Monday, August 26, 2013

The Photographer's Eye; thinking about John Szarkowski's book on the modernist movement and how it influenced photography.



Recently, after reading 'The photographer's Eye', I stepped outside to drink my coffee on the porch, looked up and then stepped right back to pick up my camera. Somehow I had absorbed not the text of this book, but the photographs, and was now seeing my world through that perspective. I had stepped through a thought-doorway and into a specific perception of the world.

The camera as we know it began when photochemistry was paired with the artist's camera obscura; the light proof box, the lens, the adjustable aperture, were able to project an image of the outside world onto the new invention, - a light sensitive emulsion on a removable glass plate which could later be made permanent. My Nikon D 60 is really a smaller version of the original cameras and a light sensitive array has replaced the light sensitive emulsion. Everything, though, from the past almost two hundred years of photography is still instructive for me now. Technically for sure, but also directly from the minds of the photographers whose images I saw in the book earlier that morning. For a visual mind, learning is direct, without the side trip through written text. I do not have to have it explained to me, I understand it in a flash.

Perhaps then, when I looked up into the maple tree, saw the profusion of leaves, the fan- shaped spreading branches and the white clouds passing overhead I simply saw it as it would look framed in a specific relationship of tree and sky, and printed in black and white. The starkness and simplicity, the selection of part to represent the whole, created a symbol of that moment of high summer, of lush growth combined with the fleeting feeling of late summer.


.The angle of view was important for me here, I brought this element from my own fascination with finding original perspectives and new structures; there are so many follow-the-leader images around that only fresh seeing will interest me. “Look up, look way up, but by all means look.”, has become my battle cry.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Photographic persuasion through subject matter and composition.

The Nahanni Portfolio, by Pat and Rosemarie Keough.

However ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful.... Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things. Love that, not man apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions, or drown in despair when his day's darken.
Robinson Jeffers


This beautiful book is in our Saltspring Library and is well worth a look and read. The Nahanni has been a mythical place for me since my childhood, and here are a lot of fine photographs, ones I'm sure we would all like to have taken, or made.

These colour images seem just like slices of reality, what a camera does so well, but hidden behind the fa├žade is a lot of selection and careful framing and composition, a lot of just plain good camera work. It is a compliment to the Keoughs that the viewer can be so easily guided into forgetting the mind behind the camera, the selectivity of the photographer. This reminds me of Wade Davis' recent book on the Sacred Headwaters area in nearby northern BC, and how powerful photographs can be, how persuasive, and how, if we agree with the ideas presented, we can be oblivious to the power of a point of view.


These images are harmoniously composed in the traditional manner, they are satisfying to the eye and thereby help us agree that nature is also harmonious. The text however does tell the history of this region, both the dramatic geological history of mountain building that explains what we see today and the human history of bloody conflict, disease and murders. And so we are given both sides of the Nahanni, its drama and yet its overall continuity; a valuable understanding as we watch Earth's and human beings violent history even within our own short life span.