Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Composition in White


RALPH GIBSON: "A good photograph, like a good painting, speaks with a loud voice and demands time and attention if it is to be fully perceived. An art lover is perfectly willing to hang a painting on a wall for years on end, but ask him to study a single photograph for ten unbroken minutes and he’ll think it’s a waste of time. Staying power is difficult to build into a photograph. Mostly, it takes content. A good photograph can penetrate the subconscious – but only if it is allowed to speak for however much time it needs to get there."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Size matters. Once upon a time I made an image of a thistle plant and a bee, and the detail was so clear and the light catching the bee's wings so beautiful that I wanted to see it printed as large as I could make it. Of course a one foot wide bee is quite a different thing than the furry, little bumble bees my father used to pet on his finger; the effect of my photo was a bit surreal.

In the other direction, an image such as this one fails totally at the scale you are probably viewing it. It needs to be at least 18 inches high and preferably 2 or 3 feet high. Squeezed by the height of most computer monitors, the finest textures disappear entirely and even the obvious textures such as the dried flower stems have no power to touch us viscerally. If your computer is up to the task, zoom in on the area where the limb has broken away. Explore the forest behind it and then pull back to the branches of the tree and the spaces between where the tree reveals its vitality in a fine filigree of tendrils. Part of the pleasure of the image for me is in exploring these details.

More than either of the previous images, this one is about winter's whiteness - how snow changes the relationships of foreground and background, its ability to silhouette reed textures and draw new profiles and sometimes to unite earth and sky in one white tapestry.