Photo Reflection: Image and Form
For me, there is a vast difference between taking pictures and photography. Taking pictures involves joyfully snapping away at whatever pleases the eye and other senses with the net result of capturing a span of moments in time. This is good and just fine, of course. It’s intrinsic value is that the moment happened and it was saved, thanks to technology, for future enjoyment. Photography, however, contains all this and so much more.
The photographic process has a life of its own. It breathes, becomes, and in a flash of seconds may be gone forever. I don’t “do” photography, but rather submit myself to it as practice. It involves all that I am at any particular moment, spiritually, physically, emotionally and intellectually. (Knowing this, I sometimes think to myself what a miracle it is when I create an image that has value on its own!)
Being present to a photographic moment involves more than cameras and settings. When I’m shooting with people, especially children, there’s a dance of the moment that involves trust, reverence for time, light and a willingness to go where the setting may lead. The truth is, I’d be a wealthy man today if I had a buck for every time I missed any one of these necessary ingredients. They’re fragile, fleeting and unpredictable and well they should be. How many times have I not had my camera with me? How many times have I missed the real photographic moment because I came and saw and took what I had predetermined to be the image I needed? That, I suppose, is the challenge and tension of approaching photography as art.
The real rub though comes on those occasions when an image is “done” the moment it is taken. There’s no culling to save the best photographic. It’s done and complete as it is. Photoshop will not improve it and a dozen pro-shooters taking it over wouldn’t make it better either. And if, as photographers, we are honest with ourselves, we’re sometimes perturbed to see such a photo in a batch of randomly taken snapshots! There is nothing more powerful than visual humiliation and reason to remember that we don’t really own or create anything entirely by ourselves.
Still, I chip away at that block of granite because I see or feel or hope for something unrevealed in a photographic setting. It may be the way light spills across a face or the energy in fingers, feet and moving forms. I see and can almost taste the colors and contours of a leaf or blade of grass and if I can harness enough skill and luck I’ll bring that image out, first for myself, and then for others too. That, for me, is the wonder and essence of photography.
The first photo above is of my grandson at four days old sleeping in my hands and forearms. I set up the shot, adjusted the available window light coming in and asked my wife, Betty Ann, to take the shot from over my left shoulder. That’s all there was to it. I reduced the background detail, cropped in some and adjusted the skin tone in Photoshop, but that was it. The camera was set on automatic so the scene pretty much captured itself. This image, “Kevin Holding Kevin” has generated more comments from people than any other photo that I’ve ever produced.
The second image called “Girls Jeans” represents a photographic moment presenting itself while I was busy doing something else. I knew the middle school-aged girls well enough (they attended one of the support groups I ran) to be able to say, “Stop! Do not move! I have to get my camera.” They knew I was a photographer and so were willing to oblige and sit perfectly still while I grabbed my gear. It didn’t matter that they were making faces at me and giggling aloud as I fired off a dozen frames or so. They were still, cooperative and I got the shot I wanted. The Girls Jeans image has also made the rounds on Facebook and MySpace in the accounts of the girls who own the legs! Just the other day a teen told me who the legs belonged to! She said “that’s me (Tori) on the right, Taryn in the middle and Adriana on the left side.” Go figure. She tells me who’s who from three years ago and I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.
In my third image of “Acacia” when she was nine years old was just a quick grab shot. She, along with several other children, were looking at what I had been photographing twelve feet away. This situation, which happens frequently I might add, presented itself when what was around a subject turned out to more interesting than the image I had in mind originally. The huge windows in the old farmhouse (Woolman Hill Retreat Center, Deerfield, MA) threw enough light all around the room so that no flash was needed. Some direct sunlight reached Acacia’s hair but not her face and front, leaving the rest of the image to “speak” for itself.
My final image is one I studied for weeks before shooting. My rowing team went by this area for weeks in the fall of 2007. Again, lighting, and especially the angle of light just after sunrise, was especially crucial for this image to work. Some days it was too misty or the waters on the Slocums River were too rippled. There is a tension between the boat, the pilings and the lines just above that are softened by its reflection on the water below. Even though I more or less saw this image in my viewfinder, what the camera recorded was even better than what I had envisioned originally.
Additional images can be viewed at my . There are so many images waiting out there. Now where did I set my camera?