Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"A Good Crop..."

Self Portrait in Paris
"Twelve significant photographs
 in any one year is a good crop." 
Ansel Adams 

   The longer I practice contemplative photography the less I am concerned with producing lots and lots of photographs. As I have said before, the "input" is more important now than the "output".  I search for and patiently wait for the one iconic image of an experience or a place.  Nonetheless, I was still amazed when I came across the Ansel Adams quote above.  He considered 12 "significant" photographs per year a "good crop".

The Heavenly Staircase - Rouen Cathedral
   In today's mass produced, mass media culture, where quantity has replaced quality in just about everything (no more rolls of 24 exposure film...memory cards hold hundreds of images!)  Adam's idea is even more thought provoking.  What he doesn't tell us is how many "near misses" he made to get his final 12 but no matter.

   I know that if I have a focus when I am photographing I tend to make fewer photographs.  This summer in France I was focused on light and, of course, its antithesis, shadow.  Not that I didn't photograph other subjects but the idea of light and shadow directed my lens.  It kept me looking more and photographing less which actually had a side benefit I hadn't considered.  I didn't experience France only through the camera.  I have a rich repository of sensory imagery as well. Like my trip to Omaha Beach.  I made no photographs of the beach where my Father landed in 1944.  I walked out through the dunes to bury my token in the sand as a recognition of my father's valor on that day.  I found the sand so soft and velvety.  Somehow I expected it to be grainy and rough. I loved hearing the children playing in the sea, laughing and having a good time.  I thought it very fitting that a place of so much pain and suffering is now a place of joy. I think my Father would think so too.   I collected a tiny amount of the sand to bring home and left my little mica token behind.

The Persistence of Time - Paris
   I've included 2 photos from my French "crop" in this post. (The "self portrait" doesn't count!)  All 12 are in the contact sheet in the side bar. Some I've already posted but I thought it would be good to keep the 12 images together.  I found the exercise of paring down the 100's of shots I made in France to just 12  "significant" images a very illuminating exercise.  Some incredible experiences, like standing on the D-Day beach, have no photograph to document the moment. In that case it was too emotional and I'm content to keep the encounter "unphotographed" but securely planted in my heart.  I did make two photographs in the Visitor's Center and one is included in my "crop".  To choose the 12 images I had to really consider what the trip had meant to me; what I wanted to take away from the experience.

   My 12 choices would hardly count as a documentary series of France...they are way more personally motivated.  These photographs are as far from the "travelogue" variety as they can be but that is what contemplative photography should be about I think.  Over the weeks ahead I'll be reflecting on these images and perhaps I will share some of my thoughts with you.

    I met a sweet couple from Sweden at a Paris cafe and when they learned I was a photographer they asked if I had any advice to give them to improve their images.  I simply said "Photograph only what you love...photograph through the lens of your heart."  That was the best suggestion I could give and the only rule I follow. 

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