I Never Intended to. . .

Yes, it is a cliché to say that you can’t take the same photo twice. That is true. But I have been sorting through my archives and realizing how much has changed.

I shoot many of the same neighborhoods on a very regular basis and many of my photos illustrate just how much they have changed. And not necessarily for the better.

I am not sentimental about the past and I do not have wishes or dreams to return to another time or place. But I never intended on being a documentarian or a historian.

Triste Corsets, New York City, April 2012

Alas, I have many photos that are rather like relics of the past now. So when I am out on the streets shooting these days I often end up shooting those buildings and businesses that look like they have a limited existence.

I actually started doing that more because I would like to avoid having big corporate logos and buildings that feel sterile and cold. So yes, without me intending to do so, I have started documenting that which is likely to change in the near future. At least I still have abstract photography to blur the lines!

On Becoming

I never planned to become a photographer when I grow up. In fact I thought that I would become a cinematographer. I was very much taken with the films of Truffaut, Hitchcock and others.

So I studied film. It was perhaps nothing more than a romantic dream. For better or for worse, it wasn’t to happen.

For more than 5 decades I have been shooting. I started in film and transitioned to digital about a dozen years ago.

Becoming, New York City, July 2015

I never studied photography. I just did it. It was something I started doing at the age of 12 when I also started writing. They are both forms of communication that are so ingrained that I don’t know how or why I pursued them anymore.

At some points in time it became more important for me. That is true during the analog years and became even more so in the digital age.

I call myself a photographer as a verb. It is something that I do. I am still always becoming a photographer. There is no point of having arrived. It is ongoing. And it is a passion.

Photography Changes Everything

Sometimes a photo can change the world. Can change the way we see and think about the world we live in. And sometimes a photographer comes along with a body of work that is a radical departure from what we are accustomed to seeing and we stop in awe. Maybe we even hold our breath.

One such photographer passed yesterday at the age of 94. Robert Frank was a Swiss born American photographer who documented American life on a road trip across the country in the 1950s. The book was appropriately titled, The Americans.

The Americans is not a pretty picture book. It reveals many of the injustices that took place at the time. On the surface that was a rather bold statement to make. To turn a mirror on our society and reveal things that one didn’t discuss in polite company. But his photographic style was also very different from the standards of the time.

Robert Frank, New York City, May 27, 2019

Something that I quite appreciate about Frank’s photography is how he dared to photograph America as he saw it and also his dislike of the so-called rules of photography that were made popular by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

For many, Cartier-Bresson is seen as the godfather of street photography. Perhaps more importantly, he was a founder of the elite Magnum group. Frank was not to become a Magnum member. Likely because of his disregard for the rules.

The fact remains that neither Frank nor Cartier-Bresson called themselves street photographers. These are labels that were given to their work after-the-fact. Labels are not always helpful.

I am fortunate to have met and photographed Robert Frank in front of his apartment in New York City in May of this year. I thanked him for his contribution to the world of photography. Somehow I wish I had said more. Frank may be departed but his photography is still as relevant as it ever was. And The Americans is still in print.

Photography is a partial truth

Photography is a partial truth. It is not the whole truth. And certainly not truth with a capital T. It is always subjective. When we take a photo we are translating a situation into our own way of seeing and believing. It is a version of reality.

A photo is always past tense and the subject is taken out of context. This is especially true in street photography and photos that are candid, that are taken without the subject being aware of their photo being taken.

Memory, New York City, June 2010

The opposite is also true. When you take a photo of someone and they know that you are taking it, they may smile when they aren’t actually happy. They respond to the presence of the camera.

There are a number of different examples. But perhaps more importantly, people are always more than what a single image is capable of revealing. We are always a composite of many images.

It does however happen that we attach one image in our memory to represent a person or event. Photography has provided bookmarks for the memory to utilize when recalling the past. And they are even capable of deception. (That is another topic that I will be writing about in the near future.)

I wonder what happens to the minds of people who are constantly taking selfies everywhere they go and if all these photos that they amass of themselves actually become meaningful to them? Or perhaps it’s a form of self-deception.

The Act of Writing About Art

I am both a writer and an artist. I struggle with the idea of writing about that which I create. They are two different and mutually exclusive activities.

Writing about what I create would be an attempt to justify or place into a context something which was not created with a preconceived notion. It is looking backwards and attempting to create meaning that didn’t exist at the time. Hence I do not write about my work in any detail about what it means or doesn’t mean.

July, New York City, 2019

At least for me, the creative act is something that just happens. It operates on an intuitive level. I do not create that which I can imagine in a finished state. I wouldn’t know how or why it would be of interest.

It was with great pleasure that I read a quote by Gerhard Richter on the same subject. He said “to talk about painting is not only difficult, but perhaps pointless too. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing, what language can communicate.”

He also stated at one point that if he could write about painting that there would be no reason to paint. I write about photography and art in general terms and some of the effects that it has on myself and perhaps on society. I write about my experience of it all.

I invite your comments on what you think about these things. Curious Frame was created to engage in dialogue about the state of visual images in the world today.

Is Instagram Destroying Photography?

In a world that is bombarded with photographic images I am beginning to feel that we no longer value photography. Instagram feeds us photos faster than we can actually decide if we “like” an image or not.

It should come as no surprise that in general with live in a world in which attention deficit disorder is rampant. It is difficult to imagine what it will take to get people to slow down and appreciate individual images.

And it doesn’t really matter if you have text with a photo as most people don’t read the text. Hashtags are the rule of the day. Photos get lost in hashtags that are popular or they don’t get viewed at all.

Soho Windows, New York City, April 2012

I write here on Curious Frame to bring light to some of the interests and concerns that I have in photography. The world has become a visual place where we categorize those things that we like based on “likes” and move on.

What ensues as a result of the “like” or not like is a rather binary view of the world. Not like is of course not recorded and not knowable. We are served whatever social media platforms “think” we are interested in.

What are your thoughts about the current state of affairs in photography?

Sex Sells

It should come as no surprise to anyone that sex sells. There’s nothing new about that. But for some strange reason it continues to grab our attention. All the products and companies in the world that are vying for your attention and ultimately your cash are using this in some form or other.

The invention of photography has certainly helped to create and perpetuate the sex sells method of appealing to consumers. I’m not writing about nudity or pornography. That is an entirely different subject.

Urban Bliss Two #15, August 2017

Whether it’s about fitness, fashion or cultural norms to mention just a few possible areas, people are expected to live up to certain standards that are typically influenced by campaigns that utilize sex appeal. Your life will be marvelous if you buy or do whatever it is that’s being advertised.

It would perhaps be inaccurate to label it as subliminal. However, the more that we see images that utilize sex as a method of appealing to us, the more it seems normal. We no longer stop and question it.

I don’t know how we escape this or if it’s entirely possible to do so. But perhaps taking a little time to have a look at the messages that you’re being fed on a daily basis and questioning their claims is a good start.