Old Towne 13, 2009
Those of you who are photographers, have you ever hung on to a picture or series of pictures long after you should have let them go because you were convinced there was something redeemable about them?
(The same could apply, of course, to any artistic pursuit or any idea. Entire books are written about how tacitly we humans fight to hold on to notions not worth saving.)
I take a lot of pictures. Not every day, but in spurts. Sometimes I’m in the “zone” immediately. My eyes see things worth recording without any prompting. But sometimes I am so distracted by other things in my life that I have to loosen up and cleanse my mental palette by taking a bunch of mindless pictures before I become sensitized enough to do something decent.
There’s no way to predict where my eyes will take me. Some days I may spend hours in one place shooting just one thing. I’ll wait patiently for the light to adjust or some other condition to become just right. Dozens of shots may yield a single image I really like. Other days I’m itchy to see what’s around the next corner. I stay just long enough in a place to capture my first impression and then move on, ending the day with hundreds of images of different things and places.
Maybe this is the artistic version of bipolarity, cycling between unshakeable fixation on a single thing and visual mania, the camera just hanging on for dear life as the photographer darts from one thing to the next.
Whatever the case, the result is piles of photographs or, in the modern sense, a computer full of files that you can’t decide whether to keep, or not. The mindless and technically flawed ones are easy to discard. It’s the ones you’re not sure about that haunt you.
One day this past June I found myself attracted to a particular scene near the beach. There was engaging color. There was interesting content and geometry of lines. I climbed up a hill and past a “No Trespassing” sign to knock off a dozen or so shots. I’ve been looking at those shots for about two months now, convinced that if I just looked at them again they would reveal to me what I thought I saw that day. But this morning I concluded that whatever I thought I saw in that scene is not visible in them. So I gave the files the old heave-ho, and felt better immediately. Dead weight off my shoulders.
Old Towne 13, above, is one of the oldest pictures in my “working” folder. I took it last January on a day when the temperature was in the 20s. The sky was clear and the sunlight was striking, though, so I was out on the street looking for some color to highlight. I didn’t intend for this scene to be out of focus. I’d been focusing manually some that morning—an iffy proposition, given my eyesight—and I suppose I was more concerned with composing the scene before the man walked out of it than I was with focusing. I kind of like the result. The arrow and shadow in the street and even the overhead lamp post point to the man in a way that gives the hint of a story. But I wish I’d caught the scene about five seconds earlier when the man’s position would have been a bit more “decisive.” So I might toss this one out, too.