Depicting people is one of the major challenges that I am dealing with today. For seven years I shot models — young Hoosiers who love style, clothes and their own appearance in the mirror. It was easy. I just followed what was trending in magazines, often taking cues from the models who all had bright ideas for how they should look.
Portraying people artistically is something else completely. I’ve gotten gun-shy. I hesitate to use the too easy techniques my young clients taught me to learn to use when shooting them for their websites and portfolios. How can I show people in a way that is uniquely mine, not images you see everywhere but my own way of seeing how people figure in my world of expressive imagery?
I’ve recently discovered a book in a bookshelf I had not visited in years. Gilles Mora’s Photo Speak: A Guide to the Ideas, Movements, and Techniques of Photography, 1839 to the Present is a tour-de-force of a book. I see in the history of how photographers from the earliest days to 1998 (when the book was published) used the technology and saw it vis-á-vis traditional art.
The history of photography in America is particularly telling. Here are the arguments I’ve had in my own head at one time or another about aesthetics or the lack of it, about what was important in a photograph, about manipulating or not manipulating the technology for creating and processing what the camera or its equivalent captures. It’s all here. It’s all largely been thought of, canonized or rejected, admired, idealized, cannibalized, minimized, exaggerated, deconstructed, etc through the years!
It is comforting: I am in good company. It is disconcerting: I am in good company. Can I navigate the dialectic that giants or so-called giants in the history of photography themselves vacillated about and often reversed themselves trying to figure out just what photography was supposed to do?
For this image tonight I simply went with what my hands wanted to do, listening as they were to the eyes and those were barely linked to the frontal cortex. I held unto the reins loosely, as loosely as I dared, not judging what I was creating until the work was done. Am I satisfied with what I’ve created? Of course, not.
But that’s the way the geese fly. I can’t keep working on the image the whole night. Overdoing is a greater risk than not doing enough.
Maybe it is enough that I know there is no one sure way of doing this correctly. In a way my work is autobiography. It goes where speech fails, retracing the path in the sky that I took and that is now just dimpling light and air.