Of Things, From Places

Of Things, From Places

PhotoPsychology Newsletter

September 2017

When the time comes to make photographs, there is a state of mind that settles in and pushes the photographer along. Many have admitted that they do not know where their next picture will come from but they go out to make new work anyway. One element of that mental state is the goal of taking pictures OF something or OF someplace. A different, but related element is to collect new photographs to bring home FROM someplace. The difference seems trivial but the two, while not strictly a dichotomy, generate quite different results.  Each is a different way of thinking about what you are doing when you are out in the world making photographs. Of course photography is, by its nature, always of things. But if a picture is only of something then it will likely be lifeless and sterile. And yet pictures you make somewhere and bring home in your “butterfly net” can be vital if they contain embedded vestiges of your psychological connections to the things they depict. The pictures you will love forever will be loved because what makes them beautiful is how fully they contain that essence of what attracted you in the first place. What matters are the connections made to the scene in the moment. Having the goal of bringing home pictures from places puts the emphasis on the resulting photographs themselves in a way that taking pictures of places often does not. It is the photograph that we create, not the things that are in them.

 

© 2017 J. Morgovsky

When your mission is to go out to make pictures but without a clear idea of what you will choose, the experience is like that of someone entering a field in summer with a butterfly net, swinging it back and forth and then opening the net to discover what has been caught. You enter a place where you think pictures might be and look around; to the front, back and sides, imagining what, as Gary Winogrand once said, “….something will look like photographed.” Bringing the viewfinder to your eye, you can see what happens when the frame is imposed on the world. Again, Winogrand explains “Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts. There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.” 

 

You may have an a priori goal as part of a photographic project: “I am going to photograph murals today” or “Today I want to photograph trees, or people in the street, or pickup trucks.” Yet when you arrive at the place you’ve decided to work, you never really know what is going to present itself. You find yourself attracted to this or that component of the place and begin taking pictures – collecting them in your butterfly net. It is only later, once you have downloaded them and made the time to study each one carefully – seeing what’s in your “net” – that you find the ones that are special, the ones that evoke the same sense of wonder and excitement you experienced in the field, the ones that have it all. While it might seem as though you had a plan from the start, something you set out to accomplish, it’s in the second stage – after the fact – when you enter into conversation with your pictures, that you will discover which ones fully reveal your inspiration. While the picture-making itself seems intuitive, the photographs will show that much more was really going on. In response to the most satisfying photographs, you will see how much of yourself was poured into them. Your psychological connections to some of your photographs will shine through and you will have an almost visceral response. Call it a mix of awe and gratitude.  

 

© 2017 J. Morgovsky

In the end, what you collected are wonderful pictures from places as expressed in the pictures of the things that are in them. There is no dichotomy here but there is an important difference. Maybe Walker Evans said it best when he rejected efforts to categorize his photographs as documentary pictures. They were “documentary-style” he insisted, because they were not sterile, but alive and vital, infused with his love of the places he depicted and the lives of the people who lived there.

My goal when picture-making is to bring home pictures from places that I will love forever.