The longer I pursue photography, the more I am convinced that is it too ephemeral to capture. It is a fleeting thing, an idea, really, as we attempt to capture light with a butterfly net, all the while being enraptured by the shadows they make on the ground beneath our feet. There are those who plod away at it, chiseling photos from the stone of their concrete imaginations, and shoveling the banal, monochrome prints in our faces as though they were stone effigies for us to worship.
Their bated breath sickens me.
But there are also poets among us, those who understand that fairies cannot be captured and neither can life. These silly few traipse after life with their nets and brooms, sweeping up all the dust it leaves behind into a glowing, rainbow of detritus, and then whip out a camera or two to make photos not of the pretty rubbish strewn about, but of our reactions to it. They take pictures of themselves, show them to us, and try to convince us that we are in the photos as well.
It’s all doggerel, really posing as lyrical tomes of grand import. It is also, however, the stuff of life, of meaning, of joy and sorrow and of tears and puppy poop. It is why we cry, whether in rapture or despair. It is everything.
How can you tell the one from the other? Well, photographers, that stone mason horde, brandish hawkish gear like weaponry. They hum sea ditties about focus, sharpness, aperture, and levels. If the photo ain’t sharp, mateys, throw the thing out! Yo, ho! Throw the thing out! They hammer and chisel all day, but in the end, they make photos of pseudo life — all accurate, but none of it true. The other type of shooter, however, she’s the more dangerous, because her weaponry is the mawkishness of poesy. Color matters, content matters, life matters. It’s all fluid and messy and full of ideals and dog shit that isn’t cute anymore. It’s wonderful, it is. And they thrive because though their focus is soft, their focus is perfect, if you get my drift. Ansel Adams* did.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” ― Ansel Adams
Over the past few years, I’ve worked, at times, on a sharp concept with fuzzy images, inspired by my love of Ansel Adams’s writings and distaste for the cold sharpness of his work. I rarely use an actual camera for it, choosing instead to line up shots with whatever phone happens to be in my pocket. I’ve enough of these images for a book now, were I to publish books and were anyone stupid enough to buy one. I worried, for a time, that what I was doing wasn’t real photography, because real photos conform to the RULES and follow HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON [insert God emoji] and his [genuflect] DEFINING MOMENT [/genuflect] to the letter. But then an odd series of things happened. First, I decided to document the History of Street Photography since I saw that most people who wrote about it had never read a damned thing on the subject. Second, in researching HCB, whose work I’ve also never liked, I found he HATED the term DEFINING MOMENT and never used it. His book was actually titled Photos Taken on the Run, but the American publisher didn’t think that was catchy enough. I also saw videos of him actually calling himself an “Anarchist” enough times to make my ears bleed. Why, you may ask, was he so insistent? So that we would understand that HE DIDN’T WRITE THOSE DAMNED RULES. And finally, I came across this lovely quote by the man:
I’m always amused by the idea that certain people have about technique, which translate into an immoderate taste for the sharpness of the image. It is a passion for detail, for perfection, or do they hope to get closer to reality with this trompe I’oeil? They are, by the way, as far away from the real issues as other generations of photographers were when they obscured their subject in soft-focus effects. – Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Photography is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” ― Alfred Stieglitz
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” ― Ansel Adams
“John Loengard, the picture editor at Life, always used to tell me, ”If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.” ― Joe McNally
More of this project will be posted to my regular website, FirewingPhotography.com, if you’re interested. If not, it’ll still be there, you just won’t see it. If you have ideas for other projects, or perhaps would like to participate in one, drop us a line via comment below.
* Did you ever wonder if there was a Gretel Adams somewhere? No? So it was just me then. Cool.