How I Became a Photographer…
I have been around photography since a baby. By the time I was in elementary school I had my own simple box camera, I was experimenting with pinhole cardboard boxes and blueprint paper exposed to the sun; added to the adventure was a darkroom in the cellar. With my parents interest in the arts and crafts, it wasn’t long before I was exposed to creative artists and artistic crafts. As a child I would sit for hours pouring over my parent’s photography and arts & crafts magazines. Because of his own interest in photography my dad introduced me to the work some of the great photographers of the day, some I even had the fortune to meet. Dad saw to it that I learned the basics of photography. I always had a camera although my interest waned when I discovered girls and cars, and later college studies took priority. With marriage, children, and an opportunity to travel, my interest again picked up and I became enamored with 127 film slides. Took thousands of them, just ask my kids.
However, it wasn’t until the 90s that I began to become aware of the difference between “taking a picture” and “telling a story,” the difference between beautiful photos and photos that enabled inSight into the entirety of the world: people, places and things.
My becoming aware is an ever evolving process that is constantly being honed. My goal is not so much to take photos that are technically correct as it is to take photos that tell stories, and sometimes breaking a rule tells a better story. That is not to say that I have no interest in photographic technological efficiency.
Photography knows no boundaries. It speaks all languages, yet speaks no language. You can get lost in a photo, you can create your own worlds within a photo. This is as true of the viewer as it is of the photographer. Photography as story telling speaks a liberative language, one that releases the inherent stories, one that moves you away from expectations into creative inSight. Insight is that penetrating mental vision, the ability of seeing into inner character, the underlying stories.
As a photographer, the things that are most exciting to me are found in the periphery, along the edge of casual observation, along the edge of what normally catches our eye. In my photography I seek the edge of the observed world to see what goes unseen. I am still learning to see, really See. To see beyond what my eyes observe, to see with inSight.
What I hope with each image is to both communicate and create stories – real and imagined – in the mind of the viewer. To stir up memories of life and life lived. To surprise both myself and the viewer with how the inherent liberated story unfolds.
While teaching cultural studies I began to explore the “psychology of culture.” What is it that makes a culture – any culture – psychologically unique? What is it that gives a culture both utopic and dystopic qualities? What intrigued me most was that unobserved “space between the line (singular)” where independent cultures melded into one, yet retained the characteristic of each. Working at that time in the urban setting it was only natural that I began to look at the “space between the line” were neighborhood cultures met, and then, the “space between the line” in physicality and urban scenes, particularly buildings and infrastructure. What stories went unheard in this space, what stories were waiting to be liberated? In the process I began to realize how photography could be an important tool in puncturing the line in a way that freed the embedded unheard stories, allowing them heard.
Unraveling the Mystery…
For me, photography is about unraveling the mystery, the story that is inherent in each scene. As such it is a tool of reflection and social transformation. In a sense, a photograph is a tool that connects us to our roots. For both the photographer and the viewer a photograph that draws us in fosters a sense of self-discovery that infuses us with the spirit of place, and in some mystical way, shapes our self-awareness to the world around us, and hopefully, creates a desire within us to become part of that world.
There are two types of photographers: those who strive for technical perfection, who seek only the award-winning shot, and those who seek to unravel the mystery – the layers of stories – within a single photo.
Each subject – people, buildings, environment – has an uniquely personal story to tell. It needs to be coaxed and caressed into reveling its deepest intimate, closely held secrets. There must be a passionate relationship between the subject and the photographer, like two lovers. As the lover must ask, so must the photographer, “Am I worthy to be entrusted with this intimacy? Or am I allowing my own personal agendas, my own desires, to get in the way of the relationship?”
Each time I put the camera to my eye, I ask myself, “Which photographer am I going to be?”
Using Structure to See…
There is a field in art & literature called Structuralism (not to be confused with the term “structure” as used in giving clarity to a photograph). Structuralism in photography discards the idea that photographs are a direct representation of the world and replaces it with the idea that each photograph has its own morphology,* a morphology that intervenes between reality and the viewer. In photography, structure (as used in the processing of an image) can change the level of intervention, and thus change the viewer’s perception of reality.
For example, look at these three images created from the same RAW image. Each creates in the viewer’s mind a different perception or reality, a perception that will differ with each viewer. When you look at each image – think beyond the literal – what are your emotions? What are your thoughts about what’s going on?
Now look at the original image. What changes about how you view the image? How does your thinking about the previous images change?
These images are exaggerated, but suppose the structure was subtle and not overly obvious to the naked eye. Can you see how that could change your perception of reality without you being aware of the change? Would this not, perhaps, make you think about the subject of the photo in a new way, just as the exaggerated ones do?
I seek to paint my photos, not to create imaginary scenes, but to paint in a way that the original is not lost, yet nevertheless, changed. The idea is to enable the discovery of the story, stories, hidden within the photo.
* the study of the form of things, the form which creates the perception.
In a Nutshell…
As a writer and photographer I strive to a gleaner, seeking to glean from what often goes unobserved, seeking to make sense of the paradoxes and conundrums of daily living. My atelier is not in the studio, it is in the world, where the daily is lived.