Posts Tagged ‘photographs’

Over Share

12 April 2011

Dear J-

One of the things that you have to choose is whether or not to share photos onlline and if so then where. If you are a private person then you’ve got to know that everything that goes online stays online for far longer than you might think so it’s not a decison to enter into lightly. Me, between bursting with pride and laziness, instead of sending photos via email to my folks, I direct them to flickr — not because it’s the greatest site ever but because it’s (1) not blocked at work, (2) reasonably cheap, and (3) has fairly strong, simple privacy options which I use to keep personally-identifiable information off the public site. There’s lots of similar avenues — facebook, Picasa, smugmug, pbase — which all have their own set of pros and cons.

I mention this because as the photographer I get the unique luxury of not having the camera trained my way. No one needs to see the head behind the camera anyway — if high school is any indication then all we need to know is summarized by a Google Images search for (aviator glasses bowl cut). We have the tools available to reconnect with friends from miles and years away, in home towns and strange towns. I run into people I know online and the first thing I do is ask if they’ve got pictures to share. It’s a friendly braggy thing and I now understand why my parents insisted on bringing a camera everywhere: you’re going to want to see this, and you’re going to want to remember and your parents are so amazed at everything you do it overwhelms them with joy.

After all you don’t share photos you don’t care about. My keeper rate hovers around the batting average of most pitchers (in the AL) so if I overpublish you should see some of the ones that didn’t make the cut. Because storage is cheap, though, I’ve saved a copy of just about everything I’ve ever processed, be it the high school photography class I took or the shots from last week. One thing to remember is that when you shoot for your own sake, are you being true to the spirt of the subject? Many of the shots I take are technically fine thanks to modern technologies like autofocus and autoexposure but reflect a flat view of that person: I could no more post a non-crazy picture of figgy than I could turn off the laughter pealing in my head when I see her again tonight.

Mike

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Zoo Portrait

27 February 2011

Dear J-

Typically when I go to the Zoo I come back with well over a hundred shots of various things — it’s not as impressive as it sounds, as I usually have my camera set for continuous shooting and therefore take two when I might intend to take one. Today I get back and there’s all of twenty-nine shots in the can, most triggered over the course of maybe ten minutes as we’re walking around. There’s several explanations that come off sounding like excuses — we’ve been there so often! I had to choose one lens! our hands are full with two kids! — but some days you’re not feeling it. There’s always people there surreptitiously eyeing what you’ve got and others swaggering around with red and gold-ringed lenses, bodies sporting vertical grips and motor drives popping popping popping along. I’m as guilty of spraying pictures as much as the next guy, but it’s not what I want to be remembered for.

I tried something different — pictures of people at the Zoo, and like all pictures of people it’s hard to not be too nosy or feel intrusive. But this is a perfect place for it: folks are engrossed in watching the animal antics that they’re relaxed and honest in their reactions. Kids running around and harried parents may not make the best subjects (or photographers) but there’s no pressure in it. Everyone’s got a camera out but they’re always trained on the animals — after all, why else do most folks go to the Zoo? There’s opportunities everywhere for photographs, if you keep your eyes sharp.

Mike

Time Pulls

12 August 2009

Dear J-

I’m riding my bike to the vanpool spot this morning, watching the few cars zip by, and pull past one stopped at an intersection.  In the dark, you can tell by sound which way they’ve turned — they went right and pulled up alongside; the passenger rolled down his window and calls out a cheery “Keeeeep on truckinggggggg!”  It’s a phrase I haven’t heard in years (and then, only from kids who were trying to flash back to the 60s and R.Crumb; yet the explanation comes in their wake, as the first air currents hit me, redolent of marijuana.

In the years before Facebook I suppose we either made a sesrious effort to keep in touch — my parents had an address book that rivaled some pocket dictionairies, complete with annotations, cross-outs, and addenda, constantly updated every Christmas card season — or we’d rely on the reunions.  Those are tricky; it’s been nearly twenty years since high school now and if the reunion was the first time I saw everyone since grad night, I’m sure I’d be in for a world of surprise.  Between these meetings, after all, there would only be the flat, static faces peering up at me from the yearbook; twenty years on we’ve already lived more than half our lives outside those confines and turned into something completely different.

We have retro for the sake of being retro; you can run your photographs through filters, nowadays, that give you the same effect as 1970s-era paper stored in vinyl albums:  slightly faded, mellow colors full of memories.  We can choose to celebrate the past in different ways, whether it be some stoned drive in the streets or flipping through old annuals.  Time pulls us past these things, though; would you trade a minute of now for another moment at seventeen?  Twenty one?

Mike

Photographic Memory

25 February 2009

Dear J-

Watch the traffic rolling by and close your eyes; do you hear the whirring of engines, or imagine a busy river?  I like the old story about the five blind men coming upon an elephant, each declaring, with justification, that they’d come upon a snake, tree, sheet, brush, or house, depending on which part they touched.  You would imagine that upon hearing the conflicting information they’d each take the time to verify each other’s conclusions, so that’s why the story adds a little addendum about how crochety and stubborn each one was.  Point is that we see so much and, as our primary sense, we believe it best.

Susan Sontag had some interesting thoughts about photography, including that it grew popular amongst cultures with veneration of long work hours (Germans, Americans, and Japanese) because it provided a pleasant sort of work in leisure time.  On vacation?  Sure, go document x, y, and z and bring back proof in some form.  The old cliche first assignment of “What I Did for Summer Break” is so familiar and trite because we’ve all had to do it at some point — I did a double-take when Godai recalled that he had the same assignment when he was little in Maison Ikkoku, more evidence that the inculcation of a work ethic starts young.

Photography serves as an exact record, in miniature, with less effort and expense than doing your own illustration or painting.  One of Sontag’s assertions is that everything has been photographed at one point, and it leads to a sort of overload where the impact of any one photograph is lessened, whereas when it was practiced by relatively fewer people and photographs were not as readily available, the impact of each was greater.  There’s some truth to it — I am guilty of the kittens-babies-sunsets variety on flickr myself — but in the whole I reject that.  Yes, photography plays up to only the visual sense, but there are so many different ways to depict a scene that the images we take and choose to share are inevitably tied to our own aesthetics.

Different people have different photographic styles, what they call a visual voice; it may degenerate to the form of self-parody but I’m reasonably sure that any number of people would be able to tell an Anne Geddes picture from an Annie Leibowitz one, for instance, or Helmut Lang from Duane Michals from Weegee from Arbus from Weston.  The good photographs tell complete stories with one sense — vision — and between voice, mood, and light, there’s so many different methods of relating experiences that  doubt we’ll ever truly capture all the possible images in the whole world.

Mike