It’s 4.30 on a Sunday in mid-March and right now, I can’t think of a better time to be breathing in the crisp, mud-scented air than this moment. I listen to six cylinders and gravel crunch under the wheels and my brain is rapid-firing at me with thoughts about what the fuck I am doing and who the fuck I am. I downshift for the stop sign and brake. Here, now my head and heart is full of wanting of direction and an idea of what I will be in 5 10 15 years and the only thing I can see is brown, tilled fields and leafless tree lines.
Picking up a camera to attempt to make an image that is interesting and smart and subtle has seemed like too much of an effort lately and I find myself going “but what’s the point of photographing here? What important thing are you trying to said that already hasn’t been said about the loss of rural life in the United States? You are beating a dead horse. Put the camera down” when my eye is pressed to the view finder. It doesn’t seem like such a great thing to plot a future around but neither do any of the other ideas that I’ve come up within the past year or so (welder, librarian, intellect, part of the NPR braintrust, farmer, photographer, etc.). I want to know as much as I can, see as much as I can see. I want to shove as much stuff into my brain and figure out what to do from there.
I want to be everything. I want to be everywhere.
Two things, which are shining examples of those things from the past coming back to impact the future.
Polaroid film. Instant, with those strange colors, is one object in photo-making who’s manufacturing life has met it’s end. The need for the instamatic camera and the one and only it spits out has radically diminished with the massive take-over of digital cameras. It is a niche market now, an object of the past that technology has eradicated.
Which is why I want to see The Impossible Project succeed this year. I am rooting for them.
Google’s archives of LIFE magazine. This article published this week by the New York Times Magazine discusses the problem with Google’s recently digitized LIFE photographic archive and it’s lack of contextualizing details. In it, Heffernan explains why this lack of contextualizing evidence simplifies and softens the subject matter, how it doesn’t explain the obsession with the Kennedy’s and is sorely lacking the way the images were categorized. Imagine my delight at the job she is proposing for the particular photography lovers and aspiring librarians everywhere:
“If Google intends to get into the business of displaying photography, it needs to either encourage wiki curation or, more feasibly, to hire a team of people who understand photography to make the most of the raw material here. It’s a good time for it: many first-rate content providers who made their careers in old media (some who even understand the significance of Life photography) would be happy, one of these days, to get a call from Google.”
I won’t lie: my toes curled.
It is just barely 8.30 AM on a late December Sunday and I am crunching over snow in damp leather boots, wearing the same clothes from the night before. Here, in quiet rolling rural Pennsylvania, the snow and the ice and the silence and the cold have settled into the land and the air. However, today it has started to warm up, in a freak accident of winter, and the fields and the horizon are thick with white fog. Black trees divide fallow fields into loose grids and here, the fog floats at knee level as the snow and the ice dissipate into the atmosphere. My camera is ten miles away, nestled in it’s bag on a chair, and I am cursing myself as I head toward 147 at 40mph.
Oh, this this this and that would be such a good picture. Oh god look at the color and the lines. I need to photograph out here. Over and over again, until the NPR station I have blaring* fades into nothing but static as a I get closer to town, which I find strange.
Everything is slick and wet and car tires make that noise, that amazing noise that car tires make over wet, smooth asphalt on highways. The rolling hills are white and patchy and that fog floats at the perfect height so that one can see the top and the bottom of whatever is in sight: mountains, houses, cows, cars.
I absorb the bits and pieces of what I see, watching the way the angles of the landscape change as my car moves forward. Steadily, slowly I am thinking “I love this place I love this place I love this place This place is who I am This place is who I am” over and over until the words loose meaning.
I often neglect to talk about moments here when they aren’t punctuated or illustrated with photographs. That recent Sunday morning was a moment I remembered that I love talking and writing about landscape and memory and place as much as I love to photograph it. It was reminder that just because I don’t have images to share doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to bring to you, Gentle Reader.
* I am that person that listens to NPR so loudly you can hear it with my car doors closed.
Photographing has always been an escape from my day-to-day life. I have considerable trouble making photographs in my every day observance of the world because, I suppose, photography is about escapism for me. I find the act of making a photograph is about seeking and exploration; I rarely let them wonder into my life unexpectedly. It’s not as if every single photograph I make is premeditated or I knew exactly what I wanted. It’s more like I set my sights on a place or an idea or even at the suggestion of history and then those pictures can come to me.
I often ponder over missed photographs that are worthy images but don’t find their way into my camera because I’m not paying attention with my photo-brain or I hadn’t gone out that on particular instance to make photographs. I’ve tried to do that romantic “always have a camera with you” notion in the past to find myself lugging around a camera that I am not paying attention to.
I have an on-going list of specific places that I want to go out and make pictures of. They aren’t limited to one particular thing or place or state or town. That list extends in all different directions, from mere ideas to specific places that are linked my personal history, to fleeting objects and places that I see in my day-to-day life. The list is vaguely organized by place and also happens to be a 2 paged double columned Word document.
I always think about pictures when I am moving about the world. The act of photography, for me, is a deliberate and focused action that requires some traveling, serious concentration and dedicated time. I can’t just hold up a camera to my eye during my life and make the pictures. It seems that the act of making photographs is less immediate and more about meditation, slipping into a place of intense observation of the world where I am mostly watching and only sort of participating.