Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring. Finding the essential image.

The snow has melted quickly, the rain pours down and the land runs with water; every surface is filmed with moving water, the pond is close to overflowing and the stream  roars down-slope into the valley below. The subject matter is flowing around my boots as I jump from one bank to the other to line up my photographs. Of all the possible fragments of the landscape I could choose to zero in on, the stream symbolizes the flow, the sweeping away of winter and the beginning of spring.

The business of selection is where my mind is today as I tilt the camera forward to exclude the sky, my studio and car from the viewfinder. The course of the stream creates the major element, the line that twists and curves from top to bottom, back to front. But then, is this fairly standard documentary image all there is to say about what is happening here?

My instinct as a photographer is to move in closer, to find something more intimate that is less about information of the standard descriptive kind and more expressive of the feeling of flow in the landscape today. I progressively find smaller parts of the stream, the waterfalls being the most dramatic elements. Closer still, and falling water fills the frame, closer still and I am noticing the transition point where the main waterfall begins. Is this the essential image then that I am reaching for? Perhaps, but I back off and shoot the waterfall, tightly constrained within its rocky chute, this time underexposing so that only the brightest parts shine out from the dark background. Yes, this seems congruent with my feeling about what is happening here.

Later, I walk beside the ocean and see a plum tree in blossom, battered and solitary on a long stretch of rocky shoreline. Almost too obvious a photograph, spring blossoms, but something pulls me to take a series of photographs. The first, from a distance, places the tree within the seascape, but the foreground is cut off and the tree centrally placed against the strong horizontal of the island behind it. “I've got it”, I think but conscientiously walk closer and take some other views including a closer and horizontal version of the first exposure. How focused and business-like this all is, running carefully though my routine with the camera, but at the same time keeping the central symbol that teases at me close to the surface of my mind.  Blossom pictures are a dime a dozen but it is something closer to my personal history that I am reaching for today. I have known this tree for thirty years or more, watched it struggle to live on this rocky sandstone shore, battered by winter winds and salt spray; dead branches aplenty, but always fresh shoots and spring blossoms. A fellow feeling, one might say, and what I am really photographing today might be thought of as a portrait in landscape of something up close and personal.

As with the flowing water, so with the lone blossoming tree, I am  making images that express what is within both the landscape and myself. Strange though, no matter how inconvenient it is not to have that idea fully conscious and available, it is there, waiting just below the surface of my mind and driving my little photographic program. It is pulling me towards expressing the more personal and intimate.

I take photographs of the world of things and find myself inside every image.

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