(Brattleboro Retreat Petting Farm)
I promised to have photographic evidence of my weekend in Vermont, second home of my heart. I had a wonderful time there, hiking in the woods, eating fresh local food, visiting farm animals and touring waterways and quaint shop-lined streets in a lovely landscape overlooked by green mountains. But it turns out that I’m not very good at taking photographs while away on vacation, unless of course I’m spending time in my native New York, which is so well known to me that when I arrive it feels as if I never left and I can get right down to shooting. I’ve always known I’m not a good travel photographer; in a new place I am too busy absorbing everything around me to engage the kind of focus I require to recognize and frame a good composition. Nevertheless, I brought my camera to Brattleboro, and I shot one roll of film, and I admit that even the best of the group included in this post needed a little cleaning up to be presentable.
West River : a selective view
I’m very selective as a photographer. Even when out and about on a purposeful photo shoot, I rarely shoot more than one or two rolls. With camera in hand I am more of a hunter than a reaper. I am far more interested in waiting for and bringing home the right shot than gathering up quantities of images to be sifted through later. I am much less discriminating when I shoot digital, but compared to other photographers, I’m still very conservative. Even so, for all the views I reject before even capturing them, there will still be many that make it onto film and then never make it any further than my image files. Spanning the West River, a closeup of which you can see above, there is a beautiful covered bridge, the longest in Vermont. Unfortunately you will have to go there yourself to see it because my two panoramic but pedestrian shots of it will never be released to the public.
Slow Train Coming
Every once in a while, thanks to everything aligning perfectly in the world outside and the world within, I bring home a roll of film that has a ridiculously high percentage of “keepers,” good shots that look exactly as I first saw and felt them at point of capture, and are inarguably presentable to the world. Among these there are sometimes a few great “divine intervention” shots that have all that and also somehow have acquired some added element I had not recognized or accounted for. It feels as if the camera itself must have read my thoughts and then taken a picture when I wasn’t looking. The image is in some ways BETTER than the scene it represents, and gives you the impression anytime you look at it, that seconds ago it was still in motion, and might resume whenever you look away. Any natural humility or modesty can justifiably be set aside as I nod and admit “wow, that’s REALLY good!” This was not one of those times.
I like to think I am a good judge of my own work. I have the kind of high standards that can tell the difference between a respectable effort and a remarkable achievement. There is a fine line between feeling you can never be good enough and knowing you can do better. On one side you have the potential for crippling self-doubt, and on the other powerful self-motivation. I know a great photograph. I’ve seen plenty in museums and books that literally take my breath away. They are both entirely natural and somehow supernatural. I know exactly where my own work falls on the spectrum of photographic technique and artistry. I’m good. But there will always be those better than I am, to infuriate and inspire and instruct me, for which I am grateful.
Sparkle and Shadow : a Study in Contrast
But when so many images fail to survive the cut of my exacting standards, the question then arises whether I should I be more inclusive and keep images that are clearly of some value, “good enough,” a kind of record of my journey as an artist, and therefore of some aesthetic or historic value? Or should I only release and share the best of the best, the ones that emerge from the shadows with undeniable sparkle? And then how can that be determined? I’ve often used images here that I would not deem worthy of display in a gallery setting, but which were the perfect image to illustrate and enlarge upon the text accompanying them. A strong image is not always a great photograph. And among great photographs, there will always be those that reach me in undefinable ways that have nothing to do with technical expertise or aesthetic values. I wonder how many photographs my favorite artists judged inferior and left in boxes never to be shared with the world? And whether they were right to do so?
As my regular readers will recall, this week I am vacating the studio that has been my primary workplace for the past 4 months. This space was the setting for some good creative doing and thinking, and I have certainly grown in the short time I was given perfect circumstances in which to do so. Now it is time to move on to other things. Fortunately the summer weather is conducive to outdoor shooting, and the corner of my livingroom I call my home office has plenty of room to sit in front of a computer and tend to the less glamorous business aspects of life as an artist as I embark on new marketing, outreach and online projects. Hopefully there will be good news to report here in upcoming weeks as the fruits of these new labors come forth.
Thank you to all my followers, old and new, for your continued interest and kindness as I proceed on my journey; you are truly a sustaining force. And if you haven’t already, please check out my new flickr photostream, a link to which you can find at the right side of this page. Thanks to my idiosyncratic selection process, some images appearing there will not be posted here, and vice versa. Have a good week, all.