Garry Winogrand had a wonderful and unique way of thinking about photography. He was asked once why he seemed to photograph everything, seemingly without regard as to what he was photographing. His response:“I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.”
That has always been in the back of my mind as I make images. I want to turn off the voices that say “it’s been done before” or “will you be able to use this in a portfolio?” or “what will someone online think about this picture…?” I hate those voices and I turn them off every time they start making themselves known.
And they do on occasion make themselves known. Otherwise I wouldn’t have to turn them off. It is terribly hard these days to keep them turned off. There are far more voices than ever before telling us what we SHOULD be shooting. Or measuring our work against someone else’s – most of the time without any context for comparison. Useless banter of sharpness, originality, and gear combine with a low knowledge of critical style and historical vision – let alone the personal context of the photographers image – keep many typing away into the night.
Social media has turned photography into a game for many. Flickr has billions of images and thousands of users who feel it is their place to offer unsolicited critiques based on absolutely no frame of reference other than they can. 500 Pixels takes a “Reality Show” approach where the image is voted up or down. Presumably no one is kicked off the island, but raising the question of whether an image is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by how many ‘votes’ it gets holds no interest for me. You see, I don’t know who is voting and I have no idea of their taste level, art background or personal feelings toward me.
My career has spanned several decades and found me doing so many different things photographically, that it is fun at this point to look backward – and forward to see where I have been may be taking me toward where I am going. Get that? No matter, I do. And photography has become a fairly personal endeavor to me of late. I do it for clients on one level, and me on another.
I have to have it that way.
Now do not think I am going down that lame line that you hear so many talentless artists shout, “I don’t care if anyone likes my work, I am committed to it because I know what I am doing is really cool, and those who don’t like it are all bastard people…” Not at all. And while I do agree that having ones art understood by the masses is not important for the soul, there has to be some verification that you are creating something other than naval gazing bullshit. (Yes, of course there are masters that went undiscovered until after the dirt nap kicked in, but I would bet they would have welcomed recognition in their time.)
“A photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how the camera ‘saw’ a piece of time and space.” – Garry Winogrand.
An illusion indeed. The world is three dimensional, the photograph is not. Cropping the part we want seen is so much a part of photography that the reality is that it is more important what you don’t show than what you show in most images. We photographers carefully crop and frame reality to present an illusion of that reality. We add light and change focal length and alter depth of field and more. Illusions for sure – but what amazing illusions they are.
The time and space thing is one I have talked about before, and it is one of the most defining things about photography. It is strange to me that the temporal factor is so rarely discussed, and yet seems to be the essence of photography. “Click” – 1/500th of a second in a time line that will never be again. You ‘got it’ or you didn’t. Time and space will never collude to present that moment for you again. Similar – maybe, but not identical.
Take the jump with me for more:
“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” – Gary Winogrand
Just think about that for a moment… let it sink in.
Commercial photography should adopt that as their mantra. We are ALL ABOUT how it looks photographed, not how it really looks. Back to that illusion thing, and a deft look at how what the photographer does means more to the image than the subject itself many times. A dead flower can become something far more tantalizing in a photograph than it is in ‘real life’. Ansel Adams turned a stand of aspen trees into a magnificent play of light and line and shadow. Stephen Meisel turns a small restaurant into something mysterious to present a handbag in the possession of an icon in an elegant statement of sexy intrigue.
A simple ‘thing’ can be photographed in a way that makes it MORE than it was, or to show us something we may never have seen before. Photographs of shoes on a white background may look really mundane, but in the context of the 911 attack on the WTC, they take on a much larger meaning. A subtext that has been added by shared knowledge and memory. They are no longer just shoes and wallets on a white background, we bring much more TO the image.
In this way, I think Winogrand may miss the mark a little bit. In this context, it is All about the thing photographed, and how it is photographed is to heighten the importance of the object by eliminating any extraneous elements that could provide a distraction. View, remember, feel and discover something you may never have had the opportunity to see – something everyday that was, because of circumstance, now extraordinary.
I am certainly no Garry Winogrand, but I am a believer in his approach. I have always loved making images of simply anything that caught my fancy. Portraits, still life, real life, the environment and light. Always light. I love how light makes things look and I like to make copies of ‘that-light-making-stuff-look-cool-moments’ to keep. I choose photography.
I recently had the opportunity to be in Frederick, Maryland and parts of Pennsylvania. I did a workshop there and took the opportunity one morning to simply walk around and make photographs of stuff that interested me. Same with a short road trip through Pennsylvania on a beautiful lightly overcast morning. I made a few photographs.
I love that early morning light and how it shapes and delineates. These things dot the landscape in this area of the country, but it seems even more majestic when it towers over the town and is lit so dramatically.
A ladder leaning against the wall, with wonderful side light that adds to the edges and deepens the shadows was an irresistible photo for me. I like the geometry, the play of light and the whimsical ladder to nowhere.
Graphic design is my other passion, and when I see things that appeal to me graphically, I snap a shot. No need to make anything grandiose, I just like these little vignettes. The lines and how the moss breaks into the spaces was all that I wanted to catch.
This shot just appealed to me on several levels. I am always looking for shots for my personal project “The Space Between” where elements are seemingly disparate and yet joined somehow by line or light or texture. This shot was right up that alley… (sorry – heh) and I love the lines, light and space in the middle of the image. It is the space that becomes the subject. For me, at least.
Train tracks are considered cliche by many… who cares. I liked the light on the rails, the graphic design of the lines, how they presented against the rocky ballast and the weathered nature of the steel. Probably not going in my commercial portfolio, but I like the 10×15 print I made. It makes me smile.
I will leave you with one more quote by Garry Winogrand:
“I don’t have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph. I have no preconceptions.”
And here are some Winogrand links: Images, Wikipedia, Museum of Contemporary Photography.
I sometimes don’t know if I have anything to say, or if I try to say too much in my photography. Maybe it varies for me from image to image, assignment to assignment and project to project. But I do wonder if we can truly detach ourselves that much from our work? It is a thrill for me to make images. It always has been and it will remain. I may change how I do it, and I may do it for different reasons… but mostly I just love to make photographs.
Just to see what the stuff I shoot looks like as a photograph.
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