Sunday, December 19, 2010


Recently someone made a tentative stab at recruiting me to lead photo tours of foreign spots.  Thirty middle class or better amateurs off to do the sites, lugging lord knows how much high priced digital photo gear...

I wondered why on earth they would want to do that.  I have covered in my musings here the subjects of photographic art and, to a degree, the photographic business.  Now, I suppose it is time to ponder why an otherwise sane doctor or lawyer or chiropodist would want to hang out with 30 other amateurs and a sprinkling of hired pros to take pictures of sunsets in Namibia. 

I still have heavy metal boxes of my father's Anscochrome and Kodachrome slides from out trips in the family Chevy to exotic places like Northern Wisconsin and South Dakota.  I remember the slide shows he did for neighbours and friends with our one-slide-at-a-time (pre-carousel or slide tray) projector.  I remember how deathly dull they were to even me, who had been there.  And the shows our neighbours did for us, to return the punishment, were, if anything, worse, because I had not been there. To think that showing trip photos today on a flat screen television with some generic music or on a laptop or I-Phone is going to be any more entertaining for the neighbours is delusional. 

Are these amateurs going to print and matte and frame the photos for wall display in place of real art on the walls of their castles?  One can only hope.

There are few, if any,  valid extrinsic reasons to blow 3K on a trip carrying 12K in gear to take photos. So, the reasons must be intrinsic.  Maybe we look back to the first man who drew a bison on a cave wall. Maybe he was just doodling or maybe he was trying to communicate something that his language skills could not adequately convey or maybe he was making magic. I prefer the magic theory.

I prefer the magic theory because I can remember long before I was cognizant of trying to produce photographic art to sell or display or exhibit or get published and well before I made a dime taking commercial photos for money, I FELT the magic at the moment I knew I had a good image sitting in my viewfinder-- an instant away from a shutter press. 

Photography is a ritualistic form of hunting.  It is the same feeling I get the instant before I release my arrow on a deer giving me a broadside view at 15 yards.  A momentous moment... An ecstatic moment...  A moment I will never forget...  I can feel each shutter press on each great image as I go through the steamer trunks of unpublished and un-displayed personal work I have.  I can remember each moment before each deer I have harvested. 

Hunting pictures...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Going Down

Another MM documentary masterpiece...

The man's head, his shadow and the slope of  the wall all headed in the same direction--down. This could well be a  dream scene, but it is all too real.  It brings home the reality of poverty and homelessness without pity or gives no quarter. As frightening as it sometimes seems to have a shadow following a figure in a photograph,  it is  more frightening still to have the shadow PRE-ceding this man. It foretells a black future for a man who is obviously living in a dark present. The man's head is down and we intuit that  he can see his shadow and know its meaning.

Of particular note is that one foot is raised a few centimetres off the ground indicting motion, but moreover creating a feeling of greater tension in an already tense image. The foot will forever be off the ground because this is a still photo. Same feeling as Sartre's NO EXIT... 

Note that the figure is moving against the direction most Westerners read. Reversing the image weakens it.  The composition serves the feeling.  It is a perfect photograph, perfectly composed, taken at exactly the right time. Nothing more can be asked for or delivered in a photograph.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Firstly, this image is another magical example of MM's ability to bring a point of view to a moment in time. The image is perfectly composed in the wild and abandoned way MM has of both ignoring and obeying compositional standards at the same time. I call it the "fuck you" school of composition, but it is really just a more complex and sophisticated way of organizing the elements in a photograph to create tension that serves the subject matter. We are not confused by too many colours. As in the previous example, we only have two colours.  It is a blue photo with red accents. It would still work as a monochrome in greys, but it is more striking the way it is. The image is full of contrasts that jolt the eye: colour contrast, age contrast. racial contrast (I think), figures in and out of the vehicle, sharpness and blur, and things seen behind glass and things seen without the glass intervening. This is a dream scene.

There is, without a doubt, a story here, but a story that would only make sense to the unconscious mind It is the product of an artist who clearly has a very porous barrier between the conscious and unconscious mind.

As Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine said in CASABLANCA,

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

This photograph is not an accident, Rick.

This image is courtesy of MM, whose link is at the right.

I think the thrust of my thinking about what use photography might have in the world and its value as an art form have led me to the general conclusion (with Art Kunstler's guidance), that portraiture is certainly one  important use of this mechanical and electronic art form. But I think there are additional useful and valid reasons to value the photograph--and we are talking subjective value here--my subjective value, to be precise. Simply stated, as though I ever state things simply, photographs are valuable only if they are documentary in nature--if they are true expressions of the artist who has been able to bring a point of view to a moment in time.  Wow, I like that phrase--"a point of view to a moment in time".

In service of my argument, I will offer over the next few posts a selection of MM's photographs that do exactly that--"offer a point of view to a moment in time". MM a master of this ability.  She can paint a picture of the inside of her mind by selecting a slice of her visual reality carved by her lens and her shutter. I am not being poetic, but literal, when I say "selecting a slice of her visual reality carved by her lens and shutter. The lens allows her to select the "what"--the angle of view and what will be encompassed. The shutter allows her to select the time she wishes to see that angle of view.

What has MM selected above?:  Repeating vertical stripes like a picket fence. The contrast between oranges and blues. The contrast between a real human and a statue of a human. The contrast between what is seen directly and what is seen in reflections. A man who is staring at us staring at him. The man is only half a man and is starting at us through his own personal glass barrier. The image is a waking dream fraught with universal symbolism and also with MM's personal symbology. 

We, in our daily lives would walk by this same scene and never see it, even if we saw it. We are as unaware of the magic in the outer world as we are of the magic in our inner world. It takes an artist of the stature of MM to remind us to be mindful of both the outer world and the inner world. MM shows us that integration at the interface of these two worlds is how and where art is created.