“THE CAMERA IS AN INSTRUMENT THAT TEACHES PEOPLE HOW TO SEE WITHOUT A CAMERA.”
This pithy quote from social documentary photographer Dorothea Lange pretty much sums up what anyone who has gotten lost ‘through the lens’ learns sooner or later. It takes time I’ve found, it requires getting into a certain headspace where I’m not seeing in the usual way, but perceiving, acknowledging how all the elements of a scene play together and begin to suggest meaning, relations, a kind of mute story that only asks more questions. Or as Diane Arbus puts it, “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”
Photographers will talk about chasing light, about looking for patterns, textures, tones. And I’ll confess, I’m a bit of a junkie for that stuff. I’ve lost myself many times among the pixels and formal qualities of images. I’ll ‘wow’ at a spectacular shot and I’ll gobble down eye candy (maybe a bit less these days). But that’s all secondary to the real thrill of what photography can do. It’s about “depth of feeling, not depth of field.” (Peter Adams).
I’m most inspired when a photo makes me stop and really perceive, to see something extraordinary even in the mundane, to arrest for a moment the chatter of labelling things and instead hang for a moment, just wondering. Hm. I’ve never looked at it that way. And then this opens up the delightful and subversive possibility that what counts as extraordinary has a great deal to do with that headspace of perceiving, and that quite likely, we are surrounded at every second by extraordinary secrets, if only we cultivate the eyes for it.
So a resolution for 2014: perceive more. To take good photographs, yes, all that technical and formal stuff. But to work towards an end with it. Towards a secret.
A few of 2013’s meanderings in this direction.