Looking back now it’s been over three years since I’ve been seriously piddling in photography (at least as much as one can seriously piddle at anything). As I look through my early photos I often roll my eyes and wince at all the things I screwed up and I suspect that I’ll still be doing that in three more years too. However, it occurs to me that very early on I was taking pictures to document things. I have a terrible memory for just about everything so I happily clicked away so that I wouldn’t forget. It works fairly well. Even if you forget, you at least have a picture.
I recall though that there was one point in time that I came to the realization that, “Hey! There’s art in here!” It was then that I stopped documenting and started actually trying to create. The picture below of the Bartholomew Country War Memorial in Columbus Indiana… that’s the one that made me realize that there’s more to photography than memories.
Now, a few comments. You’ll firstly notice that the damn date stamp is turned on. This picture is from an old point and shoot when I didn’t even know what an f-stop was and when I got home and saw the picture and noticed the date stamp I was sorely annoyed at myself. When you’re documenting things, of COURSE you want the date stamp on! Jeeze! How else will you know when you took it?!!? When you’re trying to be artful though, a date in the corner is the equivalent of having your thumb in frame. Compositionally and otherwise though, I’ve never found much to complain about. Sadly I can’t take a lot of credit for anything but the position because the camera was smart enough to figure out all the exposure (as I sure as heck wasn’t). Simple truth though is that I love this picture. Loved it then, love it now and because of that I’ve taken tens of thousands more.
It must be said, however, that this picture and its origins had another effect on me artistically. When I took this I was just wandering around Columbus. I didn’t know this monument was here. I didn’t go out in search of it. I just happened to be wandering around and thought, “wow! Cool thing!” Since that trip I’ve made it a key point to never plan photo expeditions. I pick a direction and start driving. If there’s an interesting-looking spot on the map I stop. If not then I drive until I do find something interesting. My attitude is that fate will provide. It’s worked so far.
Related to that, I think we owe it to the fates to be honest in our photography. As a consequence, I never pose anyone or anything nor manipulate the environment when I shoot. I take what fate gives me absolutely AS-IS and as a result I think that fate is fairly kind to me. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve gently pushed grass away from some object I was trying to photograph so I could actually get a decent angle on it. Even then I felt like I was taking a liberty.
I took a photography class recently in which the instructor gave us all sorts of tips about taking props out into the woods to shoot with and how you can use a sprayer on a spider web to simulate morning dew. This concept made me exceptionally sad. Where’s the artistic integrity in misting down spider webs at high noon? My take on this is to say that if you aren’t willing to get up while the dew is still on the web then you don’t really deserve the shot. When we manipulate nature then we cheapen the whole meaning of beauty in the first place. At least in my never sufficiently humble nor succinct opinion.
Anyway, long wandering diatribe aside, that’s the photo that started my real interest in photography. At least photography as I define it. Your definition may vary.