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Bayba Baybies, We Got Baybies • Posted: Jun 28, 2024 16:45:49Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Have been reading the introductory essay for the book Photographing America by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. That volume has two introductory essays. The one that most interested me is by art historian Jean-Francois Chevrier. Since the invention of photography, many have written about it, about its potentials, about its accomplishments. For someone who grew up in the midst of a good portion of that discussion, those writings have at times inspired me and at other times completely alienated me from doing photography. Identity diffusion is a term I learned in college from author Erik Erikson that seems aptly to describe my relationship with photography over the years: confused, in layman’s terms.

During high school, I was, of course, fascinated and sometimes inspired by images appearing in Life Magazine and to a lesser extent National Geographic. What really piqued my interest, though, was when I ran across an original copy of Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment in an antique store not far from where I lived. I couldn’t afford it at the time, they wanted $250, a huge sum for me working part-time after school for a local newspaper chain as both a darkroom technician and photojournalist. A similar edition of that book in equally excellent condition recently sold for thousands of dollars. I kick myself regularly that I didn’t make that purchase when I the chance. I found the volume magical, with it’s large size, tissue interleaves covering each plate, sumptuous rotogravure printing, and fascinating image content. Almost everyone knows the one of the man leaping over a puddle. That caught my eye, too. I thought right there right then: that’s what I want to do.

I have since been inspired by the work of Atget, Brassaï, Kertész, Doisneau, Evans, Strand, Frank, and others. But why? What exactly about the work of those photographers in particular has inspired me? Many others have been celebrated. Why have those others not inspired me equally? And that, I think, has been the basis of my intermittent “identity diffusion”, my intermittent confusion and alienation.

The interesting thing for me about that essay by Chevrier regarding the work of Evans and Cartier-Bresson is Chevrier’s facility for overlaying and comparing generative principles of both art and literature production that he has studied over the years with those developed by Evans and Cartier-Bresson. Chevrier’s insights do not settle anything for me, but they do provoke me into taking yet another look at my own generative principles and interests in doing photography. Where in that array he describes do I and my work fall?

There is, of course, no exact answer to that question. But, I can point to some aspects of my practice that have stuck with me over the years and that have even grown stronger. Some may label those aspects “style”, but to me they seem more rightly to be what Chevrier would call my generative principles in doing photography.

First of all, like Cartier-Bresson, I recognize the ephemeral nature of human existence. What appears before us right now won’t stay that way for long. It will change and never repeat. Photography allows for the fixing of things observed, for what used to be at least a life time or so, in order that they can be studied, savored, and even shared.

Second, like Evans, I recognize both the strength and the fragility of humanity. People seldom go through life without achieving at least some form of accomplishment, and all of us acquire bumps, scars, bruises, memories, attitude, and some semblance of individuality along the way. Most of that reality is visible to the camera.

Third, like both Evans and Cartier-Bresson, I value what truth as can be accurately and informatively rendered in a photograph. That does not mean I do nothing to “help” in the rendering process. Photography has inherent limitations and it can and does introduce distortions completely independent of the photographer’s wishes. A proficient technician can “help” eliminate those distortions so as to better reveal the actual truth perceived and captured by the photographer, including all of the photographer’s ignorances and unintended biases. But, neither I, nor do Evans or Cartier-Bresson, add distortions of our own that bend or alter the truth inherent to images we’ve captured or the realities inhabited by our subjects.

Forth, I recognize, as do both Evans and Cartier-Bresson, that a successful image must employ design that assists the ultimate viewer to connect both emotionally and intellectually with the subject of the photograph. For some, the work of Cartier-Bresson is less about creating a human connection between viewer and subject and more about creating a fascinating design from elements of the subject’s environment. That dualism is apparently what has been praised as the “surrealism” of his work. Evans, on the other hand, is less about creating a fascinating design and more about connecting viewer with subject in a direct and compelling manner. In that sense, my approach is more like Evans. But again, all three of us are aware that existence is ephemeral. And, all three of us have stated in one way or another our belief that at least some revealing visual evidence of our globally mutual existence is worthy of fixing within a compelling photograph that others may share in what we believe to be salient aspects of life’s peculiarities, meaning, and wonderment.

And so, those are what I believe to be my personal generative principles in doing photography. Yes, they have been inspired by my experience of work by a select few who have gone before. And, to my mind, rightly so. Because, from this senior citizen’s point of view, there has been far far far too much use of photography over the years to vacuously gain viewer attention and manipulate viewer perception of things. And I say that from the inside, because not long out of high school and disillusioned with prospects for making a living doing photojournalism I turned to photo-tech work for primarily the advertising industry, working daily on a nearly 15 years long stream of highly fabricated imagery for major advertising agencies that sought to sell everything from clothes to cigarettes to construction materials to liquor to Playboy magazines to business services to fast foods to aspiring talent, celebrities, and politicians.

How did I describe for people what I did for a living? I told them I created land fill. That’s right: land fill, because nearly every single print and mural I created in commercial darkrooms was used briefly by those who commissioned them and then tossed in the trash. My efforts may have helped move the US economy along, dubiously in many many cases, but there are much better uses for photography. Or, at least let it be known that I think there are much better uses for photography. For one, doing photography can engage questioning minds in a life long quest to discover what is demonstrably true about existence. And, by doing so, pique interest within those same questioning minds, and the minds of those who may view work they’ve produced, to ponder how we could be making much better use of what we are learning. And I don’t mean to make a buck.

Look now back up top of this page and think: what really are we teaching and leaving behind for those babies we’ve brought into this world? Trivial and inconsequential though it may seem to some, even to me at times, my thinking tells me sharing and leaving behind an historically informative and possibly inspiring image or two wouldn’t hurt, nor would a few well chosen words of potentially useful insight. Contributing to an endlessly increasing stream of fabricated self-serving babble and noise is certainly not going to help any developing mind reach levels of knowing accomplishment useful or healthful to anyone.

May your visits to the beach this season, with or without your camera, be both healthful and inspiring of efforts you’ll be able to look back on with beaming pride, and not darkening regret.

Friday, July 28th, 2017
Bay Village