Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not the Decisive Moment

Gaines Way, 2010

In the process of working through a stack of old photo files on my computer, I’ve been spending the last few evenings going through the remaining unsorted pictures I took at Martha’s Vineyard last fall. Last October it was easy deciding which were the best and which were the worst. It’s dealing with the rest that trips me up.

A ruthless editor would probably tell me to ditch the whole lot of them. If I can’t see in them ten months later what I thought was worth photographing at the time, why should I expect anyone else to? So why waste the space and energy on them?

The problem is that for a moment, however brief, I thought each one did have potential. Even if I knew that what I captured in the camera wasn’t exactly right, I had an idea of something I might do to improve it.

The gap between what makes some pictures keepers and others discards can be so narrow. If I had a more confident sense of quality control I would discard them all. I learned years ago, though, not to discard gap pictures summarily because even if they seem mindless to me they sometimes have marketable value to someone else. Once discarded, there’s no bringing them back. So I keep them around trying to find value. (Yes, I know I’m sounding like one of those hoarders you see on TV.)

Gaines Way, above, is one of the Vineyard gap pictures. Straight from the camera I could see that it wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. This is the result of me having waited too long to take the picture. When I first saw the house there was a rich golden light on it from the rising sun. But I was standing too far down the beach to compose the picture I wanted. By the time I got to the right spot the light had changed.

I don’t mention this as an excuse, but rather as an affirmation to myself that it’s okay that sometimes you just can’t get every picture you want and every picture you take isn’t going to be a winner. In the case of Gaines Way, the result is still mindless. Just saying that out loud (if only to myself as I type this), I realize now that I’ve bridged the gap with this photo and that it will be discarded.

Once the moment’s gone, you can’t bring it back. No need fretting over it. Move on to the next picture.


  1. Chris - although it isn't the photo you were hoping to get, or seeing in your mind's a first time viewer of it I think it's beautiful.
    The calm beauty of the blue sky with just a wisp of swirling cloud... the flag pole off to the side...but mainly I just like the way the colors of the house stand out against the sky and dunes. It just looks peaceful and solitary, not a bad way to start a morning on the Vineyard :)

  2. I love it! I'm glad you keep the photos. And I save old art work that I've done that's awful--it helps me look at some things I've done where I can feel like maybe I really am making some kind of progress!