First, you see something. Maybe a beach, maybe a tree, maybe a person. You get the urge to photograph it. You want to keep the feeling of the moment. You press the shutter and feel pleased; you anticipate the photograph. You develop the photograph some time after the moment has passed and look at it. Somehow it never matches your feeling. You want to fill in the rest of the world outside the frame, you want your feeling to return, and maybe it does, but it’s never the same. It’s something new.
Sometimes you photograph something, you leave it, don’t look at it for a long time, and then you find it by chance one day, cleaning, or it falls, or maybe you even go looking for it. Your memory of the moment, of the time, floods back. But you are instantly reminded of how much time has passed since that moment, how much has changed around you, within you. Sometimes it’s been so long that when you look at a photograph you remember nothing of that moment, and you wonder about the stranger, you, who took it, who may stand in the frame, smiling.
Another important Sontag point: “As that claustrophobic unit, the nuclear family, was being carved out of a much larger family aggregate, photography came along to memorialize, to restate symbolically, the imperiled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life. Those ghostly traces, photographs, supply the token presence of the dispersed relatives. A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family—and, often, is all that remains of it.”
Yes. This embodies exactly why these photographs I’ve posted are precious, why they’re fascinating. Even images of my own grandfather, which I will post more of later, are fascinating because I never knew him; he died when I was less than two years old. My mother’s family in particular had children late, and so my great grandparents were even further out of reach than maybe some others’ were. This also speaks to me as I remember when I would dust the myriad photographs in my grandmother’s living room. She’d sit in her chair and watch me dust each one. As my hand would touch especially the older ones, I’d roll my eyes and silently groan as she’d recite who was in the photograph as if for the first time. That’s your great grandfather Bashaw… Even as I groaned I knew I’d miss this wealth of family information after she would go. And of course, she did this because it is true that these photographs are all that is left of them. She knew this, she knew their importance, and so did I, but now after her recent death is the first time I’ve more fully understood and felt this. It wasn’t until the past year or two that I really cared about the histories I only had access to through these photographs, and more importantly, through my grandmother. My great grandparents never knew of me, and if they did, their lives were so completely different than mine. So why the fascination? Why is this so important to us?
Susan Sontag writes, in On Photography: "To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power […] But print seems a less treacherous form of leaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than photographic images which now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present. What is written about a person or an event is frankly an interpretation, as are handmade visual statements, like paintings and drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire."
So much of this rings true for me. As a writer I want to take pieces of the world in my perspective and compose it into something from me, from my mouth, from my hand. The same goes for myself as a photographer—it is behind my lens, and my eye and deciding what and who goes in my finite frame. I turn the knobs and decide how much light to let in. Though, with photography, it feels much more documentary than writing—it feels as if I am collaborating with my camera and my photographic materials much more than I am collaborating with my hand and the page (and language) to create a work of writing. But maybe I’m wrong—maybe language manipulates my writing, casts it, just as much as the limitations of my camera and light manipulate my photographs.
My challenge is to create art that combines both mediums, writing and photography, while staying away from pure illustration, or even partial illustration. Or to make an anti-illustration, using the two forms. I want my photographs to say something that my writing does not and perhaps cannot, and vice versa.