Paul Crovella, Palm Tree
Back in art school when I didn't get enough haircuts and wore my jeans till they fell apart, I used to say my ambition was to take pictures with nothing in them (just being contrary), so you can probably sympathize when I say I love shots like this. It's the "shots like this" part where the mystery lies, however. Twenty years ago—warping into thirty, now, must be—my friend Kim had a legendary radio show on WHFS in Washington, D.C. that centered on new music and unknown bands. Kim is not a man of many or fancy words, but he's wise in the ways of art. He taught me that there's no such thing as "that kind" of art—that within every genre there's the whole gamut, a lot of bad and a lot of average and maybe a little good, too. He'd say he couldn't "hear" music he didn't understand, and he'd listen till he got it. When somebody says something like "I hate abstract expressionism," or "I hate rap," they only mean they've never looked into it and it's still something apart and outside. People who understand, differentiate. They see the landscape of that genre, the ups and downs, the ins and outs. Until you start to get the subtleties, you haven't yet really started to see.
Naturally we only get down to seeing the subtleties of the things we like well enough to look at to begin with. Sympatico precedes affection.
This is a great shot of its kind, I think. On his website, the photographer talks about the "...somewhat humorous sense of isolation of a palm tree on a barren lot behind locked gates." I see what he means, but only because he tells me. I don't read humor. I read this entirely formally. The abstract clumping of the bushes broadcast across the frame, the distinctively different plant centered in the frame standing apart from the pattern, the echo of the slash of sidewalk in that single line in the sky. Those two side-by-side rectangles like frames. Look at the lines, the echoes, the way things touch. Desert sunlight both bright and milky. That one little dab of yellow; if this were a painting, the painter would have stared at his picture for three days, admiring and critical, added that little rectangle, then pronounced his work done.
Featured Comment by Robert Roaldi: "This topic about seeing things that the creator didn't intend [being discussed in the comments] is a difficult one. In an interview once, I heard the Canadian author Margaret Atwood say that if the reader spotted something in one of her novels, she'd be happy to take the credit for it (whether she'd intended it or not).
"I looked at that photo and the first thought that came into my mind was 'suburban wasteland.' Was that what the creator intended?
"I don't see how you can ever escape from having viewers (or readers) find things in a work that the creator didn't consciously intend. Points of view are simply too different from each other. I don't think you could ever limit the 'meaning' of a work to only what the creator originally intended either, even if it were possible to strictly determine what that had been. If you asked the photographer what he intended at the moment of creation, and got a coherent answer, that answer might be different from one he might come up with a day later.
"This is a common experience. If you read the same novel several years apart, it's astonishing to see how different the work is the second time round, or third, even though it's the same words.
"The issue is made more difficult by the fact that there is no guarantee that a visual artist is even able to articulate in spoken/written language what it was they were trying to convey. I tend to have a personal prejudice against trying to express verbally what an image is supposed to mean visually."
Featured Comment by John Robison: "The problem is that some of us, like me, are literal-minded. We see what's there, and only what's there. But...if I were to express the first impression that came to my mind it would be HEAT! Hot, unrelenting sun beating down on hot pavement, nowhere to run to cool off, ack, can't breathe, too hot. My feelings about hot weather color everything when I look at this photo."