Ever since I became seriously involved with photography, I have found myself becoming more and more interested in ways of seeing. A camera captures a scene, taking in a certain field of view and a certain blend of color or black and white. What it records corresponds to some extent with what you see through a viewfinder or via a display screen, but the resulting image, naturally enough, never truly reproduces what the eye sees. Be it film or digital sensor, the camera records a moment. A moment that the eye sees for a millisecond and then passes on to the next image. Producing a seamless movie for the brain to process, registered in both time and memory. So to return to a photograph is to return to that instant. To examine it in a detailed way that is often overlooked at the time, yet also to become aware of how much is lost, not only in purely visual terms but also in temporal terms. Those unrecorded moments before and after are now solely in the province of memory. Incomplete and often distorted.
I took three photographs of the same scene a couple of weekends ago. A cold winter’s day at the Missouri-Mississippi Confluence. In each case I used a different camera. On one (top), a Rolleiflex 3.5F, I composed the image by looking down at the optical viewing screen, the camera hanging at waist height. On another, I looked through a view finder, the one found on the Canon EOS Elan 7E (middle). The third, looking at the electronic display on a Canon EOS-M (below).
The images produced were recorded at different sizes, using different lenses, and on different media in one out of the three cases. Different sensitivities too – I used a yellow filter on the Rolleiflex and a red filter on the Elan, significantly changing the wavelengths of reflected light recorded on the black and white Ilford HP5 Plus film.
Yet all are clearly identifiable as the same scene, albeit with some differences in what aspect of that view were recorded. Enough, in every case, to bring back a clear memory of actually being there. For many of us, that is the purpose of a photograph. It is so for me, even as I choose to imbue the pictures with value beyond that of an aid for recollection. Taking them, I am conscious of creating something with further and deeper resonance. A resonance, what’s more, that vibrates at different frequencies depending on the quality – and by that I mean the technical and aesthetic aspects – of the photograph.
It’s that second quality, the product of an act of creation, that sustains and rewards me as a photographer. The results often differ in terms of aesthetic success, but that is yet another force to keep me moving forward. Never do I wish to become perfect. If I did, my interest would be killed stone dead.
I feel pleased when others appreciate my work, but even if I was operating in total solitude, I believe I would keep going. Ultimately, what one does alone should be what makes oneself feel a true sense of accomplishment. I am sure these feelings are behind what has become a much deeper exploration of the art of photographer, one taking in old and new techniques, and finding that photography is not better today despite technical advances and new methods of recording an image. It’s just different.