Making Things With Meaning

In a world where everyone is a photographer and there are more photographs deposited into the ether every minute than there were photographs taken in the 19 th century one has to wonder whether anyone is really paying attention to todays photographs. How many of these photographs are looked at again by the photographer let alone by the social networks that they are shared with.

The photographs that stand out, those that we return to, the images that we print, are the ones where we really connected with the subject. This is often easier said than done.

All too often the camera serves as a barrier, sometimes an essential protection, but frequently the thing that inhibits connection with the subject. The more you are thinking about technical details or what else is going on around you the less available you are to connect with your subject, whether that’s a person, the landscape or whatever you choose to photograph.

The more present you are with your subject the more likely it is that you will have an experience and photograph that will endure. For me this means doing all the thinking in advance, or at least allowing the chatter to fall away so that I can be attuned and respond appropriately to opportunities that come my way. To listen carefully to the voice sometimes quiet, sometimes a roar, that encourages me to take the photograph.

I’ve come to believe that the deeper your relationship with yourself – the clearer you are about what’s important to you, who your influences are – the more likely you are to recognize what caught your attention when you walked by a potential subject. Why sometimes it’s a quiet voice inviting you to take the photograph and sometimes a roaring demand.

Visual Poetry

I wanted to thank everyone for the comments last week – it’s nice to hear that many of us are on the same path. I particularly appreciated Sabrina Henry highlighting Ray Ketcham’s blog post ‘Art is not pointing‘. The post underscores the point quite eloquently that our work is part of a conversation that has been going on for centuries and that we need to have an appreciation of the ideas and issues that have been explored if we are to be part of that conversation. Well worth a read!

As I continue to paddle around looking for connections and parallels in the work of others I’ve been thinking about other art forms particularly writing. The similarity between writing and photography has been noted by others but continues to amaze me.  For instance take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, every time he mentions writing substitute photography and you’ll have a great guide to the photographic life.

If I were to pick a genre of writing that my photography is most like it would be poetry – ‘Visual Poetry’ anyone? Chris Orwig of course wrote the book on ‘Visual Poetry‘ – it’s not only a great read but also contains lots of useful exercises.

If we pick up the what is the purpose of art question from last week and ask ‘Why Write Poetry’ and ‘Why Read Poetry’ and then looking to the interwebs for an answer there are a number of interesting interviews with poets that have useful things to say.  This interview with Jane Hirshfield in particular resonated strongly with me.  There were a couple of points where I really felt as though she was in my head.  I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts about what I’m looking for in my photographs – an image that surprises me, while it makes sense to me is hard for other people to grasp.  Hirshfield says of poetry:

‘Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.’

This is captures what I’m trying for with my images in a way that I’ve never before been able to say. There are more juicy bits in this interview such as:

‘One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world.’


‘You can’t write an image, a metaphor, a story, a phrase, without leaning a little further into the shared world, without recognizing that your supposed solitude is at every point of its perimeter touching some other’

‘…good art is a truing of vision, in the way that a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. And that anything that lessens our astigmatisms of being or makes more magnificent the eye, ear, tongue, and heart cannot help but help a person better meet the larger decisions that we, as individuals and in aggregate, ponder.’

All of this is starting to make me feel a little more comfortable with a role for my work, certainly in the creation of it, as a tool to connect more deeply with the world in general.

As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments and would be delighted to hear what you make of all this.