Saying Hello to Your Photographs
For the last two years or so, it has become a habit of mine to make extensive notes on the person I am writing about. The first time I did this was when I was doing a piece on Walker Evans. I had purchased his book, Walker Evans: A Biography, written by Belinda Rathbone. Every few pages of the book had a post-it stuck on the corner, with notes scribbled on it. At the end of the book, though I had enough of material to work with, I decided to look for interesting interviews of him on the web. I scribbled down these insights into my beloved Moleskine, filling the pages from top to bottom. The notes helped, but only as far as giving me a comprehensive base to start writing. They were never quite enough. I found myself constantly going back to Evans’ photographs, initially to validate the notes I had made. However, the more I looked at his pictures, I realised how much more I was able to discover, just by spending time absorbing his work.
As someone who primarily writes on photography, you may think that looking at pictures should be a given. You’re right. But if you think about it, any kind of emotive writing comes not only from research but from memories and lived experiences which are visual in nature. Let’s take the example of obituaries, especially of the famous. The really good obits have the power to familiarise you with the deceased, regardless of whether you knew the individual or not. There’s a reason why certain specifics about the person’s personality and mannerisms are described in great detail, which I assume is only possible by recounting past encounters with the individual, or, in all probability, by looking at photographs. Or let’s take the example of science fiction movies. Films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or the fairly recent Martian or Interstellar, had elaborately intricate and spellbinding representations of what life on another planet could be like. There was no limit to the imagination of the makers of these movies, and this, I think, was made possible because of all the photographs that have been made of space and space travel. These images allowed them to conjure possibilities that may very likely be a viable option in the near future.
This brings me to a relevant question, how many times have you gone back to the important photographs that are currently sitting idle on your phone? We, unfortunately, are hoarders… who shoot and forget. Or is it that we’ve come to become comfortable in the knowledge that our pictures are safely tucked away on our phone’s memory. Where is the interaction? In the past, the darkroom made this possible, where the photographer had the opportunity to see his pictures come alive.
Without ever looking at our images or of others, how are we ever going to recall past instances or encounters, or give ourselves the chance to conjure up new thoughts? Spend time with your photographs, dear reader. After all, you made them because you felt something for the moment.
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Better Photography.Tags: