I like photography with a capital P. The sweeping vistas or majestic mountains captured by a professional landscape photographer are very appealing to me. And they are to a lot of people hence the enduring popularity of Ansel Adams prints and calendars.
I like photographs more though. The nitty-gritty under the trestle photojournalism type images that show people as they are and all of the hubris that surrounds them. In times of peace or war, prosperity or poverty these are the images that burrow into our collective conscience. Migrant mother, V-J Day in Times Square, Buzz Aldrin on the moon. But there are literally millions and millions of photographs taken by the same photojournalists that aren’t quite as well known yet carry the same cosmic feel. Those lesser known images are the types of pictures than show up in my digital composites. They are familiar enough that the people or places or emotions are recognizable but they haven’t been seared onto retinas and brains so the other elements can be manipulated.
Some of my favorite photographs though weren’t snapped by anyone with an art or journalism degree. They weren’t taken by someone trying to create art or to send a message and sometimes they defy all the requirements of a well composed image. They are the photographs of children squinting into the sun or people with the top of their head chopped off. They are the pictures taken by stone-cold amateurs wielding Fuji disposable cameras or a Polaroid or an old Brownie. Even the family photographers who happen to carry an expensive Canon are typically only armed with the information available in the user’s manual so there might be a weird glare or an unintended fuzzy foreground in their images. I have easily over a thousand of these types of photographs.
Like with images from photojournalists, my old family photos occasionally have information printed or written on their borders like dates – Jun1966 – is printed on one of my grandmother’s pictures of a Christmas tree or the handwritten names of sisters, sons, and friends. It’s not just my own family photographs I find interesting though. I like other people’s family photographs too. Grainy, sepia, scratched – it doesn’t matter. I’ll feel the paper being careful to keep my fingers off the actual image and flip them over to see notations or the photo shop that printed the pictures or the type of paper used. I like the white border that surrounds the images so much that I’ve started including a white border on some of my abstract paintings. I like the concept of a moment captured in time, the perfect one dimensional view of a person who lived in that moment, and the unknown agent who memorialized the whole thing at that exact second. On purpose and by chance simultaneously.
Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
Fountain of Sorrow – Jackson Browne
*The header image is a photograph of photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark altered to look like a snapshot and two actual snapshots I’ve taken of friends and family.