Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Barnyard Freeze


ALBERT CAMUS: "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - The wanderer never knows where his path will lead. Yes, I believe in wandering.

I've been thinking a good deal about, among other things, how my shooting process has evolved over the past three years. Many friends who shoot "art landscapes," troll by automobile in search of good shots. From time to time I've done that as well. They drive until something photogenic appears, stop for a few minutes to shoot, and then move on. The more I shoot, the less satisfactory I find this method. The issue for me is less about finding good things to shoot. I believe good photographs can be made anywhere, though I certainly have my preferences for subject matter. The more fundamental issue is attaining the concentration to shoot well.

I return to the same places often, though I also try to expand the kinds of places I shoot. The process of returning is consistent with the notion of wandering, since the same place is different every time, and I often find new things that delight me in places I know well. It may be that in becoming familiar with the unchanging forms of a place I become more sensitive to the nuances of the moment. However, the essential trick, wherever I am, is in putting aside expectation - becoming a true wanderer - developing a wanderer's concentration to see and feel what truly engages me.

I've watched the pianist Alfred Brendel in concert. He walks onto the stage without acknowledging the audience, sits quickly, hangs his head as if continuing a meditation begun backstage. I sense this as the gathering of his focus and energy around the sounds he is about to make so that when he releases that first note he is the sound guiding the shape, flow, and accent of every detail of the music. The thought of maintaining that concentration through the bubbling and rushing river of a Schubert sonata for 30 or 40 minutes is beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, for my quite human limitations, the photographer must only seize the stream's energy once in the process of honing the composition. On the other hand, more than the turns of a physical path or road, it may be the twisting course of this stream of engagement that guides the wanderer on his journey.

I've found it's essential to leave the car. I've driven roads repeatedly and seen nothing to shoot until I finally went back and walked there. The car seals me off from all but the visual, and even the visual is greatly circumscribed. All of my senses need to dance if my pictures are to reach beyond the visual. As I begin my walk, I usually leave the camera in my backpack and shoulder my tripod like a rifle. If I have a destination and route in mind it will give way to fancy, but even as I wander from the preset trail, I won't take out my camera until something of the moment overpowers the natural wish to continue. Sometimes I never take my camera out, and I end the day with nothing more than a healthy walk. On the other hand, if the impulse to stop takes over, I may shoot at the same spot for ten minutes or an hour or more. If I stay put it means I'm wandering. Then, one shot leads to another. The more familiar I am with the site, the better I will be able to judge when to move on or where to move next to "follow the stream."

Occasionally my concentration is suddenly broken. It is a feeling akin to descending the stairs to find suddenly one step fewer than expected, and no chance to turn and climb back. However, unlike walking, where destination is the usual goal, wandering is its own reward.