Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In Response to the Duhs

[This as written to be posted to he Northwest Houston Photo Club Meet Up but it was over the 1000 character maximum so I will post it here and put a link on the Meet Up site.]

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.

Hope this helps.

1 comment:

  1. It's not that difficult, Gary. It's a common concept - "This is not a Pipe" (I believe that's the photograph) or the Army adage "The map is not the terrain". All photography is an edit and a distortion of the objects being captured. It is not the object.

    What you are always leave out is the other side of the coin, though. For the audience to "get" the metaphor, the artist has to tap in to common experience. This may be the "human" experience - a pic of a baby, for instance. Or it may be the National experience (say, a bald eagle) or local. There are metaphors that would only work within the photo club, even (a bagpiper in NWHPC, for instance). For all people, there are also metaphors that are personal. For example, if I took a picture of a wooden block and submitted it, it would mean nothing to anyone else but for me it would signify creativity because I remember playing with them as a child. At this level, it's no longer art, but art therapy.

    I don't know where you might have gotten the link between dead fish and your future state, but you did. For your audience, though, those connections don't exist and so they are seen as dead fish and nothing more. The same with the items in the garage to some degree. Though we all have junk in our garage, and it is a good metaphor for that, those specific pieces mean far more to you than they do to your audience.

    Long way around, but the point is it's not that we're the "unwashed masses" because we don't get your metaphor. It's that you have decended in to the most personal of metaphors and are doing art therapy. Shooting for yourself. It's perfectly OK, but you would get a more satisfying response sharing it with an art therapist.