Friday, May 25, 2012

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life`s star, hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God which is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Natures priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
From, 'Intimations of Immortality', by William Wordsworth.

I thought of this poem while taking photographs of Katie, my granddaughter, the other day in a playground on Vancouver Island. Active children are always tricky to catch in a photo, especially when they are expecting one to play 'catch me' at the same time. One photo, taken on the fly, had more to say about childhood and specifically about her reaction this year to all-day kindergarten. She found it too much; too many people, too much confusion and at the same time regimentation; a tightening of the bindings that will all too soon form the child into the adult. By chance my photo had caught her caged in by brightly coloured but obvious bars. She pauses on her path; glancing down. She sees the bright attractive colours but feels the bars; it is a defining moment.

Images are creations of course, and I cropped this down from a somewhat larger raw capture to emphasis the cage and I sliced off any conflicting or irrelevant information. "Look at this one message", I am saying, thereby moving the image from a stray piece of reality to a visual commentary. It was there, contained within the photo and in Katie`s life, in my awareness of her situation and of the more universal process of acculturation of children:  I simply drew out this one subject and emphasised it.

It is this difference between the capture of reality and the completed image that becomes a new reality in itself that is difficult for many photographers to grasp and yet is the key to a good photograph.

If we write or tell a story about a personal experience , the bare reality that we tell about will contain many parts, but we prune out that which does not relate to what we think is the central issue or theme. We have made a new thing, a story, whatever the raw material may have been (and many other stories could be constructed from different perspectives on the same event.)

When we take a photo, the medium itself is intractable and we must be very careful how we select the key elements. A drawing or painting is much easier to manipulate; what to include or leave out, colours, tone and so on, even to complete abstraction. The camera is a different instrument from a brush though; it captures all that is before it, or at least within its field of view, in detail. At the moment of pressing the shutter we have a lot of considerations to take care of. What is the central 'story' here? What in the viewfinder is a distraction and what parts support the central theme? What lens, how near or far away is our point of view, depth of field, degree of exposure…. There is a lot to think about in a single moment compared to the artist with sketchbook in hand progressively developing his visual thought into a statement. So much information, obtained so quickly, requires a trained and sensitive eye prepared for that moment when the shutter opens and closes.

Once the photo is in a computer photoshopping program there is the possibility of making adjustments that will fine-tune all that detail further. We can crop to zero in, or to clean-up distraction details. We ask how it may be adjusted in colour, tone and sharpness to bring out the best that is contained within the original photograph; the possibilities are endless, but central to every adjustment must be the communication that the completed image will make.

 'Katie in the playground' becomes a more universal statement about children in our society. A subject Wordsworth also tackled over two hundred years ago in his poem 'Intimations of Immortality'.

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