Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To What End?

To what end do you shoot a photograph?
There are many reasons, you could be shooting a technical exercise. You could be attempting to make a piece of art, or a piece of decor.
Let's consider the snapshot, however. I define a snapshot as a relatively informal photograph intended to capture a moment in time, and event or a place, in order that you might remember that time, event, or place, and share that memory with people you are close to. It's not meant as art, although it could be art. It's not meant as decor, although it could be decor. It is meant as a basically personal memory aid, a memento, so that you can remember what it was like to be there.
How do you do this? This does not avoid the basic problem of photography, which is to make a small rectangle of colors and tones evoke something, in this case a memory, in someone, in this case you. As always, I will beat my little drum and respond "shoot what you feel!"
Recently, I went strawberry picking with my wife and daughter at a U-pick farm. The deal here is that you are given as many empty buckets as you like, you go into the strawberry fields, fill these buckets up with strawberries, and then pay a set fee per filled bucket. It's pretty simple. I had the camera and, of course, I wanted to take some pictures to share with family and friends so they could get a sense of what our day of strawberry picking was like. Some day, perhaps, I will also review these pictures, and remember the day fondly. What did I shoot? How did I edit (that is, which photographs did I keep, and which did I throw away)?
It was a blustery day, windy and cloudy. The fields, while not immense, seemed so large relative to my two year old daughter. She in turn was ridiculously cute picking strawberries and cramming them in to her mouth, staining her face red in the process. These are three reactions I had, three emotional responses to the day that I had in the moment, and there are correspondingly three straightforward images to shoot and keep.
One image of the child with her hair blowing all around, standing in a large field of rows of strawberry bushes, with dark clouds on the horizon in the background. One image of a child, red-stained, with a half eaten berry thrust halfway into her open mouth. One image of a tiny child toddling away from the camera, almost lost in the bigness of the field. Then, apply some basic easy compositional nonsense (rule of thirds, balance one thing against another, blah blah blah) and you have a more or less pleasing set of snapshots. Of course more went on, so there were more things to record. People were there with their kid, and so on, things one really ought to record to make the memory more complete. I shot about 50, and kept 15. Not all the keepers were any good, some of them were obligatory photos of something or someone who was there.
None of these were, it turns out art. None of them are decor. They're just more or less pleasing mementos of the day, which are not so lousy that I am upset to look at them. They evoke the day for me, and I hope for the others who were there. They evoke the day, a little, for family and friends who were not there.

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