Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Composition: The Subject

As most modern Americans, I've been taking pictures the majority of my life, though I began photographing seriously when I was 19. Of all the pictures made since then very few have survived my editorial process, hardly any from before my 25th year. Those early photographs simply lacked that intangible something which makes a photograph more than a photograph. There are several reasons for this: Age and experience have played a part, though at 28 I'm neither old nor experienced... My tastes have changed over time, as tastes will... I have also worked during that time to reexamine and change the way I see. As significant as all that has been the real catalyst for growth in my photography has come from the way I view subject matter. More precisely, what I view as subject matter.

Years ago my pictures were driven almost entirely by the things I was photographing. I'd take pictures of buildings and trees, people and places. The subjects needn't be bombastic, even then I was visually taken with the everyday. The resulting photographs, however, never seemed to reflect the initial excitement I felt in the field. I was close, but I hadn't arrived.

The solution seemed obvious enough, I needed to get closer, literally, so I moved in and cut out what felt extraneous. Again, the resulting pictures seemed cold and lacked the emotion I had initially felt. I waited for the best light and weather, bought different lenses, different cameras and even different media. Nothing seemed to help.

At this point I felt as though I needed a fresh start. I did the best I could to cast aside my preconceptions about what were the proper subjects, the ideal light, the best conditions and even the right equipment. I set aside my ideas about what a good picture was supposed to be and simply went out photographing. Free from dogma and formula I moved easily through my surroundings and worked when I felt compelled to do so. With no specific subject to render and no context necessary to include I was left with only myself, the camera and my environment. Working in such a manner I was able to concentrate on the relationships between shape and line, texture and tone and at last began producing photographs that seemed to capture the essence and intensity of my feelings.

But what made these photographs different? The pictures still included buildings and trees, people and places... The things in my photographs hadn't changed but my pictures had. It was then that I realised those things weren't subjects at all, only building blocks. The real subjects of my photographs were the way objects related to each other. Visual relationships themselves were the subjects and they were everywhere. Better still, they were constantly changing with the light.

My new found sensibilities brought about other realizations. While light was naturally paramount the type of light was not. After all, it's always the best light to photograph something. My routine was changing as well. Instead of pre-visualizing images and trying to fit them onto the ground glass I was using the camera to explore in a way that's not otherwise possible. I learned to set up when I felt a connection to a place and allow my instincts to guide the composition. I had finally found a way to extract from the world a moment of discovered beauty. The next step was presentation...

No comments: