Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"The Lowly Snapshot"

             Sometimes I wonder if I should take more photographs of what I see.  Lately, inspiration to share my experiences has not come easily which is surprising given where I live.  San Francisco, like most major cities, is notorious for having a lot of strange people, places and things that saunter through the streets each day.  Though after a while, you become a little immune to the convention of oddities.
              Just the other day I was walking near the main library and I passed a tall, grim-faced businessman wearing an eye patch and seconds later a Rastafarian dwarf carrying a huge stereo in a cart looking totally at ease, not to say there isn't a lot of beauty there either.  I think the truly strange bit is that none of this phased me, not to say that there aren't other things that bother me as I walk about the city (of which there are plenty), these just weren't in the total extreme category.  In fact, they livened up my day.  Still, I wondered then as I do now if I could even have captured the essence of that moment with a camera alone.  Probably not.  I am not a very skilled photo taker so when I see the work of very skilled photographers and visit photo exhibitions in galleries and museums I cannot help but sit in real awe of what they see and deem worthy of bringing out the camera.  In fact, over time I have collected a small library of old photography books at used bookstores, most of them I purchased under $5.  I was looking through them with all of these curious thoughts in mind and I thought that my collection so far might be nice to share with you.

               Instead of slamming just one mass of photos in one post, I have included a choice few from a small paperback called "The Portrait Extended" that was sold at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois in 1980.  I found it at Bird and Beckett bookstore in Glen Park.  It is a compilation of different "photo essays" created by a small group of artists whose main medium was photography.   The whole theme of the exhibition was the purpose behind taking photos.  The introduction explains this saying,  

"This is the first exhibition[...]which deals specifically with the underlying motive of photography: most cameras are used not to make "Photographs" but to record the images of the people, places, and things which make up our lives. "  

These photos will often speak for themselves. So, instead of looking at these seemingly ordinary pictures and asking "What is this a picture of?" we would instead ask, "What is this picture about?" I really like that thought and try to use it when I look through this and other photo books, as well as exhibitions and family photos.  
             This has also given me some perspective about some of the mainly digital photographers today.  They are not limited by the fantastically open ended results of film and are often so focused on technique and precision that there is no message whatsoever (this is probably why I am not inclined to hang a crystal clear photograph of a daisy on my wall, if you know what I mean).  I still see the benefits of modern technique and even own a digital camera, but in this context, I prefer to think of the story in a photograph.  

             Here are a few of my favourites.  I have sometimes dreamed into them, imagining myself in the picture, even wondering what kind of photo essay I would have created with the exhibition's theme in mind (perhaps that's something to work on now...).  While you look, try to think about what these photos are really "about":

1. Memory Warp II by Esther Parada

A beautiful 30x30" silver print showing records kept by the artist's father (an insurance salesman) along with certain passages from the Talmud, all set against a picture of him before he died.   Essentially, parts of the figure is montaged with the papers, showing his multi-faceted identity.  

2.  Postcards/Fathers and Sons by Meridel Rubenstein

There something about this print that I love, I think it has to do with the fact that first, I wonder who took the photograph and I also ask why the two brothers/fathers from New Mexico look slightly annoyed in this picture.  The only reason I find this strange is the postcards that frame them show that they wrote each other often and seem to have been very close; sort of symbolizing the affectionate inner person.  They also had a very deep connection with the land.  

3.  Aspects of the True Self by Mark Berghash

These are the most intriguing.   Berghash took serial portraits of  individual men and women.  Each photograph is made up of very subtle emotional responses and changes that show in the subject's faces.  He asked the subject to think about his/her mother, father, siblings, children, self in the past, present and future.  Each time he did, he left the room and allowed the subject to take the photo alone so they wouldn't feel self-conscious.  I think I want to try this sometime.

4.  Letters To My Father (Letter #4 and #10) by Alex Traube

Traube's prints are some of my favourites.  Generally, he paired photos of himself and/or (most of the time) with family, and left candid, hand-written thoughts expressing how he felt about different memories/relationships. I also love the movement in each photograph.   

While I'm talking about the average photo, I wonder if-while we're in the present-we realize what impact our own everyday snapshots will have on future generations or even the meaning they may have for us in retrospect.  

Totally mind-boggling...

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy all of these photos as much as I take pleasure in sharing them with you, reader.  


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