- Canon EOS REBEL T1i
- Photos for local store
To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographedSusan Sontag, On Photography, pg.4
A Personal Introduction into Photographs
I have a very strong memory of looking at two hardbound coffee table books of photography both printed and published by Time Life Books. The first, LIFE Goes to the Movies. The book had to have been published in the early 70’s because all the movie stars were prior to that time. My memories of the images linger on faces like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, and a rugged Paul Newman from his time filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I don’t recall any photos of Dustin Hoffman or Meryl Streep who were rising stars when I was a child. Star Wars had come out in 1977, and yet I don’t recall any photos of the actors from that film. This book was from the days of Hollywood glamour up to the beginning of gritty provocative Westerns and Crime dramas that would eventually fill the late 70’s cinema.
The other book was The Best of LIFE. This book, also most likely published in the early 1970’s, along with LIFE Goes to the Movies were like Bibles to me. I coveted these two books. I did not own these books and oddly I have never owned or possessed these books, but I remember going to a friend of my mother’s and she had both of these books on her coffee table. Although I was between the ages of 5 to 8, possibly even younger, and I was already a t.v.-aholic, nothing could tear me from these books. As the adults would sit around and talk, I would scour the pages memorizing every shape, color, edge and angle of a photograph. At the time I couldn’t say what it was that drew me to a photograph, I was just mesmerized. I had the same reactions to my grandmother’s photo album and National Geographic. I desired these two books so much that if I could I would have shoved them into my shirt, stolen them, and them hid them between the mattress and box spring of my bed. Alas, the books were too big and heavy to do such a thing, and uh..hem.. stealing is wrong.
The Photos that Seared into My Brain
In a later post I may attempt to find the photos that made such impressions on my young mind, but for now I can only describe what attracted me to a picture. I did love the glamour and the perfection of the movies stars, but more so, I liked real people in real everyday life. My favorite photos of the stars were when they were doing something that didn’t make them appear beautiful or perfect, but what made them appear human. In The Best of LIFE the photographs were riveting, powerful, funny, and heartbreaking. They were taken by some of the greatest photographers of that time period, photographers like Robert Capa, Martha Holmes, Larry Burrows, and Margaret Bourke-White. These photographers took pictures of war, poverty, the boomer teenagers, world leaders, and drug addicts, along with daily life. In the photos were lives I had not lived, experiences beyond my comprehension, and facial expressions that made me feel things- these photographs were the part of my becoming aware of what it means to feel empathy. I felt drawn to these strangers, many of whom were long dead, but still they spoke to me.
Photographers that Influence Me
The photographs that grab me and cast me under spell, the ones that are in my mind when I frame a photo with a camera, or phone, or even just my eyes and the camera of my mind, the latter of which always takes the perfect shot, are photos that show grit, perseverance, pain, mundaneness and pure oddity. The bizarre and surreal, the exaggeration of reality, these types of photographs pull me in because I want to know the story. What is happening here? I think of Robert Capa, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Mary Ellen Mark. Not that I don’t appreciate the skill and photographs of Annie Liebovitz, Ansel Adams, or Man Ray, their work is incredible, and I have favorite photographs from all of them, but the above photographers hit me in a different way. A deeper and more complex way. They drew me in and then eventually led me toward what we call street photography which nearly always captures life in its immediate moment. A moment forever caught on film.
These are the type of photographs I want to take, but I rarely accomplish this. Sometimes by accident, and a couple of times on purpose, but I lack many of the skills, and much of the knowledge needed to do what those who I admire do. I have a million excuses that range from money and time and life in between, but I’m not going to waste time here writing about excuses. All that matters is that there are moments when I feel I am close to what I saw in my mind. I often think that what I see in my own photos does not translate to others, and like one wanting to touch people through poetry, I hope I can at least one time have what I see translate to an audience.
How to Eat An Apple
As I’ve mentioned in some earlier posts, I worked for a retail store and I was given the assignment to take pictures of the clothing and then post those photos to our blog and our website for online shopping. Since, my house was so close to the store, it was easy to pull some clothes and get one of my friends who also happened to be a fellow employee, then walk the short four bocks home. Sara was one of four friends who was willing to pose in the dresses and be a model for me. Sara was a fantastic model. She had so much fun posing for photos, and was so comfortable in front of the camera that it was easy to take pictures.
In Susan Sontag’s book, On Photography, she writes about how the photographer, no matter how natural or realist they try to make a photo there is always a little manipulation on the part of the photographer.
In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.Susan Sontag, On Photography, pgs. 6-7
I don’t know if I had imposed standards on my models, so much as I allowed my models to guide me. I just never stopped taking pictures even when the models, Sara, took a break to eat an apple. The thing is that Sara was so comfortable in front of the camera that she could eat an apple as if she didn’t notice me taking photos, while simultaneously being completely aware of the camera.
Obviously, the apple eating photos were not used on the website for the store, and were not even a part of the intention of the shoot in the first place, but these are the ones that I liked the most for this dress. From a commerce standpoint these photos are an utter failure. Do you even notice the dress? Maybe, but unlikely. Your eyes go to the apple and the biting and the crinkle of her nose as her teeth sink into the flesh of the apple.
The focus is on Sara and the apple, and the act of eating, but there is another thing that I like about the picture that maybe would be annoying for another photographer, and perhaps a master-photographer would see it as distracting from the main focus. In the left hand corner of the frame there is a sculpture of a horse. Its mouth is open and teeth are bared as if it is about to bite. I actually see it as screaming. The sculpture makes me think of the horse in Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. I could have cropped it out of the frame, but I liked it, because perhaps you wouldn’t notice it at first as you quickly scrolled past the picture, but if you lingered just a second longer perhaps you notice it and you wonder, what is that doing there? How weird. In each of the three photos, as she eats, the horse slowly moves out of the frame as if she is moving away from it. What does it all mean? I don’t think it means anything, I just like that it seems out of place, and a bit like the horse in David Lynch’s, Twin Peaks. What the hell was that white horse doing there? It was just odd and out of place and from something he had seen that would have been impossible to know about without asking, yet its presence was disconcerting and you thought about it. I like that. Yet, I don’t feel any sense of unease when I look at these photos of How to Eat and Apple, because Sara’s face is so joyful as she eats, like the apple is just too good to be concerned about the thing lurking in the background, and it can’t touch her anyway as it is frozen and she is in motion.
Honestly, when I took these photos, my only intention was to capture a nice shot that focused on the dress, so that we could put it on the website, and someone would see it and buy it. I was able to do that, however, I had so much more fun playing around with the camera, and just seeing what came out of that playing. If I dedicated myself to photography as a craft perhaps I would be able to have more control with what I am trying to create. For now, I wade through past photos, and try to enjoy what it is I have already created, and write about it as I learn how to improve.
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