Friday, September 23, 2005


Photographs aren’t everywhere. It takes looking to see them, searching to find them. You don’t just walk up and there they are. Even if you walk up to the Grand Canyon, you still have to see the photo. It’s the seeing that’s the thing. What do you see? How do you see it? What’s in the photo that you didn’t see when you took the picture? You have to see, and you have to see like a camera sees.
A camera sees the power lines, and the white sky, and the dead limb coming out of nowhere into the top of the photo. A camera sees it all. By positioning the camera, or by adjusting the zoom on the lens, the photographer limits the camera’s vision to what the photographer wants the camera to see. To do that, the photographer has to see what the photographer wants the camera to see. To do that, the photographer has to practice seeing every day, all the time. What do you see? How do you see it?
Light. Basically, you see light. And shape. And form. And texture. And color. And lines. And patterns. You see light playing with shape, form, texture, color, lines, and patterns. You see light playing with you. You see light toying with you, teasing you, blessing you. Revealing to you, because you are the only one looking, the truth and beauty of the nature of things.
Once you see the light, you have to compose the segment of the scene you would show the camera, if you had a camera. What do you include? What do you leave out? Where in the frame do you place the main element(s)? You have just taken care of three of the five aspects of photography: Lighting, Subject, Composition. The other two are camera items, Focus and Exposure. Learn to take care of those babies, and that’s it. You’ll then be a photographer. And, you will do most of your practicing without a camera.
The advantage of the camera is that it will show you what will work, and what won’t. There is a wonderful group of oak leaf hydrangeas near Bass Lake at Blowing Rock, NC which I would like to photograph with a strong foreground blossom and everything in focus, near to far. Seems simple enough. But to arrange that with the slow film I’m using, and a small enough aperture to take care of the focus, and a fast enough shutter speed to take care of the breeze, in light that is dim enough to set the right mood, is more than I’ve been able to manage. What you see and what you can photograph given the restraints of your equipment will not always be in perfect harmony. I have seen beautiful pictures I could not photograph. So, you compromise. You take the picture you can have.
Are you beginning to make connections with Real Life? We can imagine a better world than we can live in. That’s the Human Predicament. Making the necessary compromise—coming to terms with the life we can have—is the Eternal Struggle. We can see a photograph we cannot take. And, we have to make our peace with taking the picture we can have. That’s the work of soul. Settling for what we can have. Gets your goat, doesn’t it? You want more than you can have, don’t you? It isn’t fair, is it? You’re thinking you’ll throw your camera into Bass Lake in protest, aren’t you? And quit being a photographer. Because if this is the best you can do, you’d just as soon smoke pot and drink beer until the angels come to carry you home.
My best advice is make the compromise. Take the picture you can have. Don’t throw the camera into the lake. Don’t get all swollen up and pouty because you can’t have the life of your dreams. With some scenes, you get exactly the photo you want. But, you will have to keep looking to see them.
The Vikings went out of their way to make people miserable. What would you tell a boat load of Vikings, bent on booty and looting? What would you say to them that would shame them into line? How would you stop a rampaging herd of Vikings? I think you should just get out of their way. Or build a wall. Or shoot it out. There is nothing quite like a good shoot-out for advancing civilization. It’s civilization’s way of drawing a line. “You can’t do it that way, and if you do, this is what’s going to happen.” You could call a summit meeting, I suppose. Send out invitations. Brew the coffee. Make name tags. I kinda don’t think the Vikings would come. And, if they did, it would be to haul off the silver service, and our daughters.
So, what are you going to do? Build a wall or shoot it out. Asking people to be your friend who just want your silver service or your daughter isn’t going to work. Who wants friends like that? They don’t have what it takes to be your friend. Civilization requires us to be civilized. Civility is the pre-requisite, not the by-product of Civilization. We have to start with something. It all depends on what we bring to the table. Vikings don’t have what it takes. They would take the table. Or everything on the table. And our daughters.
Of course, we cannot become Vikings ourselves. That’s the problem with shooting it out. We begin to enjoy it. Look forward to it. And cook up excuses to call for another shoot-out. And another one after that. We have to be civilized to the point of not shooting everybody, else we can hardly be considered civil at all. George Bush is a short Viking. Looking for harbors to pillage and villages to burn, in the name of democracy and civilization. It’s easy enough to deal with Vikings when they come sailing into our harbor. Build a wall or shoot it out. But, when WE are the Vikings, what then?
How do we apologize to the world for looting the world? That’s the question the world would have us ask. But, we cannot ask it. The question we ask is, “How can WE be thought of as Vikings?”, picking our teeth, belching and clueless, not getting it.

1 comment:

Arnie said...