I had a series of questions asked of me today, to talk about my "thoughts on meaningful and memorable photos? Do they have to have people in the scene? How did Ansel Adams do it time and time again?"
You assume that Adams did it all the time? Well, he did have monumental things to photograph, NJ is far more subtle an environment to be breathtaking. There are a few of his images that stick with me, moonrise, half dome and the white church at the top of the hill, but otherwise I'm not moved. But that is me.
Generally, well pretty much all the time, landscapes leave me unmoved. I do very much like the work of Robert Adams and Stephen Shore because they work more in line with the intersection of man and the landscape, and that connects me to the world I inhabit through their wry visual commentary. Carleton Watkins always blows me away, because he was the first to record certain scenes, and usually he included a human for scale. And really doint it all out of the back of a wagon!
They have something to say beyond "this is pretty" and that is what makes it meaningful to me. I'm always much more interested in what a photographer has to say, through his images and choice of subject matter, than I am at looking at eye candy.
Meaningful photos don't always need people, but there has to be a reason as to why the shutter button was pushed. Gratuitous beauty is fine for many things, and many people, but not to me, there has to be something more.
Getting to the point where you've figured out your point of view though has nothing to do with photography, but more how you think and feel about life itself and how you as an individual fits into the world and society. It requires a fair amount of reflection and a level of self honesty that can be gut wrenching at times.
You don't choose what you have to say, it chooses you through every experience you've ever had in your life. Essentially, you have to surrender to it. Only you have lived your life, and from that experience will spring the voice of your vision. It's not a decision you get to make, as much as it is something you come to realize over the course of your life.
I'm sure lots of people think this is all horsesh*t, but whatever. We all have an opinion, and I was asked.
- So, what does the photo at the top of this post mean to me? Many things, and they all harken back to my childhood. The polyester jacket, the tie, the palm frond from a Palm Sunday mass, and the fact that is was shot in Kearny, my childhood home upon the banks of the mighty Passaic River, route 21 looming in the background as always. The man in the photo reminds me of the fathers of many of my friends, and the light of early spring puts me in mind of what the earth smelled like as the dirt came alive again.
For me, this photo is all about remembering what it was like to have grown up where I did. I'm not sure what, if anything, it may mean to someone else. That is up to them, and what they bring to the experience of looking at this photo. First and foremost, the meaning must be something I feel intuitively, and maybe later a bit more deeply to me. I cannot dictate or assume what it means to anyone else.
Does it have any meaning for you? If so, or if not, feel free to tell me in the comments section below.