What exactly is it that I photograph?
We had a photographer in today taking pictures of our house (which we’re selling), and the agent asked me if I had some good pictures of the building. And, although I’ve taken plenty of pictures of the house, I don’t have any good ones.
Why is that?
The more I think it about it, the more I realize that what interests me photographically is not so much content as such. Nor is it strictly form either.
For me, I now realize it is about atmosphere. The images I like and have most often striven for are evocative, visceral. It doesn’t matter so much to me whether the subject is a landscape, or a portrait, or a building. It doesn’t matter if it was taken on holiday, as part of a project or just casually walking around in the street. If the photograph is just a picture of something it holds little interest for me. It is when the photograph takes me somewhere apart from the immediate context of its form and content that I get excited about it.
I guess this is the same thing as saying that I seek to make photographs which make me, and/or the viewer, feel something. And just why should I/he/she have this sort of reaction to a photograph? Probably because at the moment of exposure I, when presented with the subject, have felt something that has transported my immediate frame of reference to a more profound plane; or else with the resultant picture I discover I've managed to communicate something that goes a little deeper than the surface representation about either the subject itself, or something more universal.
The photograph above was taken back in 1980 at Woolshed Falls, near Beechworth. It is a simple landscape taken with a 24mm wide-angle lens on “slow” 25 ISO black and white film, with the camera on a tripod and using a slow shutter speed to further the impression of motion in the flowing water. Voila - form and content.
Well so what? None of that is what the picture is about to me. Looking at it over the years I’ve always been aware within myself of a visceral response to this photograph. I think it goes beyond the nice spread of tones across the picture plane and the acceptable composition.
I perceive in this picture a tension that is not there at all in the subject or in the method I used to shoot it. It’s almost a presentiment: it is not beyond the bounds of imagination to envision that there seems to be something of a portent in that face-like array of puddles in the foreground quartz.
But that may just be me. Other people will see it differently of course - some will like it, others won’t. There’s no “getting it” or chin-stroking about the artist’s intent here - how can there be? It is, after all, just my picture that means something to me. Perhaps it’s a bit about where I was at that particular time in my life, about to quit my job and head overseas to lose myself for a while. Sure I can think that now, looking back and seeing in context what happened. I don’t know, maybe some of that is portended in this picture. Other people can’t possibly know all that. I just hope that some of my intent invites viewers to think about the picture a little more deeply and consider why I’ve bothered to put it in front of them.
So I’m thinking, having identified at long last what my pictures are really of, that my next project will be consciously about “atmosphere”. Just how I’m to go about that I have no idea.
But it is an interesting proposition to contemplate: what is it that you take pictures of?