the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

EXQUISITE CORPSES

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Phytomorphology 2 (2017). Macrophotography helps alter the memory context of familiar objects. 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

AS A BOY, THEODORE ROOSEVELT TAUGHT HIMSELF THE ANATOMY OF BIRDS that same way James Audubon did, by studying birds he himself had killed. Although this coldly clinical approach may strike us as cruel today, it was accepted practice for a young naturalist in the late 1800’s, a time when even eminent surgeons, faced with a shortfall of cadavers for academic study, occasionally hired freelancers to raid graves in search of, er, manpower. And so it goes.

At decidedly less risk, photographers have also made still-life studies of dead things, from game kills to seed pods, trying to appreciate structure, design, and function in a controlled environment. But there is more to their pokings than the grand advancement of science, given that death changes things in a way that transforms their aspect, altering their usefulness as visual subjects. Objects that have gone from living to non-living reflect light differently; textures and patterns are re-shaped; in short, the thing becomes an abstraction of itself.

Add magnification to the mix, and a thing becomes completely untethered from our usual conception of it, since, among other things, we are used to viewing it from a distance of feet or inches rather than millimeters. Just as where you stand affects the impact of a landscape, the place where you park a macro lens on an object dictates a completely different story with just the smallest variation.

There is a renewed fascination in the photographic world with minimalist abstraction, in which an object is changed so much in magnification and composition as to become a completely new thing, or…if the photographer so desires, a whole new nothing, a subject with which the viewer has no prior associations, functioning as pure pattern or design. For me, that’s the appeal of macro work…..to take the familiar and render it neutral in meaning, allowing me to re-assign it visually, to ask the viewer to, in effect, regard it as a foreign object, one that can take on whatever significance he sees fit.

Photography is primarily about what to see but it often provides cues as to how to see as well. Viewpoint is verification, and things impart  different truths to our eyes, depending on how we approach them.

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2 responses

  1. Another great post…. You’ve expressed yourself very well (I cannot do that!)…. Yes, minimal is on the rise. It’s so intruiging and has given me much needed fresh air when scoping for shots.

    January 23, 2017 at 3:43 PM

    • Welcome to THE NORMAL EYE and thanks for your kind comments today. I look forward to your input on any or all of our topics. The more creative solutions we share, the better we all become. Come back often…we have about three new posts per week.

      January 23, 2017 at 5:21 PM

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