At what point does one know how the image should turn out, - what its story is? Sometimes I find I know even before I go out with my camera, - I have been cooking up a feeling and it is just a matter of going out and finding the ingredients. While I am out I may find variations on a theme, but rarely will I stray far from the ruling impulse of the day.
The subject itself may be the ruling principle at other times. The tall up-reaching form of an arbutus tree will speak so clearly that there is no turning away for me until the image is safely in the camera. And then there are the times I am simply playing with the camera, collecting images as though they were bits of rock and driftwood only to discover that something there calls to me, half hidden things that jump out of the image saying that they can speak through the forms that I have captured all unawares.
It was a rainy wet winters day, really no fun to be out of doors, and I was using my dry studio to experiment with artificial lighting. If I were a sober citizen I would have kept to a sequence of shots and recorded each step to be able to duplicate it later but while I did try to follow a routine I could not help throwing in variations. My creative side is used to being dominant when I have a camera in my hand. I used a mirror, different coloured backdrops and a flash unit and eventually started prancing around in front of the camera which sat on its tripod with the shutter set to a 10 second delay. Way too many variables to keep control of. Using myself as model and being focused on all the details of the photographer at the same time led to an interesting effect: the picture sequences soon showed a side of myself I did not know. It was as if a stranger, - myself stripped of my social face- was showing up in photo after photo. An intense inner person, not well know at all. Those coloured cloth backdrops were also setting a powerful mood in each picture.
When I abandoned all but the mirror and started another sequence - the camera now resting on the table top -I found my inner self face to face with my mirror image. There were three of us in the room, ordinary me the photographer, my model me, and his reflection who seemed different again. Hilarious, I thought and snapped away. Only later as I sorted photos on the computer did I realize that those twins in the mirrors were something close to my personal history. My identical twin died at birth and I have always felt myself to be living double lives - living for two in this life and also living a parallel life with my other half over in the shadowlands. After some work on the computer to clean up the bits that interfered with the force of the image and converting it to black and white I had a photo that depicted a real depth of feeling for me. “Unsettling, disturbing,” people said on first sight, as if that was a mark against it as a work of art.
Now, I was pleased with this picture because it was unsettling and disturbing, it broadened the range of my expression beyond the usual crop of beauty oriented images. Then I remembered that most art that people see is designed to please the viewer, to hang on a wall and sooth the tired businessman and colour co-ordinate with the furniture: a kind of opiate, not a bugle call to wake up and think. Certainly not to disturb. Back in the days over a hundred years ago when the Impressionists and those who followed them were struggling to be accepted, the buying public had a settled idea about what was proper art, cloying historical and literary types of images, and also what they really wanted from the new art of photography - pleasing photographs of themselves. These days consumers want variations of the same thing. We live in a consumer society where the customer determines the product and many photographers, themselves consumers and sellers, have accepted this. All those talented people producing decorative images to be placed in galleries and sold to beautiful people. I bet most of them carry a second line of un-sellable images that reach towards a wider and wilder expression of the world.