I’ve been working on an artist’s statement of sorts for the About page of Visual Soma. I must confess I’ve always considered artist’s statements to be a little self-indulgent, not to mention superfluous: if the art can’t speak for itself, what good is it? It seems especially presumptuous for a rank amateur like myself to consider writing one. On the other hand, I can rarely pass up a good opportunity to propagandize. This starts out promising enough, but soon turns, Dr. Jekyll-like, into a manifesto.
The vast majority of my photos have been taken within a mile of where I live. For me as a poet and an editor, photography is a spiritual practice, a training in how to see, how to frame and edit, how to find the poetry in ordinary things. I’m especially interested in the challenge of making photos in which the roles of figure and ground are reversible, or even nonexistent. Philosophically, I feel we must get beyond a perception of nature as mere scenery. Gorgeous wall calendars from Sierra Club and the like offend me at a very basic level; nature porn does nothing for the cause of conservation. Indeed, to the extent that it helps sell SUVs and houses in subdivisions, it actually makes things worse. We must get people to appreciate their own back forty, or the vacant lot down the street — only then do we have a chance of convincing them that every part of this planet is a work of art in which we participate and are continually remade.
I can hear the protests already: “Easy for you to say — you live on top of a mountain!” Well, yeah. But I love photos of human landscapes, too, and if I lived in town I’d probably specialize in them. The thing is, I don’t think it’s quite as easy taking compelling photos in the woods or fields as it is in a city, where the colors are so much brighter on average, where the symmetries are obvious, and everything is built to a human scale. Let’s face it, urban environments are pretty damn stimulating! In less human-shaped visual milieux, one needs to constantly shift one’s perspective and scale to avoid monotony.
One obvious and increasingly popular solution is macro photography. Some months back I was struck by a blog post from the professional photographer Mike Moats, in which he answered the question, “Why Macro?”
When I started in nature photography, I like most new photographers wanted to shoot landscapes. I went out east to the White Mountains, and to Acadia, went west to Yosemite and came home with some really nice images, but when I was home between trips I wasn’t able to shoot as much as I wanted due to the lack of great landscapes like I saw on my trips. I started to look at macro photography as a way to spend more time shooting near my home. I was shocked at the amount of images I came home with on my very first trip into the woods. I’ve spent many years of my life exploring past the end of the pavement but have never really taken a good look at the interesting life all around me. When I started to study my surroundings for subjects they were everywhere. I have some great parks with diverse environments within twenty minutes of my home but I also found many subjects within my own yard.
In another post, though, he admits that the easy subjects can literally dry up at certain times of the year, leading to photographic slumps.
Most of the vernal ponds (where I shoot my floating leaf images) are starting to dry up due to the lack of rain so this leaves me shooting the wooded areas. When I’m out looking for images I’m always scaning for subjects that have contrast. Contrast in color makes for some great images and also sells very well for me. The problem at this time of year is that the woods has very little color contrast, everything is GREEN!
One of these days, I will get a macro lens attachment for my camera. But I think the not-quite-macro level is interesting too. We can generally tell what we’re looking at right away — as opposed to, say, some of the extreme close-ups of weed-creatures from photographers such as the amazing Doctor Swan — but the scale is just different enough to give us pause. We’ve seen moss or mushrooms like that before — when we were three. It seems just barely possible that we might still, decades later, recapture that kind of seeing without preconceptions, through eyes undulled by weariness, heartache and boredom, and provoke that primal Oh.