What makes a person take a photo? Since the invention of the camera, people have been choosing what moments to immortalize on film, or in my day and age, in a million pixels. Sometimes its an easy choice, a birthday, a wedding, Johnny coming home from the war, a moment we want to remember every single detail of, no matter how minute, so we press the shutter and save it for eternity.
Maybe it’s our way of beating the system. It’s our attempt to stop our kids from growing. Its our way from keeping our loved ones alive. It’s the only way possible to stop the sun from setting on that magical day we’re having.
But what if there is no birthday cake or bride and groom or happy child running through the daises? What if it’s just a field of wildflowers? Or a tricycle? Or swing set next to a tree? Then what makes a person take a photo?
I was asked this question, and I had no answer. Instead I went back to taking photos of that swing set, because I had this nagging feeling something was there, but for the life of me, I had no idea what. So I kept shooting thinking maybe I’d find it.
I was lucky enough to escape the city for a day with friends to a country home which was only 3 hours away from my front door but felt as if it was on the opposite side of the earth. My cell phone didn’t have signal, there was no internet connection, and to be honest, I didn’t miss either. We spent the morning working replacing the beams under the house, crawling around in the muck and the mud, and finished filthy but proud of our work. The massive amount of grass was mowed after the tractor was fixed twice. I built a bonfire, flashing back to my years in Boy Scouts, and I’m bursting with pride that it went up with one match. I fed the fire to a tremendous blaze, and as noticed by my friends, I raised the tempature of the entire Catskill Mountains by nine degrees for the night. My real goal, however was the get it big enough to be seen from space.
Despite all the technology that was left behind, my shiny Nikon D90 seemed grossly out of place. Even so, I gripped it tight as I strolled through the grass and woods. Through my lens, I saw more than the grass and the woods, something harder to describe. The country house I was brought to was a special place, just an ordinary house to most, but to my friends and their family, it was home filled with memories of laughter, love, all those moments that make life worth living. I felt an odd pressure as I shot, a challenge to capture that spirit, and maybe that’s why I took so many photos of the swing set, maybe that’s what I was seeing.
Or maybe it was just shadows on a rock that caught my eye. I really don’t know. But as long as I have friends who love me enough to take me up to their magical country home to try to capture it’s spirit, and – dare I say it – fans who want to see the results, I’ll keep shooting.
… Goes one of my favorite Max Creek songs… and it’s the first thing I thought of when my hand went into the coffee can this afternoon.
For those who don’t know about the coffee can – or forgot about it, like I tried to – it’s a little game I’ve created for myself. A while back I wrote a gagillion words on tiny slips of paper and stuffed them into a coffee can, which I promised myself that I’d raid the can every few days and shoot whatever the paper said. Like most promises I break, I followed for awhile, but then tapered off, hoping no one would notice. Great idea, except for this one bone head friend who brings it up to me every time we see each other. (Thanks Chuck. Now you know why I never invite you to afternoon tea anymore.)
So this afternoon, before I brought the boys home to their mom for mother’s day, the can caught my eye and opened it.
What? Colors? I hate these words. Who the hell thought of them?
So I went about my day with the word tucked back in the dark recesses of my mind. As I walked through Home Depot – I promised my mom I’d fix some stuff around the house today – I pretended I was bouncing around ideas, but it really more like tossing a rubber ball against a wall in an empty room. As the hollow echo of the ball bouncing from floor to ceiling ran through my skull, I passed the paint aisle and all it’s samples laid out, and I walked right past them.
Colors… what a sucky word.
it wasn’t until after the chores, after diner, after I had pretty much given up for the day that I saw the flowers sitting on my dining room table. I really am an idiot sometimes.
I grabbed them, and found my colors. Colors more beautiful than any can from Home Depot could ever make.
And yes Chuck, I’ll try to get another word real soon…
Spring is our yearly second chance.
We die through the winter, everything becomes cold and bleak, and even a fresh white blanket of snow eventually turns to a ugly gray eyesore piled up on the curbs of New York City. The wind chills you through to the bones, and I at least, make my way through the streets muttering “There is no reason for weather like this…” and usually a profanity or two.
But soon, the winds die down, the sun peaks from behind the clouds a little longer each day, and you’re not so pissed that you forgot your gloves at home. Winter has left us, and spring has arrived.
Every year around this time I watch the ground. Yes, contrary to what some people think, there are actually patches of ground here in New York City. I’ve always had a piece of it right outside my back door, well, my parent’s back door. Its a small section of property that we here in Queens call “The Yard”. My parents have always taken pride in their yard, it’s a mix of a quiet place to eat BBQ – or actually any meal cooked in this household between June and September when it’s not raining – and a small slice of nature that my parents tend to, consisting of a few flowers, some tomatoes plants and lots of ivy. There’s also a cherry tree that my brother Mike somehow picked up, I don’t remember the story, and remnants of the old magnolia tree that I spent countless hours playing on in my youth.
