I am resurrecting an article I wrote in December of 2015. I have been thinking about the impact of photography on our lives since my friend Drew Vye and I were looking at some copies of old family negatives a fellow had brought into my shop for me to do some restoration and make better prints than those he had.
When the fellow left, Drew mentioned a photo he had of his father, brother and himself beside a sign on a road that was named after his great grandfather. We talked about historic family photos and I mentioned the photographs that were shown on a program about the American Civil War I had just watched.
As I later drove home my thoughts were of how our history (personal and world-wide) is so dependent on photography and I decided to bring back the following article, “There is nothing like photography”.
“In visual terms there has been nothing like photography in the history of the world. There is no vocabulary for it. Photography literally stops something dead. It’s the death of the moment. The second a picture is taken that life is held, stopped and over. That moment is over.”
I found the quote above by photographer Richard Avedon. I had tucked it away years ago into the pages of a book of photography by Eliot Porter titled, “Intimate Landscapes”.
Photography is powerful that way. There has never been a medium that has captured the interest of so many people like photography. When it became popular in the 1800s, no one could have envisioned how important to the world and to our personal lives photography would become.
For those of us in Canada the first known photograph was by an Englishman named Pattinson here on a business trip in 1840. He was a student of an early form of photography perfected by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre and had stopped at Niagara Falls to produce the now cherished historical Daguerreotype photograph.
His Daguerreotype would have taken more than 20 minutes for the scene to expose on a silver-coated plate inside his camera. Later he would surround the plate with warm mercury fumes that would slowly make the image visible.
I began to think about photographing the landscape near my home this morning and I almost headed out, but the flat light and cold rain made me change my mind.
To keep myself in the mood I decided Eliot Porter’s book of photographs from north-western New Mexico and south-eastern Utah would be perfect to review with a cup of coffee. I find Porter’s photography stimulating.
Porter wrote, “The natural world has always attracted my eye: associations of living and inanimate phenomena, from the tropics to the poles and from rain forests to deserts, have been favourite photographic subjects for almost half a century. Grasses and sedges, especially, appeal to me – an appeal like disordered hair across a face, or a windblown field of hay before the mowing…”
Reading his, or any other book on photography for that matter, helps me examine the way I make photographs and try to photograph things differently.
I do think photographic ideas and opportunities sometimes happen in a moment that once passed will never be the same. Many times I just want to make a photograph for no other reason than it is fun to make.
Here is another quote from Porter’s book that I endorse as well. Porter says, “I do not photograph for ulterior purposes. I photograph for the thing itself – for the photograph…” Sometimes just the process of making a photograph for no other reason than doing it is enough.
Photography in this digital age has become so very easy, but I think good photography can be as time consuming as it ever has been, requiring practice and education by those artists that take it seriously.
As I turned the pages of Porter’s book I thought about how nice it would be if the hills above my home get lots of snow in the coming winter. If you have a moment do check out landscape photographer Eliot Porter in your local library, or on-line, and hopefully his photographs will inspire you as he does me. You might also look up Richard Avedon.
Stay safe and be creative. These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at www.enmanscamera.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.