Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Friday, August 15, 2008

"Invitation to a Tale," Unwound


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The perfect blue sky, the perfect field of flowers - sometimes it is over the rainbow where skies are bluest. It may be that the true answer to the mystery of the little house and barn, the field of sunflowers and the clear, blue sky are somewhere near where a house was dropped close to a certain brick road. Look carefully at today's photo. You will note a skulduggery has been perpetrated. Compare TODAY'S photograph with last Sunday's.  Somebody has swapped in the wrong sky. Don't you just hate when that happens?

But which is the real sky and which the fake? Regardless of which is fake, they beg the question, "What is photography?" 

If one can so easily swap out parts, what is the photographer's obligation to what really existed when the shutter was clicked? I'm not reporting the news or documenting a crime scene; how much license do I have? Or, looked at the other way, how much license must I be responsible for? Because my aim is evocation of feeling, am I obliged to always change the sky if the actual sky does not perfectly suit my intentions? Must I, in fact, go beyond changing the sky and assemble digital collage? And because the medium is so free, must I be a virtuoso in its manipulation?

The photographer is the creator of his own creative space.  Documenting a place and a moment is far less important to me than finding the expressive power of a composition, but I don't want to spend all my time at the computer.  I shoot because my subjects draw me outside to shoot them. Whatever inspiration or feeling I get comes from the place and the time at which I shoot. Stuck at the computer when photo weather is happening makes me fidget. So I try to find my images whole or very nearly so, images that capture visual reality and moment to convey an experience that is more than visual. Plausibility is usually essential. I like real textures and light that imply painterliness rather than painterly distortion of reality.

Perhaps, it's good to articulate such goals, but I'm more interested in the implications of these two distinct compositions. Last Sunday's composition asks us to look beyond the horizon. Perhaps this is part of the, "Once upon a time... " impulse I felt. One person thought it was "Oz-like." It made some people uneasy, perhaps in the way of Oz where the prettiness of bright poppies conceal danger, and things that seem dangerous and evil often turn out to be harmless.  

One friend wrote of last week's photo, "It gives the impression that the sunflowers are racing in a movement to plunge themselves into the gap." How much more slowly TODAY'S composition moves with a bush and a hill and few extra clouds to counter the pull of perspective and let us dally by the sunflowers.  How evenly we are led by the continuity of wall and hill. Maybe a bit too evenly for my taste.

Knowing that one photo has a stand-in sky, some viewers will probably guess that both skies have been faked.  Alas, too often, the necessary sky doesn't appear when everything else is in order, but if the right clouds had appeared, would you be surprised to learn the photo would have looked more like last Sunday's TODAY'S than this one? In reality there was no bush or hills as above, and, but for some nasty, power lines, the original photo leaves us perched almost as unsteadily on the top of the hill. It was that hilltop rush I chose to shoot.

In any case, though I find this one too comfortable, it pleases me at this moment, and I put it here to see how it will wear in a month or a year, but I prefer the bit of surreality of the previous TODAY'S, and I enjoy knowing that it really could happen that way but for a few power lines. I'm interested in knowing which one others prefer.

So where do I draw the line on "faking it"?  I'm not sure I know the answer yet.