[The bird picture is our current print sale print —Ed.]
It's not my usual thing. I don't make emotive, evocative photographs. My subject matter sometimes is awe-inspiring—total eclipses, space launches, aurorae—so I'm used to making photographs that elicit a "that is just so amazing" reaction. But they aren't deep.
That's fine. I'm not trying to be deep. If there's any message I'm trying consciously or unconsciously to convey in the assembled body of my work, it's "oh wow, look at that!" For me, that's a sufficiently profound artistic statement to make about the world, because the truth is that most people don't really look at the world. They see scenes in passing, they don't give them their full and undivided attention. The biggest compliment I can get about a photograph is when someone says (and they often do), "I never noticed that before" or "I never saw it that way before."
Then there's the photograph that TOP is selling this week. It's a whole different thing for me, maybe unique, certainly uncommon.
It didn't start out that way. DDB (David Dyer-Bennet, he of the Lincoln Memorial photograph) and I were walking back from a sushi lunch in St. Paul wending our way through the mazelike Habitrail that is the above-street walkways and parking ramps of downtown St. Paul. We were passing through one of those walkways. (I couldn't tell you which one—I've walked it dozens of times and it still confuses me. I only hope I never find the Minotaur.) There they were. Ghostly, dusty impressions of pigeons in the glass, backlit by the sun so they glowed against the shadowed buildings.
DDB and I are both strong believers in the dictum that the camera you have with you makes better photographs than the one you left at home; we were equipped. We both took out our cameras. We both went to work. It was a challenging subject, technically. I'll go into that tomorrow or Friday morning, when I discuss the making of this print. For now, I'll just leave it with saying that it was not easy to get a photograph I was happy with.
Consequently, I wasn't thinking hard about the emotional connotations of the scene. The information was all there in my head—I knew what produced impressions like this, I knew the likely fate of the bird, I had all the pertinent knowledge. My attention, though, was concentrated on capturing the light, the composition, the photographic qualities that would make it a photograph worth looking at.
When I pulled it up on the monitor in DDB's studio, it started to hit me. It knocked me in two conflicting directions. It was gorgeous, an ethereal vision of the spirit of flight, angel wings, the dove of peace, of transcendence. It was there in the pale icy soft-blue glow of the light on the dusty impression of feathers, set against the mundane hues of the background buildings. Unquestionably it was a beautiful photograph.
But, it was...awful. A record of a thoughtless, unnecessary death. What had created this beauty very likely killed the creature who created it. It was creepy and ghoulish, a morbid voyeurism.
And it keeps flipping back and forth in my brain. It's the emotional equivalent of the optical illusion that either looks like a vase or two profiles, the staircase that goes up and down at the same time. It delights me and it disturbs me at the same time. I can't separate the feelings.
Of course I had to do my best to concentrate that essence and distill it into a print. I wasn't sure what had worked on the screen would work on paper. It did, better than I had any reason to hope.
I am entirely uncomfortable with the photograph. Along with experimental curiosity, that's the reason why I've offered it for sale here in two different sizes. Some people will want to hang this on their wall. Some won't. Some will want it to have a dominant voice, some will want it to be a disquieting little whisper in the corner or in a box.
Me, for myself, I don't know. The photograph unsettles me. I'm okay with that.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Ctein. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Mark Steigelman: "I can relate. I witnessed United Airlines flight 175 going into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The thought of it makes me beyond sad, but at the moment of impact, before I even had time to think about what was happening, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the unfolding scene—the plane entered the tower like a sperm going into an egg and the sunlight shimmering glass explosion that followed. I went from awe to despair in a matter of seconds."