2.18.2013

The value of photography is in being able to look back in time. My photography records the arc of my existence and of those around me.


I shot this image 34 years ago in a little house on Longview Ave. It's a portrait of my then girlfriend. Five years later we decided to get married. A number of years after that we decided to become parents. Now we've decided to grow old together.

All along the way I've taken photographs of this woman. I can see in the images that she's grown older but to me, no less beautiful than the day that I took this photograph. I suspect that I'll feel that way twenty years from now and, if the fates allow, even longer.

Over the course of the 34 years I've taken hundreds of thousands of photographs of other beautiful women, products, scenes, food and exotic locations. None of them has been an improvement either in seeing or in the technical process of recording compared with this image and other contemporaneous images.

In many ways this image belies the myth that we all continue to grow and learn as photographers. In my mind clear and unobstructed seeing is the thing that allows us to like or dislike an image, not the degree of sharpness or the breadth of tonal range.

We grow and learn as people while we age and we become more sophisticated in our ability to obscure our honest seeing with layers and layers of the mythology we share about image making and we give too much power to stories that celebrate the heroic efforts of image makers when all that is really called for is to either selfishly wish to stop time and embrace a moment forever, or a wish to honestly share something achingly beautiful with the world at large.

We seem to create new ways of doing things just to bolster the idea that we must work hard to do art that means anything. And truthfully, the art that means the most to us on a very human level just requires us to look across the expanse of six or seven feet at a subject that rivets us and holds us captive and to click one button.

Not so hard. Not so heroic. Not so nuanced. But maybe the difficulty comes when we try to make things perfect in every regard. When I am told that a new technique or a new material will bring my images one step closer to perfection I remember the idea of Japanese artists: it is the small imperfection that makes a work complete.

As I've raced toward the ever moving target of perfection I'm created more and more semi-opaque layers that make really seeing the subject in the photos I want to take harder and harder.

Clear seeing endures. Clear feelings make finding the people or things you want to photograph much easier. But it's the need to photograph something that makes the work wonderful. Not perfect, just wonderful.

Do we begin the search for technical perfection when we lose our nascent and direct connection to the things that bring us visual joy? Is it our first, uncritical connection that we spend the rest of our lives pursuing?

I can't remember what camera I used to take this but I can conjecture that it was an old Yashica twin lens camera. I can't remember what light I used but I'm pretty sure it was the one, lone battered, used Novatron flash and a yellowing umbrella that one of my more advanced photographer friends had tossed aside. But I remember looking into Belinda's eyes and needing to make a photograph so that I'd always have that memory preserved in a way that would allow me to go back to it again and again for pleasure and strength.

That's what the value of photography is to me. And that's all. All about the gear? You've got to be kidding...

8 comments:

John Bour said...

Moving. And true.

MariAnne said...

Well said, amen! And what a marvelous portrait!

thequietphotographer said...

Grande! Great!
robert, from Italy

Brad Burnham said...

For a long time I didn't know why I photographed, I just knew that I needed to.

Then, one day it downed on me. Here's what I realized:

Metaphysically the past doesn't exist; I believe it to be true. It was real, but now it's not. While the past doesn't exist, photographs from/of the past do. Photography is a connection to what was and now isn't.

Holding a photograph lets you connect to what otherwise would have disappeared.

I recently was given a number of things from my grandfather, dead now 10 years. Among those things was an old photo album of small black and white prints from the 30's and 40's. It is so interesting to me and I feel a connection to my grandpa in a way I never had before.

I think it is great that you have pictures of Belinda (and Ben) spanning so many years. What a treasure that must be for you and your family. Your pictures of your wife are lovely.

Thanks for sharing!

Carlo Santin said...

Great portrait, great article. Sums up exactly why I take pictures...and how I feel about my own wife. None of it matters without her.

Gregg Mack said...

A beautiful message, beautifully said. Great post!

Clay Olmstead said...

Yes! Clear seeing, clear feeling - the goal that can be approached, but never reached. That's the best reason to pick up a camera. Thanks for the reminder.

Old Gray Roy said...

We were married in October 1953. Pictures taken at that time prove that she was as beautiful then as she is now. Technical perfection means little when feelings are as vital and vivid as this. Thanks for providing a push to express those feelings.