensic Evidence of a Past Life, were photographs not of what was in my garage--they were photographs of a past time, past experiences--a time that will never return.
My portfolio of light poles on parking lots, Totems, was about drawing a connection between the guidance and safety provided by the light at night to the guidance of the family totems of the Northwest Coast Indians--which they somewhat resembled.
In other words, in all three portfolios, I was not photographing the objects for what they were but for what else I saw them to be. I was drawing metaphor. The objects in the photographs were simply symbols for something that was beyond the subject photographed.
Would most get this 'metaphor'? Maybe not. I don't know. I do know that to me, when it happens, metaphor is important--maybe more important than the photograph.