I may have mentioned this before, but a get a double kick out of art galleries, observing both the art and people observing art. These images are all long-exposure photographs taken inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, two years ago.
I have not been shooting a lot recently, and when I have, it’s generally been with my phone, shared via Instagram, with the intent to capture a moment of something I think is noteworthy or collect material for future collages. I haven’t planned a shoot or taken the time to work on long-exposure motion and over-exposed stuff like these shots in while, so it was nice to get back to them, sorting through some of the stuff that’s accumulated in the archives the last few years.
There is something about this style of photography that still really engages my imagination. The combination of realism–they are photographs of real things–with impressionism and abstraction creating so much narrative space within the image. Such interesting juxtapositions between stillness and motion. I also think the audience for this sort of photography has grown a lot since I started doing it ten or fifteen years ago. Hope you like them.
Admittedly, I have never paid much attention to clothing or fashion in particular. There were some small boutiques in Gracia, the neighbourhood of Barcelona we used to live in that created some noteworthy designs, things I liked as art pieces as they hung in the window displays of the stores. Clothing that conjured characters and suggested fictions, clothing for a parallel world recognizable as our own and yet unfamiliar at the same time. But more than anywhere I’ve been, Barcelona included, and with Paris perhaps, as a close second, people in Japan dress. Clothing here, whether traditional or contemporary, or even cosplay, fits and is structured so that I have become more aware here than anywhere, of cuts and shapes and lines and textures and colours and patterns. And movement. Perhaps it is the filmmaker in me, but I am always fascinated by the movement.
We traveled to Ito for a quick weekend away, ultimately made quicker by the coming of a typhoon, but as we got off the train and began to find out way to our ryocan, we found that the street we needed to walk down had been taken over by a parade. So we wheeled our big suitcase down the sidewalk and fished out our cameras along the way. When we got to the hotel, we found a flyer for Hanagasa Dance Festival. The man at the reception pointed to it and apologized to us. It happens only once a year, he said, we’d just missed it.
My first view of a new city is almost always in motion, from the window of a taxi cab.
A classmate in university once spoke of her year in India and how it contrasted with her experience of Canada. In Canada she said, the landscape is full of colour, rich green trees that flare up into autumn flames, the deep blues and copper blue-greens of fresh water and glacial lakes, the open palettes of wildflowers. On the other hand, we build in brick and concrete and stone, paint our walls in a staggering spectrum from beige to white. In India, she said, the landscape was colourless, a wash of earth-tones and that, as if to compensate, everything else burst with colour–painted walls and signs and fabrics. Even the food was bright.
I was reminded of that in China. The landscape from Shanghai was a pale monochrome that stretched the length of ride on the train. But from the taxi, details of blue and green decoration danced and gold leaf and the red, the brightest red in the signs and painted characters, the temple doors and arches, an accent and an undercurrent at the same time, not a bass beat but the staff the music is written on.
There’s a writing exercise I use with my students where I give them an image–usually something clipped from a magazine–and tell them to write about what they see for a set period of time. Then I give them a blank sheet of card-stock paper with a small square cut out of it. I tell them to put the card-stock over their image and move it around until it reveals some interesting detail, then write only about that smaller part of the image for the same amount of time. Often they write completely different stories or poems, about completely different things and from completely different perspectives. And yet, when you pull back, sometimes it’s difficult to see that all those stories are happening simultaneously.
It’s not really surprising then, that this is also a pretty important idea in photography. In many ways, the art of photography is the art of cropping. We use our cameras to crop the visible world down to the frame within the lens. Once we’ve taken the photograph, we can crop hundreds of different stories from the same frozen moment by shifting our attention and narrowing or expanding our frame to suit. How does the story of hands on a smartphone change if we are also given a glimpse of the face that is using it? What if we only see part of the face that’s using it–lips slightly parted in what? exasperation, exclamation, desperation, wonder? How important is the story of that phone if we move it to the side of the frame and centre on a woman in a jean-jacket or a man piggy-backing his boy and carrying a folded stroller?
Each of these images is cropped from the same image (below). Which story is the most compelling to you?
An upcoming staff and parent art exhibit at our school has given me good occasion to have a look back through some of the older photographs I’ve taken, but not shared or printed.
I took these photographs on the morning of New Year’s Eve in 2008. We were visiting Poland for the first time and we wanted to visit Auschwitz. We didn’t want to be part of a big tour; we wanted to go more quietly, so we hired a private guide who recommended that we leave at from Krakow at dawn. It was one of those mornings where the clear blue skies and warm sunlight made me think it should feel warm, but the air was so crisp and clean and cold that it froze the inside of my nose with every breath.
And that was the contrast of the day. The road to Auschwitz was watched over by stands of trees that seemed full and sparse at the same time; the early light cut between them, warming their bark and green needles and moss, and stretched out their shadows to define them in hyper-reality. And yet there was also an emptiness about them, the space between so palpable and full of absence. That negative space pervaded the camps at Birkenau, but where the trees were draped in the daybreak’s radiance, the remains of Birkenau were chilling in every way.
There was a wreath somewhere along the way. I’m not even sure that I saw it as our car sped by, but my camera caught it, its bright flowers aflame in the interstice. I don’t know why that wreath was there, or who placed it, or when, or whether it was marked by ceremony or if it was just set down, unnoticed by all the cars racing toward their imposed importances beyond the vanishing points of the hills and roads. But it’s frozen there now in a photograph at least, a testament of someone’s loss that without specific reference, without a name or story of how and why, becomes symbolic of all the losses I can’t imagine in those woods, along those roads. And more than that, it leaves me considering that only where love survives can we really remember.
Went looking through the archives today and stumbled upon this. There are a lot of photographs from this period that I took and meant to share and never really got around to it.
I imagine there is a land somewhere, populated by the things we meant to do but didn’t, a wind that whispers the things we meant to say, where lost orphaned socks wash up on the banks of the laundry river and keys dangle like dew from the laden branches of trees. A land divided into provinces: the county of regret and the territory of missed opportunity, and perhaps, behind high impenetrable walls, a small but triumphant fiefdom of things-we-meant-to-say-but-it-turned-out-way-better-that-we-didn’t.
The beautiful thing about the land we never got around to, though, is that we can still visit, at least some of the time. I plan to go back soon. I’ll let you know what I find.
Yokohama is on the sea, it’s true, but there’s sea and then there’s sea.
We took the train this weekend, down to the bottom of the Izu peninsula, to Shimoda, a city in a small town, a place more the size of the one I grew up in, than the one where I currently live.
It felt like sliding into an old pair of jeans, the ones with the frayed hems and the paint-drops and the many-times-laundered stains of a life, the small (unfashionable) tears at the knees. Not respectable jeans for wearing out, but the ones you change into when you’re home and have nothing to prove and know you can stay a while.
I grew up near beach towns. Something about their off-season solitude and in-season crush that makes beach towns themselves ephemeral, permanently temporary. Places where the human endeavours aspire to good-enough-for-now and perfection is left to nature, and the time saved between is spent in lazy appreciation of now, before we pack up and drive home with the sand still in our eyelashes.
I was a windsurfer once, but these days the lick of the wind on my face is pleasure enough, and to sit and squint my eyes and read the swells and watch the surfers dance along the break.