Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On Use and Idea

Having thought about the idea of use as part of the process of photography I now see it all over the place, of course.

I tend to print small, usually 8x10 at most. This is partly due to expense and equipment, but I have tried to make a virtue of necessity. It is certainly true that it is fashionable to print quite large and I am never one to bow to fashion. I like the intimacy of little prints, it turns out. To the topic at hand, though, one result is that my subjects tend to be quite simple. If your goal is a print 4 inches by 4 inches, you really ought not be putting in a complex and detailed scene. There can be detail of course, but the picture needs to make sense seen simply.

These days I tend to think more and more in terms of the final disposition of the work, use of the work as a whole. Do I see this as a book? How big? Is this a small portfolio of bigger prints? A large portfolio of tiny prints? My vision of the final product drives the work to a surprising degree. How many pictures am I going to need?. How shall I pace myself? How broad of an area should I be exploring? Do I need to expand my concept, or refine and shrink it? If the prints are tiny I need such-and-such a kind of subject, if the prints are bigger I need these other things. If the prints are to be square I need to think of that as I shoot.

It doesn't matter if the final product ever happens. More of my projects due on the vine than get completed, by quite a wide margin.

The point is that by having that use clearly in mind from near the beginning, my overall concept is dramatically sharpened.

Of course I do not begin with a blank slate, and fill in the subject, rendering, idea, and use all at once before making an exposure. It's an iterative process that begins, usually, by more or less random tinkering with a random snap. The tinkering generates the germ of an idea. More pictures generate refinements and an evolving concept. Use crystallizes along with everything else somewhere in here. then I am, as we say, "of to the races"and know what to do next. This might happen half way through, or earlier, or later.

Then, usually, the project doesn't come together anyways, and I shelve the portfolio-in-progress, and return to the beginning. I snap, I tinker. Perhaps I revisit a previously shelved project.

Sometimes, though, it really comes together. That's nice.

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