There was more that I wanted to share in my last letter but I ran out of time… something I found in the angle of the sun to reflect back to your eyes! As you know photography has become more important to me over the years as a release from writing, and in turn has influenced it (I wonder if you find the same to be true with crafting wine and crafting poems? Or perhaps there is some other creative outlet that you have that I don’t know about). However, on my last few trips I’ve refused to take a camera because, more and more, the process of taking a picture has become staggering. Now I worry too much. The end result has become too important. Doubt and criticism is sneaking in which totally defeats the original purpose of having a free medium where I can play and experiment. So even after Alex begged me to pack my camera, lenses and film for Madrid I refused. Of course Alex took his digital so we’d have something, he could be responsible for the shots, and since I dislike digital photography (compare the fuzzy warmth of vinyl with the cool and glitchy Ginsu-blade sharpness of a cd) I knew if I was to take a picture it would be a day trippers snapshot and nothing more. How wrong I was; I stole that camera from Alex, fiddled with it for a good hour, figured out how to unlock all those damn techie features that ensure we capture a perfect Kodak moment each and every time and voila! Not only did I discover my style which had been developing over the years peeking through, but found new inspiration. He never got it back. 

The camera itself had less to do with it than a notable experience I had in Madrid—the Museo Thyssen, perhaps my favorite museum so far. The collection was arranged chronologically which I found helpful in understanding that movements in art are slow and overlapping and more often the result of collaborative efforts than individual ones. I tend to think of Monet, Picasso, Dali, the superstars etc., as the inventors or proprietors of their movements when in actuality their movements were filled with unrecognizable names who contributed works equally as good as the ones that overshadowed them. The museum had a fine collection of Braque pieces. He is a good example of a painter I have not given sufficient regard to. Seeing his work alongside Picasso’s I began checking dates and found myself a bit confused as to who actually began Cubism. I later learned that it was a purely collaborative effort; the two literally got together and argued and taunted one another until they achieved the idea. And though on the surface it was a radical shift it does contain elements one can trace back to paintings when Picasso’s brush was still dabbling in the blues.

As I was walking through the museum I recalled some photos I had taken the night before and began filtering them through a painter’s mind while simultaneously viewing the paintings before me with a photographer’s eye. I found relationships between the movements I was strolling by and the ideas I had been toying with in photography, from impressionism, to surrealism, to abstract post modernism. Techniques, too, were similar. After working with light and film one realizes the tricks painters use to achieve movement- perhaps Vermeer captured the swing of an earring after glancing at it through a warped glass. Suddenly I was filled with inspiration and an overwhelming urge to create. Like always, I finished a good hour before Alex so I went to the garden to sit in the shade to collect my thoughts and attempt some understanding of what was happening. I scrolled through my shots and realized a new aesthetic developing that would dominate my photos for the rest of the trip. While I was excited about what I was seeing on the camera’s screen I could clearly see that these were ideas just being born. I had much work to do. I knew the destination, but not the way. I needed to establish a course of action and some guidelines. 

For the past few years I have excluded digital manipulation of any kind from my work and will continue working in that vein. I find it a little amusing that I should be so militant about this because often when people view my photographs they presume that they have been radically altered in Photoshop. On the contrary I have only used “organic” methods to achieve the very same effects I could with a computer. For me, it is the path that I take which is most important. Before I truly indulged in my hobby I admit I used digital manipulation extensively- it was fun and could result in striking images, but I eventually felt it was little more than a deceit vamping as talent. I do not wish to diminish the art that is bursting from the computer; the computer is the new “paint”. It is the future of art, I’m sure, but not for me, not yet. For some time I’ve relied on a 35mm, film, lighting, my own outsmarting of the camera’s built-in rules, and a fortuitous coupling with chance (Chance- one of the more capricious and provocative lovers residing in art’s motel). Adhering to my established approach of minimal manipulation I decided I would do the same with digital and resist the temptation to tweak. I decided the adjustment of light in processing and cropping were the only additional tools I would use.  The former would be employed only to match and achieve the same qualities as the image on the camera’s screen, the latter would be applied to a much greater effect to accomplish the next part of my idea.

Lately I’ve been interested not so much in the subject of a composition but what is taking place on the periphery. What happens when an object out of the corner of the eye unexpectedly becomes the subject? When those shy unassuming images are isolated and then thrust into center view their anonymity is lost and something startling results— the viewer’s perspective is destabilized. Consider an ear pricked by a conversation taking place across a crowded bar. Though it is difficult to hear everything through the commotion some secrets will be revealed with an intent study, but the truths my unintentional subjects reveal are few because unlike eavesdropping the attention of the camera, or eye, or ear, or viewer, whatever, was entirely fixed on something else. Somewhat akin to the way that Impressionism is a glimpse of a moment fleeting and not entirely tended to my subjects are vaguely drawn, but in this case they are even less focused as they exist off in the penumbra, utterly unnoticed at the time, further veiled in misunderstanding. When we later view these sequestered moments, and infer from the assemblage of light and shadow and particles of color what was taking place, the viewer becomes totally responsible for interpretation. The viewer writes the story, creates, fabricates, infers truths and tells lies about what occurred on both sides of the camera.

Sitting in the grass I found this idea thrilling as I would be photographing a world around me that simultaneously exists and does not exist. Though my body would be present during the event my mind’s awareness would be linked to something else entirely. Thus, when the composition is later finished there would be no immediate intimacy between myself, the new subject of the picture and the moment as the subject and moment never existed for me intellectually. Therefore I must create a new sort of intimacy. And I have. I have one photograph of a girl looking directly at me stirring her coffee in a way reminiscent of a Hopper painting that I have framed beside my computer. She is vague and beautiful, mysterious. I can’t stop staring at her. She was aware of my existence, she was watching me, contemplating me, yet she was utterly unknown to me until I returned across an ocean and began reviewing my images. I’m falling in love with her. Or, more precisely, I’m falling in love with the notion that I physically participated in her world and yet hers was unknown to mine. For me the idea is otherworldly; when I gaze at her possibilities and parallel realities spin out of control.

Girl Stirring Coffee

Back in the shade of the Museo Thyssen, with questions from our correspondences fresh in my mind, I understood that this new idea was one way I could honestly document my contemporary world. In the photos I had taken the previous night in the taverna I saw the descendents of Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas rather than imitations of them. People were laughing, cavorting, eating and drinking, some twisted by inebriation or twisted by the effect of an old tavern mirror or a flickering bulb, some were huddled close in camaraderie or confession, while others were stumbling half out of frame. Paris is coming soon where I can dedicate more time to experimentation, but I will also do the same here in Reston where I actually live my life, a place that is far less mythic and seductive, but one which, in a hundred years, might convey a certain quaintness for that person viewing it from a compartment aboard some galactic metropolis. For now I will continue pointing my camera at the things I see and appreciate, then later search the dark fringe for those experiences I missed. Perhaps in that way I will better realize the vastness of my world, the immensity of its potential and the habitual narrowness of the path I take through it.