Reflections in a Train
The only bad thing about traveling by train is that it gives you, oh so temporarily, the kind of certainty of direction and destination too often lacking in your daily life. Even though my return trip from New York City ten days ago involved a one hour delay due to a mechanical failure and necessary transfer to a second train, I was never in doubt that in the capable hands of Amtrak, I would get where I was going along an established route in familiar and reliable circumstances. Don’t let the black and white photo above fool you. That is not water but wine in my glass, and the endless generosity of my car attendant probably made the inconvenience of a delay a little easier to accept!
view from a laptop
view from a cellphone
Because I felt I needed a little break from filtering everything through the professional and creative urgencies of recent months, I did not bring any cameras on my trip. Fortunately, nowadays, cameras are built into just about everything, and I found myself using both the camera eye in my laptop lid, and finally learning how to use the camera feature in my cellphone to capture some interesting images. I was impressed by the low resolution effects one can achieve with the former, and the surprisingly high resolution effects of the latter. So much for spending several hundred dollars on a good digital SLR!
Last Sunday I attended the artists reception for the show at the Nave Gallery featuring all toy camera photography. It was a lovely event and I was finally able to see my work hanging in the company of some fine examples of what many believe to be a new trend and others know to be a means of capturing images that never quite vanished since the appearance of these cameras decades ago. Most of the artists were working with Diana or Holga cameras with typical blurry or grainy results. I had a conversation with one of the artists about how images corrected and perfected according to programmed standards in a digital camera or computer do not actually reflect what is seen by the human eye, or the unique conditions present at the moment of capture. This, we agreed, was what photography meant to us, isolating that moment and preserving it honestly, even if that means a partial, indirect or indistinct view. Try this at home: doesn’t something in motion that is not in your direct line of sight appear blurry? Are you capable of focusing on something two feet away and twenty feet away at the same time? Doesn’t bright light create a halo of glare around its source? Don’t objects in shadow lack sharp detail and ideal color?
by Miroslav Tichy
One of my favorite photographers is Miroslav Tichy, whom I discovered at a magnificent exhibit a few years ago at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. Tichy was an eccentric Czech who haunted the streets of his native Kyjov with cameras he built himself from common materials. The results were far from perfect from a technical point of view, but perfectly capture the unguarded human and urban truths he encountered on his walks. Whole societies have materialized who pay tribute to this man and his unique perspective and aesthetics by creating images in his style. When I see a Tichy photograph, I know I am seeing something that may lack accuracy in terms of factual detail, but is absolutely true to the inner identity of the moment or the subject he has captured. I am seeing not so much through his eyes, as through his soul. Tichy died last month at the age of 84.
What begins as a genuine desire for a new approach to an artform all too often becomes distracted and degraded by those who follow trends to be part of something current and fashionable. For every artist who uses the distortions of toy or handmade cameras as a means of releasing some deeper truth about the way we see and interpret the world to ourselves and others, there are hundreds who simply want to be part of something cool and popular. There are even those who now manipulate images taken with digital cameras to make them resemble the toy camera style! One of the best things about working with such basic and often unpredictable tools is the release of control and the resulting possibilities when human and camera become one. My experience with Holga photography was one of surrender and trust. With few exceptions, the images that came back to me on film were not only what I saw when I released the shutter, but what I felt as well. To deprive yourself of that magic by simulating it through post-processing is a choice others are free to make if it suits their particular needs and aims as photographers. I can only say that my needs and aims are not theirs.
Tichy taking aim
Readers of this space will know that in the past several months of pursuing my photography as more of a profession and less of a private passion, I have struggled with many issues regarding the state of this art, which is also a science, and is now more and more becoming a matter of advanced information technology. I’ve taken refuge in shooting with film in black and white as a means of protecting myself from what to me feels like a trend away from what photography should be, further from art and closer to computer science. Still, I question the purity of my theories and practices when I am still letting others develop and scan my film and I then commit these images to life inside an electronic file. On the one hand, I would like to go backwards, and do everything myself, to live and work like Tichy. On the other hand, I would like to move forwards, and master these technologies that vex and frustrate me whenever I need to send my work out into the modern world for review. We shall not even speak of the fact that I don’t have adequate resources of time, energy and money for either of this directions, much less attempting both simultaneously!
At the End of theTunnel
Where to now and how?