I am writing three books at once. One for my children, and two for everyone else. They are photography books. My most important photographs of and for my children are for them in a book. I will include a couple of their photographs in the other books as well, those that I think have some visual value to a person not in my family. There will be a collection of black and white photography, and a collection of color photography.
The books will be available in PDF format for download, and in print on paper. The print editions will be offered in two different quality levels. The less expensive one will be on thinner paper and soft cover, but the photo quality will still be excellent. The other higher quality book will be hard bound on heavy paper, 80 pound, with a linen cover. It will be limited edition, signed, numbered, printed to order, and limited to probably no more than 10 or 15 copies. It will be nice. I will offer individual prints as well. More details will come later this summer.
I have been thinking about my life in pictures and what it has meant to me. Maybe you will feel the same way. What follows is an essay which may appear in part or in full in the books. It seems few people take time to read anymore, but perhaps you will and perhaps you’ll find value in it.
I took a walk.
It’s been 50 years since I started thinking of photography as anything beyond just making simple snapshots of family, friends, and events. I went through decades of being a “serious” photographer. I entered contests, and I won. I have a trunk full of ribbons and plaques. I spent the cash awards.
I tried to sell my photographic art, with tiny successes here and there, nothing really notable; a book illustration here, a movie scene wall decor there, and some stock photography. I have photographs hanging in some nice bathrooms. Many friends have them. I helped run a gallery in the art district of Atlanta, and that was fun.
However, time passed and I came to the startling realization that I was not far from my original “family, friends, and events” photographs of my youth. I understand now that they are the most important of all the photographs I have ever taken.
There is no photography in Heaven, I think. Why would there be? If life over there is a glorious present, then what are remembrances to be hung on a wall or printed in a book?
Photographs are extremely important on this side of life, as we all agree. Besides my children and pets, I cannot think of anything more precious than family photographs, certainly not that I would risk my life to save from a burning house, can you?
We record the people who are most important to us, and the times in which we live. We pass them on to the next generation as elaborate tribal knowledge; fables in silver and colored dyes. The viewer in the future will behold the photograph devoid of its original context. They will apply their own context and value, and unless there is some written or spoken word, they will make up the stories and wonder about the people. They may look for character hidden in lines, among shades of gray, in the two-dimensional shadow of the person, anything that reveals the soul, but find only the reflection of light from their skin and clothes, etched into the surface of the photograph.
The graduated importance of my records justifies my addiction to making them. I am compelled to photograph! I would be doing it even if nothing of it remains after I am gone. I hope against the certain reality of what I know will eventually happen to them. If I had no hope beyond this life, I could really become depressed! But I photograph.
If you think in terms of mathematics and physics, vis-a-vis Sir Isaac Newton, a photograph is essentially the differential of a functional curve. It is the single instantaneous rate of change of a function that is dependent upon some variable or set of variables; for example, me and time as we pass through this life are variables. The photograph cannot have been made at any other time. It cannot have been taken by any other person at any other time. If there is any change at all, one infintesimally small difference, then it would be a different photograph. It affects me. How fast am I changing?
The photograph represents a tangent, a point at which a line (time) touches a curve (my life), and an angle is formed. In 1/60th of a second or some other fraction of time, the photograph collects a subset of electromagnetic energy, light at various wavelengths, reflected from an object or a collection of objects. It aggregates the energy, and deposits it upon a grain of silver salt or a silicon pixel. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, mechanics, engineering, and optics all respond in an instant… and we are changed.
What then of beauty, order, texture, contrast, color, and form, the stuff that art is concerned about? Photographers try to grab and keep stuff, or they manage to create an idol to it in their own image or vision. Is it not enough to enjoy the sunset and hold it in one’s memory? No, the photographer must scrape some of it off, and hold something of it in his hands and in his eyes, to view repeatedly. The picture transforms to the living thing from the disembodied spirit of the life it captured.
There’s an old joke: A photographer is strolling with his brand new baby down a sidewalk. Two elderly women approach to admire the child. “Oh. How precious,” one gushes. “Oh. How beautiful!” exclaims the other. “That ain’t nothin’, ladies,” the photographer responds, “You should see my pictures!”
I hope not, but there is a reasonable possibility that photography may be prohibited by the second of The Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” I can understand why the Lord would hold photographs in contempt. I say that as a photographer, the image becomes a thing in itself, separate from the object, divorced from the person pictured, aloof and estranged from the experience, and devoid of life except what we breathe into it. Is it lesser, equal to, or greater than? No. No. And no.
Painters and sculptors do not think this way, only photographers.