Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lobstermen's Sunrise


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Please redirect lights away from your computer monitor, or turn them off, and look at this image before reading further.

The sound, what there was of it, was gulls and crows. At 5:20 AM they were already disputing rights to the highest peak in the neighborhood. A tribe of gulls had recently claimed a lobster shack next to where I had set up my tripod. They were jostling for position. Occasionally one of the gulls would sermonize or sound off or the crows would scuffle, but mostly it was all wing flapping. One might miss the pickup trucks that drove out onto a nearby common wharf at ten or fifteen minute intervals. From them lobstermen, singly or in pairs, would cross the dock, stop and chat, then descend with lunch bucket to their dinghies. Then they'd paddle off and disappear among the anchored lobster boats. In a bit would come the soft purr of an engine and soon the boat would appear, and its spreading wake would momentarily rock the harbor. This is lobstermen's rush hour. The harbor was again quiet when I made this image. The gulls, having established pecking order on the nearby roof were already heading off one by one to colonize and re-fight the same battles on some other roof.

*****

"Keep it real." It was hardly what I expected to hear from someone who photographs dreams and nightmares and beautiful, inventive, and sensitive abstracts, who creates dreamy montage overlays, jiggles and pans while shooting, and who promotes all manner of experimentation. How could I make sense of this advice in relation to the body of André's work. Later I asked, "You don't really believe that, do you?" and he said, "No." But I wished I'd asked differently. André's comment occurred following a discussion of HDR, and I wondered if it was a reflection of his own uncertainty regarding the newly popular technique. He complained about the cartoonish look of HDR, but later showed a demo HDR that was completely realistic. "Keep it real," was a surprising comment. I can't recall any other bit of prescriptive advice in one of his workshops. It has always seemed to me that one of the pillars of Freeman's and André's workshops is that any time anyone says, "This is how to do it," one has an obligation to try to do it differently. Now suddenly such a broad prescription, "Keep it real."

In the end I disregarded the comment, but in part, perhaps it reflects the difficulties in adopting new procedures that significantly alter shooting and processing habits. It may be as difficult to begin seeing and shooting and processing for HDR as it is to start seeing and shooting and processing for jiggles, multiple exposures and montage techniques. However, there is another aspect. André spoke of the cartoonish look of some HDR images. For me the danger is that there is an HDR look which is often indiscriminately applied to all images; it is something I try to avoid. Ultimately, I can't make much sense of, "Keep it real." However, I take comfort in discovering that someone whose aesthetic beliefs are as fully considered and established as André, still struggles with the conflicting roles of photography, a medium that asks to be used to grab realistic moments from the continuum of life and that opens itself to the careful, hand-wrought and formally organized expression of painting.