I had occasion to try to write something that might be helpful for people viewing some of my work at an upcoming show. Since it applies to my work generally, and might be more successful than my usual attempts at the impossible task of “explanation”, I thought I’d post it…
My photographs are not descriptive, in a literal sense, of the particular place they were made, despite precise depiction. Though subject matter includes visual elements specific to the location, the feel of the light all around, the temperature, wind, sounds, anything and everything could contribute, consciously or not, to recognizing the possibilities of making an image compelling to me. Also mood, emotional state, daily hassle baggage, we bring as much to the party as the world brings to us.
Other art forms, painting, sculpture, etc. have established, accepted, association with the abstract. The least art-informed of us may still experience the “happiness” of a Miro, without concern for why, what, the endless mental obstacles. We approach a Rothko with no expectation of recognition of anything literal, we let it in, or not. But with photography, we know it depicts something, we expect to know what it is, in fact we expect what it is to have significance, or why would it have been photographed and presented to us at all? Even with abstract photography, the first viewer question is generally “but what is it?”, just because it is a photograph.
I tend to see the literal secondarily, and initially react to basic visual concerns, tonality, texture, form, space, and more. If that is not working, what it is will not help. But this does not excuse attention to subject, in fact it elevates it and comes full circle back to depicted reality. If some compelling visual experience can be found, it turns out, literally all around us, we are encouraged to more deeply engage the reality outside our skin.
These photographs are not about describing Eastern Washington like a travel log or geographic documentation, they are about the focusing of a way of experience that these locations brought about in their particular way.
“Place and a mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered.” Nan Shepherd
… I must add, none of this is remotely exclusive to my photography. Photographers and many many others have been grappling with being “present” long before it became a branding term for the newly self aware. In fact, it may’ve been the actual subject all along.