Saturday, May 17, 2008
JOHN B. WELLER: "Once I've composed a photograph, I look at all of the elements inside the frame and ask myself, 'What function should this element ideally play?' and, 'How is it functioning in the current light?' Sometimes moving the camera a couple of inches allows it to play a different role."
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: This photo was taken about ten minutes later than yesterday's TODAY'S. I'd like to think the slant is the same, but the point of view has been shifted. Yesterday's image told the story from the farmstead's staid point of view. The format is now horizontal, and the lens has zoomed out (from digital 52mm to digital 28mm, a bit of a wide-angle). Any slight shift of the camera left, right, up, or down realigns porch and yardscape, significantly rejiggers the composition.
I step back to put one column right and set my level so the column is vertical, a weak anchor for the image. From this anchor everything else seems to be in motion and expanding with the first leafing and flowering. I refine the composition putting the decorative bracket, with its finial and miniature column, tightly into the upper corner. This gives it moment. I've never seen one quite like it. What is its story? All I can say is it makes a gracious entry into a composition that spins. Would it bother anyone if I made it spin clockwise? What obligation does the photographer have to the actual?
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The first questions are always about light. The qualities of light are infinite, and there are no reliable rules about how they will react with the forms and textures of the farmscape, so composing is always spontaneous.
What happens to ancient barn boards as they age is mysterious to me; I've seen old barns change color with the time of day. I've also seen a row of tree trunks that is a dark silhouette at dawn disappear at noon and become a high-kicking chorus line at dusk. Light defines shapes one moment and later turns them into negative space or makes them vanish. Compositions don't appear until the light frees them from the material world.
Even more mysterious than the reflective quality of old painted barn boards and high-kicking tree trunks is the relation of light to emotion. Naturally, the barns and fields I photograph have a general intellectual and emotional appeal to me. By endowing these subjects with specific emotion, light makes their appeal of the moment. It gives them, "the immediacy of the falling leaf." Every successful shoot is a process of discovery during which the scene becomes charged with emotion.
The first questions are about light; they tell me where to shoot and how to compose, but the essential questions are about purpose. Purpose begins to be clarified as I shoot but must become clear in processing. My slant must determine the camera's angle and the image's gradients if the final picture is to be fully charged with meaning.
Two contrasting reactions have dominated my feelings about True Mountain Farm: First is the silence and venerable decay of the buildings. Second is the slow, inexorable explosion of spring that is enveloping those buildings. At True Mountain Farm the present is devouring the past. I've tried to present and develop this clear slant through all of the True Mountain images that have become part of TODAY'S.
In this image of the blacksmith's shop I've aligned the photo canvas with the architectural elements. This rectilinearity emphasizes the stillness of the buildings. I like also how the shadowed porch commands the view of and contrasts with the stolid blaze of the shop. The crisp rhythm of Victorian balusters, one edge catching a bit of diffused light, has a primness about it that suggests to me the righteousness of it all; the porch almost refuses to acknowledge the disrepair. Do the small, irreverent advances of spring creeping into the corners of the shot quietly mock the old edifices? How many more such assaults can they withstand?