“In visual terms there has been nothing like photography in the history of the world. There is no vocabulary for it. Photography literally stops something dead. It’s the death of the moment. The second a picture is taken that life is held, stopped and over. That moment is over.”
I found this quote by photographer Richard Avedon that I had tucked away years ago into the pages of a book of photography by Eliot Porter entitled, “Intimate Landscapes”.
Photography is powerful that way. There has never been a medium that has captured the interest of so many people like photography. When it became popular in the 1800s, no one could have envisioned how important to the world and to our personal lives photography would become.
For those of us in Canada the first known photograph was by an Englishman named Pattinson, here on a business trip in 1840. He was a student of an early form of photography perfected by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre and had stopped at Niagara Falls to produce the now cherished historical Daguerreotype photograph.
The Daguerreotype would have taken more than 20 minutes for the scene to expose on a silver-coated plate inside his camera. Later he would surround the plate with warm mercury fumes that would slowly make the image visible.
I begin to think about photographing the landscape near my home this morning and I almost headed out, but the flat light and icy cold rain made me change my mind.
To keep myself in the mood I decided Eliot Porter’s book of photographs from northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah would be perfect to review with a cup of coffee. I find Porter’s photography stimulating.
Porter wrote, “The natural world has always attracted my eye: associations of living and inanimate phenomena, from the tropics to the poles and from rain forests to deserts, have been favourite photographic subjects for almost half a century. Grasses and sedges, especially, appeal to me – an appeal like disordered hair across a face, or a windblown field of hay before the mowing…”
Reading his or any other book on photography for that matter, helps me examine the way I make photographs and try to photograph things differently.
I do think photographic ideas and opportunities sometimes happen in a moment that once passed will never be the same. Many times I just want to make a photograph for no other reason than it is fun to make.
Here is another quote from Porter’s book that I endorse as well. Porter says, “I do not photograph for ulterior purposes. I photograph for the thing itself – for the photograph…” I like that. Sometimes just the process of making a photograph for no other reason than doing it is enough.
Photography in this digital age has become so very easy, but I think good photography can be as time consuming as it ever has been, requiring practice and education by those that take it seriously.
As I turned the pages of Porter’s book I thought about how nice it would be if the hills above my home get lots of snow in the coming winter. If you have a moment check out landscape photographer Eliot Porter in your local library, or on-line, and hopefully his photographs will inspire you as he does me. You might also look up Richard Avedon.