In my mind, it’s the most beautiful yard in the world.
It’s also the yard that I’ve watched the winters of my life fade away, and the springs sneak in before the summer heat.
What a perfect place to go with my new camera, right? Only one catch, of course, I hate taking pictures of flowers.
I told this once to someone I love once. They bore me, I said, not moving, giving you all the time in the world to frame it, switch lenses, get closer, work on that really nice shot. She said to me, that I should look at it as a thing all photographers need to do, and every really good shot of a flower as one step closer to never having to take a photo of a flower again.
So hopefully these will get me closer to that goal. And if not, I’m not too worried, because no matter how hot the summer gets, and how cold and nasty the winter winds blow, I know all I have to do is wait for spring to return home, and I’ll get another chance.
I’ve always wanted to crawl through an abandoned building. I’ve secretly wished I lived near old run down farmhouses, I’ve dreamed of the photos I could take there.
For personal reasons, I’d rather not say anything about where these are from, it’s still too painful.
My father just sang Monty Python’s “Keep On Looking On The Bright Side Of Life” to me, so I think I’m gonna try that for awhile, he usually isn’t wrong about these things.
Andrew Wyeth passed away this morning at the age of 91.
Growing up, my parents had a copy of his painting, “Christina’s World”, hanging on the dinning room wall. Sitting here, I couldn’t even begin to count the number of meals I had looking at that painting. If I close my eyes, I can see every detail, the wagon wheel tracks leading from the house, the decaying barn, and the part that always held my attention the most, the part which I most often wondered about; the fact that Christina is in the tall grass, not the patch of mowed grass just a few feet away. I often wondered if she chose that area, if she was more comfortable amongst the weeds than the softer surface where she could have been placed.
Wyeth presented that scene and told the viewer nothing more about it. Christina’s back is turned, her face is not in the painting, so all you see is all you know. As I got older in life, I learned more about that painting, more about Christina Olsen, and more about the entire series Wyeth did on the Olsen family. What I learned, the details, changed the way I looked at the painting, and unfortunately it became hard for me to look at that painting the same way I did when I was a younger.
I’m not going to tell you anymore about the painting, if you’ve found this blog, then I’m sure you know how to google. If you’re curious, I’m sure you can find the whole story.
Or, you can take what Wyeth gave you and live in that second. You can stand still, hearing the breeze in the grass. You can gaze at the barn, the house and the wagon wheel tracks, and of course, at Christina. You can know as much about her as every person you see from behind, passing on the street, glimpsing in the next subway car, or ahead of you on the check out line. Draw your own conclusions, complete the story in your mind, who’s to tell you you are wrong?
“Christina’s World” and what I’ve learned about it was the sole reason I was against starting this blog in the first place. Now please – I am by no means comparing myself to Andrew Wyeth – but I always thought, and still feel that art is to be interpreted by the viewer. Who I am to tell you what you are supposed to see in a photograph I have taken?
My favorite pastime is talking to people about my photos. I know that’s probably the most conceited sounding thing ever, but it’s not meant to be. Nothing fascinates more than hearing what others see, I could give a crap less about the “It’s great.” or “You’re so good.”, those comments churn my stomach. Do you like it? Yes? Why? What do you see in it? I love the answers – and more often than not I am shown something even I didn’t see. I wonder if Wyeth ever felt that way.
So I’ll keep blogging, and keep sharing, and please, keep commenting. Actually, it’s what keeps me going in the first place.
Well… I’ve painted myself in a bit of a corner, so to speak. This is supposed to be a photo blog, not a yappity yap blog, and now I’m not sure what photos go with what I’ve been yappity yapping about. So I’ll do something I’ve been resisting the urge to do for awhile. I’ll share with you the photos I’ve taken, that I like. My favorites. The “OMG, I took that?” shots.
Here are a few, I’ve got more on Flickr if you’d like to see.
(in no order)
Strolled around Williamsburg today. I dunno, maybe it was that I stayed up to the wee hours last night reading the blog of the HDR master Louis Trocciola but I just kept seeing all the great color and detail around me.
Now I’m in no way trying to copy his work, even if I tried I couldn’t get close. Visit his blog, and look at his images and let me know when you jaw finally closes. I’ve also been learning a lot at my favorite photo stomping ground Your Photo Forum from the HDR masters there, Jake Easley and Lincoln Palmer. Their stuff will blow you away. They’re both great guys too, and I’ve gotten lots of help and advice from them.
For now anyway, I’m still trying to find my way in this art form. Not every image will work as an HDR, and if nothing else, I’m getting better at taking a photo and making a mental note to run it through Photomatix when I get home.
Here’s what I saw today…