Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia

13
Nov
09

The landscape of memory

Thinking of Eudora Welty’s landscape triggered thoughts of my own.  Growing up on a small farm outside of Shepherdstown, WV, shaped me in particular ways.  It was a quiet place with 40 acres to roam that was bordered by larger farms on all sides.  There was a marsh and stream on the front of the property that  would flood in the winter and spring, thereby making a long walk to the end of the lane for the bus a soggy, cold task.   There were woods at the back of the farm that remained  mysterious, there was a spring on the north side that I was convinced was a haven for cottonmouth snakes (probably not, but still scary), and we had a great old barn with a hay loft and stalls beneath.  While the memory of that landscape is clear, and dear to me in many ways, what I’ve realized is that my personality was shaped by this experience of place.  By nature I was a quiet child, content to be alone.  Having the farm to roam and explore encouraged that and it also insisted that I develop the capacity for introspection and long periods of solitary pursuits.  Walking and reading became the rhythm of my life on the farm.  Book in hand, dog at my side, off I’d go to find a place to settle for a while.   My two favorite books:  Frederick the Mouse, by Leo Lionni, and Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.   

Frederick_cover

What does all of this have to do with photography?  I think it’s central to who I am as a photographer. Harriet was insistently curious and engaged with the world outside her, but in a stealthy, analytical way.  Frederick was consumed with “storing” the rays of the sun, the colors of the poppies, and the scents of the new-mown meadows to offer to his extended mouse family when the days of winter were long and bleak.   I believe it’s essential to know your subject deeply to photograph it well, so I put the time in to educate myself about a place or place in time (The South, or Pre-War Paris, for example).  But after all that work is done, I open my heart while photographing, to absorb the feeling and gather the sensory feast in front of me.  It can be a solitary pursuit, but offering  the harvest connects me to an ever growing community. 

Rocky Marsh evening, II

late summer evening, Rocky Marsh, near Shepherdstown, West Virginia

24
Oct
09

Photographs in our lives

Two photos today:  the first is a much loved picture in our family album and the second is my favorite photo of all time.  I suppose it will always be.

We all keep our family photographs for the obvious reasons of nostalgia, family bonds, humor, longing, history, love.  But I think that Photographers (meaning working pros and perhaps serious amateurs) fail to recognize the importance of continuing to make these images.  I’ve been thinking of this as I have been working on a project of gathering images from family members and combining them with anecdotes into a volume that will be printed.   What has struck me so profoundly is that I can’t remember a single thing about the ACT of making the photographs that I’ve contributed.  I can’t remember the camera I used….how/when they were developed….it’s as if I was totally absent in the mechanical process.  Oddly, I can tell you everything about every image made since 2005 (when I became a ‘serious’ photographer).  Do we feel the weight of needing to make a photograph rather than just recording a moment? Are we then separated from the experience and does that separation reveal itself in our work?   Are we more or less present when recording moments in our own lives?  How do we eliminate the distinction, or should we?

A far better writer and photographer than me has lived this theme.  Sam Abell often lectures on The Photographic Life.  If the opportunity arises for  you to hear a lecture, take a class, or pick up one of his books, don’t miss it.   As that Great American, Arthur Meyerson once introduced Sam……I give you the Dalai Lama of photography:         www.samabell-thephotographiclife.com

My last point:  when I asked my now 25 year old son what he would like for his birthday, he said “a copy of that photograph of Jess, Will, and me, in Florida at Uncle Charlie’s…you know the one….it’s my favorite photograph of all time”.




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