At the risk of stating the obvious, photography – or the act of taking a photo– is like doing a double take, or being able to be in two places at once. You are seeing, registering and interpreting in your own “this is my brain, this is how I see things” kind of way, and then you get to see it all over again. But this time against a literal frame that cuts off the bits of the whole picture, and against a metaphoric frame which is your expectations, or your wish to convey your vision, even while you know that taking a picture of something you are seeing will never replicate that vision again – instead it becomes an entire new thing all together. When you look at a picture you took it is not just about recognising the landscape, or people, or whatever may be in the image, but about recognising the moment that it was taken – the experience, as well as the process that you went through to choose to take that particular image in that particular way.
You see, photography is good for me. My mind likes nice, predictable patterns best – I feel ever so much better if I can predict and orchestrate the outcome of any given situation. Well, photography does not let you do that – more often than not it will give birth to something entirely different to what you had envisaged, often something that is a damned sight better than anything you could have come up with.
Today I took my daughter, my good friend Jennifer (unlike me a very accomplished photographer), my dog, and my new Canon EOS600d to the beach. It was one of those days – although late autumn and potentially wet and rainy in the lead up to an even wetter and rainier winter – the sun was shining, it was mild, the clouds were beautiful, and between the Christian sports convention on one end of the beach, and the lone Kundalini yoga guy on the other end, there was much to be seen and heard apart from the already amply entertaining waves, seabirds, cliffs and native trees.
All three of us had cameras. And all three of us slipped back and forth between the being there and the being somewhere else. My daughter ran along the beach, urging us on to explore further, helping us to see things that we would normally see as un-remarkable. Even the dog, obsessively sniffing unseen things under rocks or listening to something in the far distance helped us to train our eyes to detect some kind of secret story in everything we saw. The photographer Diane Arbus said that every photograph is about a secret, and “the more it tells you the less you know.” And while I love language and everything about the written word, there is nothing that compares to the silent and potential ambiguity of a still picture. So I will agree with Ansel Adams, who stated that:
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”