Friday, July 30, 2010

From the Phototherapist's Couch

Rokeby Road, Delaplane, Virginia, 2010

Help me out here, please.

As regular readers know, I’ve been purposely trying to get away from the most literal kinds of photography lately. After more decades of taking “expected” pictures than I care to admit, I’m trying to see things a little more freshly, a little more differently. The At the Beach series is a good example of this. Water Dance is another.

“Pretty pictures” are plentiful. There are hundreds of humbling examples of them every day at Flickr. The world could go on for years without exhausting the supply. Serious photography magazines, too, don’t care much for them. And to be honest, unless you’ve got some personal connection to the subject or are feeling low and need one of those “Calgon, take me away” moments, you likely look at them quickly and move on to something else that does a better job of grabbing your attention and holding your interest.

My photography has feet in both the literal and slightly more conceptual camps. I say “slightly” because I still try to stick to subjects that I see or find. I don’t create elaborate studio tableaux featuring lithe art school girlfriends in various states of undress. If there’s a “statement” in my photography, I want it to be about the image, not about me.

I have only my few outlets to serve as a barometer. But I seem to have viewers who also have their feet planted in different worlds. The other day when I posted Rokeby Road, Delaplane, Virginia, above, at Flickr, viewers at the three places it was shown skyrocketed in number and far more people than usual made a point of either commenting about the picture or writing to me personally to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Flickr even highlighted the picture on its home page.

It’s an okay picture, a moment, not as cloying as one of those Thomas Kinkade paintings, but still far from offering much of a story or provoking thought.

I was just checking the statistics on this site earlier this morning. Rokeby Road, Delaplane, Virginia caused a spike in readers here, too. But Water Dance, posted a couple of days later, really sent the numbers soaring.

Initially, I was thinking you might help me decide which direction I should pursue. But knowing myself as I do, I know that I’m going to be just keep on being as schizophrenic in my photographic wanderings in the future as I’ve been in the past. (I do want to have fewer encounters with police, though.) So please don't waste your time trying to help.

I’m not the first person to face this quandary, of course. I happened to notice a review in yesterday’s New York Times of an interesting exhibition of portraits by actor, Vulcan and photographer Leonard Nimoy who, in case you didn’t know it, has been making wonderful pictures for years. There are a couple of lines in the review that have to do with either being conceptual, or not, that made laugh.

Speaking of Nimoy, Charles McGrath wrote:

“…in the early 70’s he studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, with Robert Heinecken, a conceptual artists so rigorous, Mr. Nimoy said recently, that if you happened to see a body falling from the sky, you’d be wrong to take a picture of it unless you were already embarked on a study of objects moving through space. Anything else was mere photojournalism.”


  1. I saw that article about Nimoy and smiled at that same quotation. I say be as schizophrenic as you like--I enjoy the variety. And yes, it is "about the image, and not you," but a little bit of you emerges in each thing you select to show us, which is cool.

  2. "[...] mere photojournalism." is a rather simplistic and an arrogant artist's thing to say. I think as artists we have to follow our own drummers, and he may take you in the most unexpected directions. If we don't, we're simply re-inventing the wheel. Personally, I don't think I can ever take a picture that isn't in some strange way about me. After all, I choose to push the little silver button when it suits me and nobody else. Yes, others may choose in a similar fashion, but unless we are joined at the hip there will always be distinctions. To me, it is and act of endless adventure and exploration. Keep having fun with it.