The value of photography is in being able to look back in time. My photography records the arc of my existence and of those around me.
I shot this image 34 years ago in a little house on Longview Ave. It's a portrait of my then girlfriend. Five years later we decided to get married. A number of years after that we decided to become parents. Now we've decided to grow old together.
All along the way I've taken photographs of this woman. I can see in the images that she's grown older but to me, no less beautiful than the day that I took this photograph. I suspect that I'll feel that way twenty years from now and, if the fates allow, even longer.
Over the course of the 34 years I've taken hundreds of thousands of photographs of other beautiful women, products, scenes, food and exotic locations. None of them has been an improvement either in seeing or in the technical process of recording compared with this image and other contemporaneous images.
In many ways this image belies the myth that we all continue to grow and learn as photographers. In my mind clear and unobstructed seeing is the thing that allows us to like or dislike an image, not the degree of sharpness or the breadth of tonal range.
We grow and learn as people while we age and we become more sophisticated in our ability to obscure our honest seeing with layers and layers of the mythology we share about image making and we give too much power to stories that celebrate the heroic efforts of image makers when all that is really called for is to either selfishly wish to stop time and embrace a moment forever, or a wish to honestly share something achingly beautiful with the world at large.
We seem to create new ways of doing things just to bolster the idea that we must work hard to do art that means anything. And truthfully, the art that means the most to us on a very human level just requires us to look across the expanse of six or seven feet at a subject that rivets us and holds us captive and to click one button.
Not so hard. Not so heroic. Not so nuanced. But maybe the difficulty comes when we try to make things perfect in every regard. When I am told that a new technique or a new material will bring my images one step closer to perfection I remember the idea of Japanese artists: it is the small imperfection that makes a work complete.
As I've raced toward the ever moving target of perfection I'm created more and more semi-opaque layers that make really seeing the subject in the photos I want to take harder and harder.
Clear seeing endures. Clear feelings make finding the people or things you want to photograph much easier. But it's the need to photograph something that makes the work wonderful. Not perfect, just wonderful.
Do we begin the search for technical perfection when we lose our nascent and direct connection to the things that bring us visual joy? Is it our first, uncritical connection that we spend the rest of our lives pursuing?
I can't remember what camera I used to take this but I can conjecture that it was an old Yashica twin lens camera. I can't remember what light I used but I'm pretty sure it was the one, lone battered, used Novatron flash and a yellowing umbrella that one of my more advanced photographer friends had tossed aside. But I remember looking into Belinda's eyes and needing to make a photograph so that I'd always have that memory preserved in a way that would allow me to go back to it again and again for pleasure and strength.
That's what the value of photography is to me. And that's all. All about the gear? You've got to be kidding...
Just a note to refine our understanding about the Visual Science Lab blog site. We write about anything that I'm interested in that has to do with photography, video, art and literature or life in general. The blog is free to read. We currently accept comments but moderate them on an ongoing basis. We do not directly sell products on the site nor are we paid by any manufacturer for mentions of their products within the blog. If we write about a product we are either acknowledging a new product that we think alters the course of the industry (even if only slightly) or it's a product that we've purchased or requested from the maker for testing and we've used it in commercial and personal photographic applications enough to report accurately on the results that we got. Your readership is never contingent on purchasing products represented in links embedded in the articles or supporting any of the manufacturers whose products I choose to write about. You are all grown ups. You get to decide what you want to buy and when.
The links are there to serve a commercial purpose. I receive a small percentage of the sale of products from Amazon where my link initiated a reader's visit to Amazon. The fee that Amazon pays me does not increase the cost of the product to the buyer. The fees I've received so far constitute a negligible percentage of my income.
While we will continue to provide links for people who enjoy what we write here I find it important to mention that the vast majority of articles I write are not product specific and are about the processes or the way we approach making images. A large number of articles are general interest articles that are relevant to both film and digital shooters.
For all the people who protest that we write too much about gear and that their interests would be better served if I only wrote philosophical articles the reality is that the single most popular article, by far, that I've published here was a review of a mid-priced mirrorless camera, the Olympus EPL-2. It has ten times the pageviews of my absolute favorite articles like, Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt. The "gear" articles drive readership. When I resist writing about any gear whatsoever the precipitous decline of readership (within days) is breathtaking. It's truly a case of gear subsidizing non-gear articles.
Similarly, any time I write about microphones or video rigs or video processes the readership numbers dive off the diving board into a largely empty pool. But I am interested in video and motion and I'll continue to explore that.
People are tremendously invested in their idea of what photography is all about. From time to time I get someone writing or commenting that I'm doing it all wrong. But the secret is that there is no "all wrong" in the arts, even the injection moulded "plastic" arts. You've been invited along for a ride in my own introspective and eccentric online journal about photography. There's no hidden agenda. There's no secret handshake. I don't know all the answers. But neither do you.