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walking in the light: a life in photography

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dos Epiphanies

I had two photographic epiphanies recently:

1. I have always wondered how I tread the line between being a documentary shooter and an artist like Ansel Adams. On the one hand, I have always admired the FSA shooters like Dorothea Lange and have tried to follow, as I also taught, in the shadows of the Missouri Photo Workshop and Cliff Edom. On the other hand, who has not been held breathless upon first seeing a real print of almost anything by Adams. When I saw some of his prints held by the curator of the AA Gallery in Yosemite a few years back, I felt like I was in a cathedral. My heart beat like a Gregorian Chant.
So, what is the common thread that binds me to both types of shooting and holds me in the debt of the photographers who practiced their respective crafts? It dawned on me recently that Adams' Group/64 and the FSA documentarians did have something in common. The artists of Group/64 sought the fine detail, accuracy, and realism that a small f/stop can help an image achieve. No soft focus, no surrealistic emotional effect, just the artistic truth of what they saw. So, too, the documentary approach demands--as Edom often said--telling the truth with the camera. No manipulation, only the unadorned truth.
I would argue that both approaches in their own separate ways create ART. Place Adams' Moon and Half Dome next to Lange's Migrant Mother and the answer to that argument is clear. Two monuments to Truth from two photographers whose ultimate goals were really quite different. Upon coming to this realization, I have not felt photographically schizophrenic for days!!
2. My second ephipany has to do with shooting in a creek with two relatively expensive cameras. It was a beautiful fall day, and I was following my neighbor Carl to a place along an un-named creek that feeds into Owl Creek, which runs through his property here in Platte County. I planned on a little water and had on my rubber boots, but I did not plan for 20 ft. high muddy creek banks that had to be manuevered. In short, after having shot some interesting underwater acorns in the creek, composing them with some colorful fall leaves floating on the surface, I had to extricate myself and my cameras up the creek bank that had not been much of a problem getting down. Roots failed me. Footholds gave way. And one final “running” leap ended with a thick coating of mud like chocolate pudding covering my lens. I was disgusted with myself for trying to force the situation, and muttering to myself all the way, I wandered the creek bed for 100 yards and found a manageable exit. I spent some time when I got home with a Q-tip and alcohol (rubbing, not drinking) cleaning every crevice of my lens and camera. Lesson? Next time, I will carry a plastic bag or something to protect my cameras and lenses even in what seemed to be a fairly gentle landscape on a beautiful day.