Roots. (Essay Three)
When I was in my early teens I happened upon some photographs by Weston, Cunningham and Adams. I had been making photographs for a few years. Just casually, no real intent in the work other than to have a keepsake of the place.
Many of us start out taking images that have no real purpose. Some times it is simply the action of ‘snapping’ the moment. Almost like it was supposed to happen. Stand on the side of the Grand Canyon and snap away.
But that day I saw photographs that were unlike images I had seen in person. Yes, I loved photography from earlier than that, preferring sitting on the floor and reading LIFE or LOOK to about anything else.
I just never put it together that those photographs were made with intent, and with strong meaning behind them.
After that art gallery awakening, I was simply obsessed with all things photographic. I wanted to know about the ways that photographers thought and saw and put their images to paper. I wanted to BE a photographer.
Not in the professional make money for shooting photographs kind of photographer, but in the I take images that are deliberate and have meaning photographer.
I had begun reading books by great photographers. The first of Weston’s “Daybooks” had just been published and I was able to get it from the library. I immersed myself in what he wrote… thoughts on the nature of photography and its relationship to the world. A few years later circumstances brought me into contact with more and more photography books: Strand and Cunningham and Kertesz and Steiglitz and Brassai. Each more intriguing than the previous. I was simply hooked.
It was, however, a most difficult venture. My dad had a darkroom, but by this time he had pretty much lost the interest in it that I was just forming. The darkroom had become a sort of store room and, since we had no air conditioning, was only usable for about 5 months a year.
So I shot color.
And I tried to like it. I did.
But it was so uncontrolled and the skies would be too light and the foreground too dark and they weren’t at all what I saw in my head.
And to top it off they were in blah, boring color. No heart to a drugstore color print, believe me.
I wanted to see what I saw when I clicked the shutter. I wanted to FEEL that image as it was taken when I looked at the print.
Yeah… I was disappointed a lot.
Control of the image and its presentation was what I wanted, but at the time I didn’t really know how to articulate it. The struggle with the disappointment and the harsh reality of not having the money to buy good equipment eventually wore me to a thin point and one day the camera was put in its case and not opened again for a long, long time.
Today I use manual everything. I control my lights and my presentation and I get what I want from all the gear at my disposal.
My roots of struggling with the lack of control led me to a place where the control is possible.
And now I am working hard to not let the control get in the way of the image making experience. Yes, I still want the photographs to come out the way I see them, but I am letting them be themselves a bit more.
My roots have taken hold how, and are so deep that there has to be some growth at the top. I want a new and fresh look for my work. With the deep understanding and obsession with control comes a conflict when trying to break out a bit. The habits die hard, and they can overwhelm with extraneous information that is no longer of value.
Roots are one of the greatest assets an artist can have. Letting them take hold and build a new growth above is sometimes an equally powerful asset. But it is an asset that can be hard won. The depths of our past can make the vision of our future more inhibited than it should be.
Enjoy the roots, but celebrate the growth at the top… it is where the sun shines.
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