DRIVING THE IMAGE
YOU CAN FILL A LIBRARY SHELF WITH OPPOSING ARGUMENTS ON LIGHT’S ROLE IN PHOTOGRAPHY, not necessarily a debate on how to capture or measure it, but more a philosophical tussle on whether light is a mere component in a photograph or enough reason, all by itself, for the image to be made, regardless of the subject matter.
The answer, for me, is different every time, although more often than not I make pictures purely because the light is here right now, and it will not wait. I actually seem to hear a clock beginning to tick from the moment I discover certain conditions, and, from that moment forward, I feel as if I am in a kind of desperate countdown to do something with this finite gift before it drifts, shifts, or otherwise mutates out of my reach. Light is running the conversation, driving the image.
“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary”, the photographer Aaron Rose famously said, and I live for the chance to ennoble or, if you will, sanctify something by how it models or is embraced by light. Certainly I usually go out looking for things to shoot, but time and time again something shifts in my priorities, forcing me to look for ways to shoot.
The practical world will look at a photograph and ask, understandably, “what is that supposed to be?”, or, more pointedly, “why did you take a picture of that?” This makes for quizzical expressions, awkward conversations and sharp disagreements within gallery walls, since our pragmatic natures demand that there be a point, an objective in all art that is as easily identifiable as going to the hardware for a particular screw. Only life, and the parts of life that inspire, can’t ever function that way.
We often decide to make an important picture of something rather than make a picture of something important. That’s not just artsy double-talk. It’s truly the decision that is placed before us.
Alfred Steiglitz remarked that “wherever there is light, photography is possible”. That’s an unlimited, boundless license to hunt for image-makers. Just give me light, the photographer asks, and I will make something of it.