Sunday, August 30, 2009

Geschichte in Augenblicken

My art making is process-driven, a by product of being an experimental scientist. I start out making a print, or a painting, or a photograph by thinking of the process rather than thinking about a specific image or goal. And when I look at the art of others, I often wonder what their process was, how they arrived at the final destination of the piece. So it's somewhat paradoxical that I abhor the need of most photographers to know "what lens, what camera, what f-stop, what shutter speed, what filter, what film/memory card/pixel count" about virtually all images. Somehow their need to know this information seems mechanical, leads to arguments over minutiae, and in many respects has nothing to do with process.

So I hesitate to say that today I went out into the back garden with no obvious goal in mind except to take some images with a new digital camera and a zoneplate lens attachment. The hesitation is that I don't identify with a particular camp when it comes to photography tools - I use the tools at hand that I think will get me started on a process that will engage and interest me. Sometimes it's film, sometimes digital; sometimes it's ultrasharp lenses, sometimes it's a $1 magnifying glass lens; sometimes I'll end up in the darkroom, sometimes I'll be working with Lightroom. If so many people interested in photography weren't so mental about digital vs film, "straight out of the camera" vs post-processed, I would be less circumspect about how some of my images were realized.

This image and the crazy ramp-up to a new term of teaching made me think of a simpler time in our lives quite some time ago. We spent a couple of years in Germany, working at a research institute, renting an apartment and spending our free time traveling and getting together with a motley group of ex-pats. That time holds a lot of wonderful memories, and I dream of returning to those simpler times. Looking at this image made me think of the German word augenblick which we would refer to as "the blink of an eye", a moment in time. "Geschichte in Augenblicken" means story in moments. Which seems like a very succinct definition of life, each of our stories being unique. A photograph by its very definition is the story of a moment, so there is a strong connection between life and photography. Something as simple as trying out new equipment has opened up the idea for a new series of images, of moments that define my life, my story.

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