Friday, October 5, 2012

Photographing the Familiar...

"Photography deals exquisitely with appearances,
but nothing is what it appears to be."
Duane Michals

     When I first studied photography in the mid-1970's, it seemed that many of the great photographers traveled to far away places or chose striking landscapes to document in their photographs.  Their images all had an element of the exotic about them - at least it seemed so to a young woman from rural New England.  I think I was a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in the beginning, running away from my ordinary, exhaustively familiar life to find meaningful images.  And like Dorothy, I eventually came to realize that everything I could hope to find "out there" was in my own backyard all the time.  I learned to embrace the familiar.

"The diameter of a circle..."
   My series First Person Rural - a portrait of a Maine town was an attempt to photograph the familiar; the people and places in my own backyard here in Maine.  It is my series Rural Geometry, however, that I want to refer to in this post.  The entire series was created over several years in the tiny village of Tamworth, New Hampshire.  I have been visiting Tamworth for nearly 30 years, mainly to attend the summer theater productions at the Barnstormers or to have dinner at the old inn.  When I began my work as a contemplative photographer in 2005 I decided to re-visit Tamworth with my camera and try to see it all anew. I didn't try to over think it, I just walked around the village and let the buildings invite me in.  Later, I discovered a wonderful book, "The Old Way of Seeing" by Jonathan Hale. It gave me a whole new appreciation of the proportions and beauty of rural 19th century architecture.  I often find books that support my photographic work in some way, enriching it and bringing additional clarity to my vision.

"Three squares and a right angle."
     After several visits, I laid out the photographic "rough drafts" on my dining room table and spent several hours studying them.  What became clearly evident was that all of my images focused on specific geometric elements of the buildings; I rarely photographed a whole building. From then on I would visit Tamworth from time to time searching for these geometric forms; sometimes they were in the building itself and sometimes the shadows cast by the building and sometimes, like the image to the left, both!  It became a kind of a treasure hunt for me.  The series concluded with an exhibition at the Tamworth Lyceum in November, 2011.  

     The point of all this is to say that nothing is so familiar that we can not see something new in it.  It only calls for you to create a new frame of reference.  I could visit Tamworth over and over and as long as I changed my frame of reference, I would get a whole new series of photographs.  Just photographing in different seasons opens up all new possibilities as the image below demonstrates.  This particular photograph started a whole new series I call "Winter Etchings" which I'm still working on.
"Hexagons - positive and negative"

     There will come a time when all my traveling will become more problematic and I will probably stick closer to my home in Maine rather than jetting off to distant lands.  It's good to know that my work as a contemplative photographer needn't end just because I let my passport expire.  I once heard of a woman who followed her cat around her house and made photographs from the cat's viewpoint! (Watch out Emerson!) I will just photograph the familiar, the everyday, the close at hand and like Dorothy I will be able to say, "There's no place like home!"

1 comment:

Andy Ilachinski said...

Wonderful essay Patricia, as always (I should leave a few words more often than I do, but usually can't find any that adds to your already eloquent expositions!) A few thoughts: (1) funny that you opened with a quote from Duane Michals (whose work I've always admired) - by coincidence, last night I was showing my younger son Michals' "Things are Queer" <-- packs more paradox / food-for-thought in 9 frames than most sci-fi epics in 2 hrs ;-) (2) Brooks Jensen recently posted a commentary (Fractures by Anil Rao) that involves a similar idea of "finding the uncommon amidst the overtly obvious", and (3) I *love* your "Hexagons".