Tag Archives: Black and white photgraphy
It’s a crap shoot, mostly. We seek wisdom, some of us, from the culture around us. Certainly THAT guy knows the answers, look what he can do, did you see the film read the book listen to the music? I am comforted by knowing we all doubt. We all look at the things we do and wonder. I know many extraordinarily talented photographers. The thing they all have in common is doubt about the work they make. Sometimes I am searching, and when that proves silly I just look at what’s around me and try to fit it into the viewfinder. Some days I am the king of all that I survey, and other days, most other days, I am smothered in doubt. But something I have learned is that to move forward we must insist on the work. That’s all. Just insist. If I don’t, no one will. If you don’t, no one will.
So today: Insist. Gently with humility or harder with gusto, whatever fits. Just insist.
Las Vegas Nevada, 2004. The rain comes down. I drive around looking at the city. Las Vegas isn’t really trying to fool anyone. There is no subtlety here. We’re just going to get on with it, whatever it is, so put up your dough and let the good times roll. So to speak. The drinks are on the house, so get loose, tip the bartenders and the drink girls and don’t forget cash money for the strippers, you’ll have the time of your life.
Cash money for the strippers. Sure thing there buddy.
Robert Frank made lists of the things he wanted to photograph way back in the 50’s when he started his run. He intended to make a statement about America, and so he did. What that statement is depends on you, dear viewer, although there are plenty of people that will be happy to tell you what they think he meant. Jack Kerouac had a pretty smart notion of what it was all about.
Kerouac. He was somebody’s idea of a hipster, and then he died drunk. Robert Frank, the always changing artist that he was, stopped making photographs after The Americans.
Steidl, the top shelf book maker, recently published Robert Frank in America, a pretty fair collection of mostly previously unpublished work made on that Guggenheim run.
America is too big to be nailed down in a book of photographs, or even two books of photographs, and I’ll bet it was pure hell trying.
I have long since given up trying to figure out why I photograph the things I photograph.
Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.
This has the ring of truth, doesn’t it?
The photo is a thing in itself. And that’s what still photography is all about.
So, I’m looking to fill the viewfinder with things that will become interesting photographs. Winogrand was a wizard, a photographer extraordinaire, his every image a surprise.
[If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would] do something to shake it up.
Hmmm…I don’t do this much. Perhaps as I spend more time searching out photographs I settle for the familiar. Maybe it’s time to shake it up a bit? The patterns we develop are hard to break. Perhaps I’ll figure it out one day, why I am drawn to make these photographs again and again.
But this much I know:
…The photograph should be more interesting or more beautiful than what was photographed.
I shoot a ton when I go out. At times I am making an exposure, seeing the scene and I just know that I have something that will make a fine photograph. And sometimes I’m actually right. Then there are the times when the exposure is almost an afterthought. I see something and make the exposure with no expectation. I put the file away and it remains essentially unseen until I go back later (sometimes waaay later) and go through my work.
The truth is that sometimes we don’t know what we have when we are making the camera go click. Here’s one that I wasn’t in love with until just this morning and I made the exposure last summer.
The Eastern Shore of Maryland is flat, mostly farmland, although developers are moving in. This part of the state is more southern politically and culturally than the suburbs around DC and Baltimore. Stop and talk to the people in very Southern Maryland down below Pocomoke and you’d swear you were in Georgia. US Highway 301 runs 1099 miles from Glasgow, Delaware to Sarasota, Florida and cuts through the upper third of Eastern Maryland. Part of the highway takes you through disappearing Maryland farmland, and from time to time the highway ghosts appear in the hills and valleys. Houses long abandoned, active farmland all around but no life in the structures, no animals in the barn, no food on the stove. These houses stand as a measure of time. If we look closely we can see what was once here. Look again and we can see what will be here soon. America is built and rebuilt over and over, and for a time all we can see are the ghosts along the highway.
There is always something that causes me to look twice; some aspect of the potential subject that draws me closer. Sometimes it’s a sign, a building facade, maybe the way the light strikes in a particular way.
I was walking around Wheeling, West Virginia at Sundown last October and I came across this:
The building was tucked in a corner of the city right up against and nearly under the interstate. I hadn’t planned on stopping in Wheeling, but from the highway I could see lots of potential. The sun was coming down bathing the city in some very inviting light. I found an exit and doubled back. I drove through a very old office-park sort of section of Wheeling. There was no one around. I parked, got out and took a look around. Here was Kennedy Hardware. I made several exposures of the front of the building. Was there more? I walked up the street to see and found this:
The sun was at a different angle, the sky was more interesting, I was able to incorporate more of the various signs. In short, my initial interest in the building led me to search for more of what was interesting, to find a better photograph, to work the scene in a more complete way. Besides, I enjoy wandering around new places, to see beyond the main avenue. You never know what you will find.
The challenge is to convey to the viewer the thing that I see that drew me to the scene in the first place, and I want to be as specific as I can. That usually means removing (reframing) any unnecessary elements and finding a way to feature the most interesting aspects of the scene.
The first substantial snowfall of the winter occurred here last week and I took advantage of the altered landscape. I started in Chester County, and on the way home decided to head over to Southern New Jersey. The snowfall increased a bit as I crossed the river. I knew exactly where I was going, an area I have photographed for many years. I was not disappointed. Snow changes everything.
I have photographed this barn a lot over the years. The snow gave me a chance to see it new:
I spent brief (it was cold) moments making as many exposures as I could and then headed for home.
Except I saw, out of the corner of my eye, this snow covered wheat:
I had to stop.
I made several exposures, the last few featuring the reason I stopped in the first place:
There is always time for one more perspective, one more exposure, one more look around.
Ansel Adams has an unmatched photographic legacy. No serious photographer, or viewer of photography, can ignore his vast body of work.
I know, because I tried.
Many years ago, after becoming acquainted with his most well-known prints, I reached the ridiculous conclusion that I knew what there was to know about him and moved on to photographers who, in my narrow view, had more to say: Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus. I was interested in photographers that were trying to say something about the human condition. This was worthwhile, certainly, except that I had it backwards: I have come to realize that the work of any photographer reveals…
Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man by Andrea Stillman was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2012. Stillman is a former assistant to Adams. She covers in detail the stories behind 20 of his most iconic photographs, providing details and insight that give us a greater understanding of the work. Chapter 10 covers Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico. This is perhaps Adams greatest photograph. The book includes several different versions of the print, including a print of the negative and a print without any manipulation. We are able to see very clearly the changes that Adams made in the darkroom to realize his vision. A vision that changed over the years, by the way. Early prints of Moonrise made in the 40’s are very different from prints made later on in the 60’s and 70’s. Adams was constantly reevaluating his work.
So, keep an open mind youngsters, we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Stand here on the side of the road and listen carefully. Maybe you can hear Reverend James Cleveland singing to The Lord on a bright Sunday morning, the congregation jumping and shouting in anticipation of salvation. Of course, salvation is hard to come by these days, especially down here on the side of a lonely Georgia highway. Might be hard for Reverend Cleveland to find a space to preach, come to think of it.
The road is quiet this morning, few cars pass by. The little church sits and waits for sinners looking for shelter. We stand quietly, Jason and I, respecting the moment, and in short order we drive away heading deeper into the Georgia countryside.