knowing your subject too well?

In my last post I mentioned that in order to photograph your subject well you must know it deeply.  But knowing my subject too well became a challenge.  Upon my return from Europe in the summer of 2006 I was deeply frustrated photographically.  I had spent the previous four months photographing in France, Italy, England, and Holland, and then had a magical trip on a yacht up through the Southeast Passage in Alaska.  The visual feast of having something new and exciting to see for virtually every second of every day had dulled my senses to the familiar.   I turned back to my books for inspiration and a new subject.  This statement, from Ernst Haas, changed my thinking in an instant:  “I am not interested in shooting new things, I am interested to see things new.”  

I am not overstating it to say this sentence changed my life.  I went out that evening  to see things new; things (my home town) that I had such familiarity with that I could tell you when a certain flower or shrub would bloom in a particular back yard, or when a building was last painted, and didn’t it need painting again?  There is value in knowing something so well, I suppose it’s the meaning in the phrase “my home town”.  Shepherdstown had been my home for 44 years at this point….and with the arrival of Ian and Jessica, my family had called Shepherdstown “home” for six generations.  I never could have predicted that I would move, or move all the way across the country to Seattle…but that summer, my last summer in Shepherdstown, taught me that I can photograph wherever I am….an exotic locale or from my elevator each morning….and see things new.

4 Responses to “knowing your subject too well?”

  1. November 17, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    I love the phrase, “the landscape of memory.” May I steal it?

    Seeing things new is a great way to live, to photograph, to greet the day. Thank you for reminding me.

    Recently, I began a new work that is surely about just this topic. It involves photographing people I have seen regularly for nearly 26 years, but with a camera in hand, they and I are definitely seeing and being seen as new.

    Love your photos, Keron. As I always do. Thank you.

  2. November 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Yes, Honey…you may!
    Your new project is exactly what I’m talking about. Does it take place at the post office, or just all around? Perhaps your studio.

    I’m just beginning to get the urge to go home to photograph as much of my landscape of memory as possible…including people. Sadly, so much has changed. Well…something to contemplate, right?

    Thank you for looking, as always.
    I love that you are my friend.

  3. November 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    hi Karen, enjoying your blog and your images. It’s been a while since we met at the gallery in Seattle w/Charles and Freeman. Seeing things new struck a chord with me also. I’m in the middle of a Photo a Day Challenge with EquinePhotographers.net and it’s been amazing to see the creativity and imagination of all involved. They give us a word each day and we have to go shoot a subject pertaining to that word but it has to be equine related. So thanks for the quote from Ernst Haas. I am desperately seeking to “see things new”.

    • November 22, 2009 at 3:31 pm

      Hello Phyllis,
      So nice to see your comment. That was a great day! It was such fun talking with you and the rest of the group.
      Hope you’ll let me know how the shoot went. Seeing things new is a marvelous way to start ANY endeavor!

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November 2009


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