Craving Decarava

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of the late, great Roy Decarava. You have to poke around a lot to find broad samples of his work on the web, and even the website dedicated to him is sparse. I had the privilege years ago of seeing his work in exhibition, and the quality and style of his prints astounded me. The darkness and occasional brightness of his vision was truly unique. The man took pictures in dimly lit halls and alleys, and was capable of finding a multitude of expressive tones in the blackest of blacks. In a few instances the light would go another way, and he’d startle you with whiteness, but never to the farthest edge of paper white. There was always something more there– he’d take you just to the inside limit of the paper’s gamut. You just want to stand in front of one of his prints and soak in those rich tones, uncovering the image as your eyes adjust.

There are a few tributes to him online, and came across one the other day that referred to the “gentle humanity” of his work, compared to the more strident work of Robert Frank (another of my favorites). It also stands out (for both artists), that he didn’t make claim to be a straight documentary shooter. His work was an expression of his feelings rather than simply a record. This seems to be an intrinsic value to most art– but I think photography is always entangled with notions of “reality”. I need to bring this concept closer to my own heart as I work. My greatest success in photographing my feelings are in family images. Every photo of my children are photos of love, holding on, cherishing… and the fear and sadness that time marches on quickly.


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Getting the juices flowing

14624873795_a1e48b514a_bThe way I see it, no one is likely to ever read this blog. Who cares about the self-conscious ramblings of a middle-aged guy? I really just want to brainstorm and track ideas, and be able to access them from anywhere. Sort of an idea journal, I guess. So, if you’re just surfing the web and happen to drop in, that’s what this is. Of course, you’re welcome to stick around and invited to leave a comment, should you feel the impulse.

The thing is, I haven’t felt the magic of being in the zone with a photo project for a long time. I’m not sure if this is the angst (and tiredness) of middle age, or just a long, creative dry spell. I think I’m finally on the cusp of an idea, though, and this little preamble is meant to instill some spirit back into my spine.

frame 11There is an event tomorrow that plays into a broader theme I’d like to pursue. I don’t know exactly how it fits in with my theme at this time, but I’m sure it does. Or it could. I need to bring myself to this event with an open mind and open eyes, and not think too much about it. For me, thought kills the making of good photographs. I can’t process it too much or worry too much. But I know I will. By the time I arrive at the event I’ll already have psyched myself out of any genuine motivations and honest,  responsive reportage. It will be like I’m lumbering around on numb legs, and if I can even get out of the car, I’ll want to leave as soon as I arrive.

Having been in this position before, however, and having succeeded in pushing myself past these first mental hurdles, I have some faith that just being there, squeezing that shutter a few times, will get something rolling inside.

For me, though I dabble in landscape and abstract photography, the real deal is photographing people. People I am close to and people I do not know. Both types of photographs are difficult for me, but once I break the ice, the adrenaline and passion I derive from it are like nothing else.

I remember one of the first times I realized this kind of breakthrough. I was taking a summer workshop in Milwaukee. Our assignment was to photograph in a nearby park for an evening, making any kind of pictures we wanted to. I knew I wanted to photograph strangers, but I was really afraid to try. It felt so awful to invade another person’s space, even in a public setting. So I began with photos of trees. And then, photos of people from behind. And as I walked, if I passed someone who seemed distracted or somehow unfettered by my aiming a camera toward them, I would make a photo. After some time went by, I got a little braver, holding my camera up and clicking more and more. The final test was when I walked by a parking lot with several biker types sitting cross legged on the pavement, drinking beer from a nearby kegger. I chose the largest, most intimidating shirtless fellow in the group, and aimed my camera right at him. He scowled at me and raised his middle finger. And though I was too nervous to have focused properly, it was the best picture of the evening.

dandelionsBut that energy has to be reinvented every time. It’s harder when I haven’t exercised it for some time. That’s where I am right now. I know that going to the event tomorrow and making photographs is not going to matter to anyone. I am going to be respectful and straightforward, and in the end perhaps I’ll have a few interesting photos. Perhaps it won’t be photogenic at all. But it won’t matter to anyone but me, and I know it is truly a small, small thing to everyone but me. I have to think it matters, and I have to not think it matters. It’s just a creative exercise to get the blood flowing again, and I’ll do it for the sake of doing it.



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