Tag Archives: Fine art photography
Let’s face it, often we are just searching for the past. My Dad bowled. He was a serious bowler, with a great average and the discipline to really do well at that odd game. And when we were kids he took me and my brother out with him to bowl. So now, in an obvious attempt to recapture that feeling of doing something with my Dad, I photograph bowling alleys.
And when I make these photographs and then work the files it is always with a feeling of melancholy, and happiness.
Sometimes I know exactly what I am photographing.
I was driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood on the way home yesterday after picking up scans for some client work. Off to my right out the car window I saw the flag (I always see the flags) and the fence and instantly the photograph formed in my head. I turned around, parked the car, grabbed the camera and went to work. A teenager was playing basketball on an adjoining driveway to the house. I smiled (always smile) and asked if he lived there, pointing at the house with the fence and the flag. He responded no and kept on shooting. I am always careful when approaching and entering private property in pursuit of a photograph. I stood on the sidewalk looking at the house, listening to hear any sign that anyone was in the yard or visible in the windows. There wasn’t. I set the exposure, walked up the path and clicked 4 or 5 times, recomposing slightly every time and opening the aperture from 5.6 to 1.4, changing the shutter speed appropriately. I was on the property less than 45 seconds. I was not surreptitious or sneaky, just quick. I stopped and shot a few baskets with the kid (I actually hit a few modest jumpers) and tried to convince him to try out for his high school basketball team. He had a nice little shot and could clearly play the game but had no interest in playing as the coach was a jerk. Okay then.
I am very pleased with the resulting photograph. I was thinking of two images as I stood out in front of that house yesterday, the Bresson photo of an old woman draped in a flag, and a photo by Paul Strand: The White Fence, Port Kent, 1916. I have always overlooked the Strand image until recently when I had the occasion to view a print made by the artist. Simply brilliant.
Incorporating the American flag in any photograph adds quite a bit, as everyone feels or thinks something when they view it. The combination of the picket fence (Mark Twain) and the flag proved irresistible. So this is the process, sometimes.
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: