Lost in translation

Back to my other muses, this one from LACMA.  I always troll around the modern works while people watching mainly because the reaction to modern pieces is tends to be more vibrant and colorful.  There’s always some mini-scene unfolding:  people try to convince their friends that it’s good or that it’s bad.  People sway their heads from side to side, tick tock, as they try to figure it out, or they just stand their, weight all on one hip, supported by a bent arm, head cocked to one left, staring in confused wonder at whichever piece has caught their eye.  People gesture and point like this little girl and I’m there waiting which is nowhere as creepy as it sounds when I say it like that.  

Incidentally, when Magritte was once asked about this painting he replied of course it’s not a pipe, just try to fill it with tobacco.  Clever response.

There’s also a graphic framework that I’m drawn to.  You can find a beautiful element of compositional simplicity in minimal modern works.  Engulf that simplicity in all white, punctuate it with an interesting subject caught in the middle of an interesting moment and there’s something magical that happens.  It’s as if this perfect trifecta has swung into eclipse, the lights dim and I have exactly one second to make the picture before the light comes back and that moment is gone.  

In that second you have do so much, you have to encapsulate so many different aspects of your vision.  You have to conceive and execute your story and will it into existence.  You have to light it, shape it and bend it to your needs.  You have to cast your characters, to judge their performance, to wait till they have it just right.  You have to breathe in and you have to breathe out.  You have to make your treacherous image.

The treachery of images isn’t that the pipe isn’t a pipe.  The treachery is that images, like all forms of communication, are a one sided story who’s full meaning is only known to the speaker.  When we try to impart an experience through art or speech or text, we compress the human experience into a few carefully chosen words, or brush strokes or letters.  We launch an arrow out into the abyss and hope that someone will catch it, decompress it and relate to all or even some of it and if only for a fleeting moment.  The treachery of images is that that person on the other side of the abyss–that little girl in the gallery looking at Magritte or even you, dear reader looking at my images–you all only get to experience the end result and so damn much is lost in translation.    

Shot on a Leica M7 with a 35mm Summicron on Kodak Tri-X 400 film pushed to 800 by the lovely people at the Icon.  Incidentally, I’m back to shooting with an amber filter if anyone is curious why the beige tones have gone so white.  

At the end of the day

I had a brief exchange with someone today about writing and photography.  Alex is not only a talented film photographer, but an equally talented writer.  His point: the stories behind the images we make give the pictures far greater weight than any story that is inferred by the image itself… or at least that’s what I though he meant.   Like me he also enjoys pairing the image and the story behind the image, and while I tend to agree with him the conversation got me thinking as well.  Do truly powerful photographs need an explanation? 

I just realized that if Sarah Jessica Parker were reading this out loud it would sounds like the Lens Culture episode of Sex in the City.*  

It seems to me that if you have to explain an image in order for it to have weight than I wonder if perhaps you’ve failed in your task of creating a compelling image.  I want you, dear viewer, dear patron of the arts, to be drawn in to one of my images–be curious for more–lean in and have some sort of response.  You may hate it or you may love it but the one thing I don’t want to have happen is for you to feel nothing.  That’s failure.  Hate’s better than nothing.  To Alex’s original point, the text should be there to support the image but not to prop it up.  I think my goal with these little stories is to add some additional context to it all.  To pull back the curtain back, or construct some outlandish narrative, or just explain what was in my head, if there was indeed anything in there at all (as there rarely tends to be).  These musing are simply just that: musings.  

But even as I write it, I’m still conflicted… I love reading other’s musing as much as I love writing my own and I enjoy the photos of others with that added context.  There’s not a single person who can say that they don’t enjoy Gilden’s photography more after watching interviews with him or footage of him stalking the streets of New York, pouncing on his subjects with his flash held high in left, kneeling low and shooting high with his right.  Or what about Winogrand in Venice, or Arbus or any of the photographers you/we idolize?  Their images all have the benefit of interviews and videos and forwards and afterwards and onwards and upwards to fame that we unknown photographers have yet to achieve or transcribe.  All of these things add context.  Some of the things are the context.   

At the end of the day, the image needs to stand on it’s own though–that much I know.   Shot on a Mamiya 6MF at 50mm on Tri-X 400 film pushed to 800 at the Icon.      

*Note to reader: “italics” infer inner-monolog

What the fuck?!?

I was walking the Huntington Beach Pier with AM and the kids when I made this image.  The surfer in the picture was doing a run when all of a sudden it was almost like he was yanked back by some invisible force.  He started screaming at the pier and shaking his fists like a madman.  It caught me so off guard that I immediately made the picture.  An instant later he was smashed into the ocean, a wave sneaking up behind him and crashing over his head.  

When he came up he started yelling at me.  At least I thought he was yelling at me.  When I looked down the pier I understood what had happened.  There was a couple fishing who had moved down the pier–pretty close to the beach and they had their lines cast long into break.  When I looked closely, I could see what looked like at least twenty lines cast off the pier flooding the waves that were rolling in below.  

The surfer was still yelling at/near me so I gestured at my camera and then at the fishing couple slightly cowering by a bench, pretending to be invisible.  Then I made the universal sign for fishing by putting my camera over and behind my head and then making as though I were casting it out over the ocean.  Fuck if I’m going to take the fall for them.  The surfer must have gotten the message because he paddled over to the lines, pulled a knife out from near his ankle and started cutting the lines one after another.  The couple who had cast them stopped cowering, pounced to the railing and started yelling at the surfer in some unknown language–gesturing almost as loudly with their hands in large sweeping motions punctuated with staccato stabs of their fingers. 

The surfer just stared at back at this hysteria in what could only be described as exasperated awe.  Then, he shook his fists at the sky and yelled, “What the fuck?!?” before cutting the last line, stowing his knife and paddling out to another wave leaving the fishing couple and their fringe of cut lines blowing in the wind. 

Shot on a Mamiya 6MF at 50mm on Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 800 by the lovely folks at the Icon.  


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