Analogize

We visited New Hampshire over the weekend and I was delighted to go to a place with so much photographic potential. We drove north on Friday and spent Saturday touring the lakes district; my daughter lives there and wanted to show us around. I was keen on taking home some nice images and a steady stream of helpful suggestions was forthcoming; That’s pretty! How about that? That’s unusual! Don’t you think that’s got potential? You’re gonna love what’s around the next corner! Over there, stop! Back up! Turn around! By the end of the day I hadn’t taken a single shot and even Joanna was more than a bit perturbed. I tried to explain that the light wasn’t great, there was little color (we passed frozen lakes and slippery roads, winter persisted) and the landscape was mostly interrupted by cars, snowmobiles, houses, people, and power lines. Nothing caught my eye. This worried me. The last few weeks have been busy, leaving no time for photography. Now, on this trip, given all the photographic potential, I could find neither beauty nor interest in anything. Had I lost my eye? I remember hearing the apocryphal story which reported that Herb Alpert had lost his embrasure, an event which would have signaled the end of his career. Perhaps I was experiencing the photographic version of this? The next day we traveled to Portsmouth. Upon arrival I separated from my companions, for they chose to cruise the shops and take in the ambiance. I grabbed my camera from out of my pack and walked. Slowly. I looked past and through things. I tried to extract Portsmouth from the tangle of people, cars, dogs, and other objects which kept if from plain view. In time I noticed that although some of the buildings were square, others were level, and some were plumb, none were more than two of these. Not all the streets were paved in asphalt, some were brick and others were cobble. I got the feeling that, rather than being peneplained, as have so many cities, the seaside landscape accommodated Portsmouth; the place stood firm rather than surrender to the transmogrifying effects of modernity. I was surrounded by beautiful, historic, buildings; some faithfully restored to be sure, but historic nonetheless. My view to the south was filled with the color and simple texture of human construction. To the north I was greeted by the smell of salt and a chilled ocean breeze. Although I did not wander long, I had time to remember that a photographer’s eye, artistic vision, doesn’t just happen. I’m not talking about the development of artistic sensibility over a lifetime; I am, instead, talking about the business of capturing (via whatever medium you choose) an image that has meaning. Visualization and composition do not often come quickly. Perhaps the most effective way of explaining this is to ask you to recall those sometimes infuriating images called autostereograms. I found the final image below (of a bird in flight) at a place called the Stereogram Page. When I first look at one of these I see absolutely nothing. It takes several minutes for my eyes to adjust and for my brain to pick out the clues needed to construct a three-dimensional image from a two-dimensional data set. I’m exactly the same way when I’ve got camera in hand. I don’t see images immediately. In a way which I cannot describe, they form, like the hidden image in the stereogram, from out of otherwise mundane patterns. When I walked the streets of Portsmouth I saw buildings, cars, dogs, and shops. I didn’t see pictures at first. After a while however, the visual ephemera dissolved, allowing images to float to the surface.

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