Style and the Imagination
October 12, 2019
I was asked about my photographic style, and it was hard to resist a Yoda-style syntactical variation. I could feel the words pushing themselves out of my mouth. “Find you, it will. Seek it not, for there, the path is, to the dark side.”
Yet this question was coming from a glimmering young mind, and I felt I had to respond with clarity and thought. She was asking because, as a class assignment (at high school, not mine) to make images in the style of a photographer, she wanted to know how best to proceed. And our conversation led to my work. So, I found myself putting forward four approaches that may have characterized my ‘style’. The following are familiar—many will find these characteristics in the work of others. In my case, they come from the influence of a large group of image-makers: in no particular order and to name just a few, Paul Caponigro, Frederick H Evans, Robin Gillanders, Imogen Cunningham, Dave Williams, Elizabeth Motlow, Fred Sommers, Laura Gilpin, Margarethe Mather, Gertrude Kasebier, Anna Atkins, Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Hokusai, Rothko, Frankenthaler, Wendy Ewald…my wife, Rachel Malde… its a long list. While some would argue that these are not descriptors of style; I would counter that since they define the images I make, they at least provide a stylistic framework. So, to the four characteristics:
- Work with a camera on a tripod.
- Strive for balance of subject parts within the frame (when photographing) and for tonal balance across the frame (when printing).
- Always have a camera ready, always be looking. Make both a habit. (Okay, #1 sometimes has to be ditched here, but one can hand-hold and still work as if the camera is on a tripod.)
- There should be no separation between thought and vision. Both lead to imagination and understanding.
Well, that’s that, I thought. Later, in the quiet of a Saturday afternoon (yesterday), as I was reading and watching my son sleeping, these four pontifications began to tap on my shoulder. Did I live by them, without feeling restricted? #1, yes, here was a camera on a tripod. #2, there was Kiran, his head on the sofa, just off the edge, almost supported by a solomonica on one side and a trumpet of light on the other. #3, another part of me had already been thinking about focus point, depth of field, exposure, contrast (this, as I thought about a platinum-palladium print) and the bokeh-induced bubbles of light outside the window, so, yes. #4, sure, I came to a new understanding about how I worked and ticked. Thank you, Lia, for asking the question.
Here are a set of images going from the original RAW (color channels included) to the envisioned black and white, to an 4:5 crop also envisioned, to a tone/contrast modified image, which still only exists as a digital file, and is yet to be printed.