It's About Time

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The purpose of art is to stop time.
— Bob Dylan

Photography teachers will say, “If you want to be a successful photographer, at some point you must decide on an area of focus. Identify a type of photography you’re drawn to (portraits, landscapes, still life, street photography, abstract, wedding, family life style. . . to name just a few) and limit yourself to it so you can study and practice it in depth.”

This idea makes perfect sense to me. I’ve fretted about the fact that I’ve practiced and studied photography for several years now and find it impossible to limit myself. I enjoy different types of photography too much. Food photography? Who doesn’t like to look at great looking food, sign me up! Spring flowers? How could I possibly walk by those tulips without wanting to capture those colors, those details, those curves?

I took the photo of the yellow blossom lying next to the faded almost-autumn leaves a few days ago. The yellow blossom is a begonia. I bought begonia bulbs early last spring, stuck them on a shelf in the garage, and when I finally got them in the ground it was mid July. Begonias apparently like to get started in coolish weather, something in short supply in Kansas City in late summer. I held little hope they would actually sprout, much less produce flowers. To my surprise over half of them came up, and several of them actually bloomed. The willingness of those little begonias to put in an appearance in spite of my inconsiderate timing touched me. I had to reach for my camera.

I took the photo below just yesterday. I was walking down a street in downtown Kansas City when the scene called to me from an alleyway. The old bricks and the vintage things I saw peeking through the weather-beaten window were such a contrast to the street art recently painted on the side of the building. What’s the message? Maybe that time moves on, but reminders of the past are everywhere we look. Especially in photographs.

Two completely unrelated photos, and typical of photographs I might produce in any given week. Am I sentencing myself to mediocrity because my photos are all over the map? I recently listened to a discussion between David duChemin and Jeffrey Sadoris, two well-known photographers and photography teachers. The topic was a photo’s subject (what’s the photo of?) versus what a photo is about (what’s going on in the photo?). David suggested studying Wynn Bullock, a famous photographer from the time of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

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Who was this guy? He was so all over the map! Wynn Bullock does landscapes and he does nudes and he does abstracts... When I look at someone like Wynn Bullock, there is a lot of variety in his “of.” But his “about” is largely about the relationship between man and nature.
— David duChemin

After hearing this discussion I asked myself what my photos are generally about and came up with an answer pretty quickly. They’re almost always about time. Passing time, then versus now, the ravages of time, hard times, the good old days… That realization is enough to grant me some serenity for at least another month! For more serene thoughts check out this post from Amy L. Smith, Anchorage, Alaska Photographer.