Silver gelatin prints 14x14" on 16x20 paper base
This is part 2 of a related pair of projects. Please visit Images of Eden, 1983-84. Both projects were influenced by the great photographer of Paris, Eugene Atget (1857-1927). I wanted to try to adopt Atget’s picture making style of unaffected directness, and at the same time try to achieve the kind of pictorial poetics I see and feel in much of Atget’s work. When I stood in front of my Milwaukee city subjects, strange as it might sound, I was also seeing - in a way - Paris through Atget’s eyes.
A Sense of Place
The title of this project I hope hints at what I am after in my work. A sense of Place is actually a profound concept, it seems to me. I use the word to indicate an intuited, felt meaning in the space photographed. This is tricky too because this phrase the space can often be confusing; does the term refer to the space the camera was pointed at in the real world? or the pictorial space in the photographic image which the camera produced. For a photographer, these two spaces are often merged or inseparable.
Weston and Adams and many other photographers, including yours truly, will talk about seeing photographically, that is seeing in the mind’s eye what the photograph will look like, how it will feel, what it might reveal and mean, at the time of clicking the shutter of the stuff in front of the camera. What some photographers see while looking at the world is also the potential photograph. In fact the picture we hold in our minds eye might be more what is being seen then the actual world in front of the camera.
Place as a concept
Place is a complex concept for me. It is not just a bunch of things; it’s a feeling, a character, a personality, a meaning that consists of a huge number of variable ingredients that have fallen together in time.
There is the primary subject matter, and then there is it’s context in a larger sense of time and history; for example a certain place also exits within the contexts of a nation, state, city, neighborhood, and in a point in time that could stretch back into vast histories, etc.
There is the light, the time of day, the time of year, the temperature of a particular day, all of which affects the impulse to make a photograph and the way it ends up looking as an image. Come back to the same place at a different time, and much has changed.
There are countless other different things that come together that make up a sense of place: concrete, kind of wood, color and age of painted and weathered surfaces, trees, size of trees, age of trees, kind of trees, stones, all kinds of objects; and not just the things, but the way they come together as a composition within itself and within the camera’s frame.
There is the issue of the place where the photographer stands in relation to his complex, chosen subject -- not only in distance (how close or how far, to the left or right) but also the photographer’s emotional or conceptual or intentional place. That is, what I see and feel and what invokes a desire in me to make a photograph has a lot to do with what I need to learn about myself as picture maker; what I need to learn about I am photographing; what I believe; how I feel that day; what I had to eat for breakfast; how my relationships with others are going at the time, etc.
City Places #1
Image 1 is a transitional photograph from the Eden series to the City series. I of course had Eden on my mind as I moved into the city of Milwaukee to continue the second part of the larger two part project. But Milwaukee is not “the celestial city.” Most of my city photographs are dark and brooding. The light is mostly soft gray. They are photographs of an old industrial town, largely of German descent, which once thrived in its early history, but by the mid 1980’s was in a serious state of decline - as were most other industrial US cities at that time.
So many of my City photographs, like Atget’s photographs of Paris, are about a remembrance of times past, about a feeling, a longing or nostalgia for the past that I felt in the subjects and the spaces I was photographing. A certain life once lived and vital, is not lost or in a visible state of neglect or decay.
But in my more successful City pictures Place is for me am ineffable feeling of life. It might might be a feeling or sense not sayable, but there is some essential life present; perhaps something more than nostalgia, or loss, or longing. I feel this same presence in Atget’s Paris photographs.
As a matter fact Atget ran a business, a photo archive. Part of his intention as a photographer was to preserve in pictures what he loved of Old Paris, and make it available to others. He took most of his pictures on his own initiative in hopes that eventually others would want or need to buy them. He organized his archive in all kinds of ways, according to subject, place, etc. Atget’s photographs were of course about what he photographed, yes; but also they were about his love for something that he saw was leaving him.
1 City Places, Cement factory silos, train bridge, trees 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
2 City Places, Stock Yards 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
3 City Places, Bridge, train tracks, power pole 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
4 City Places, Abandoned Car 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
5 City Places, Cyclops (conveyor belt house) 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
5 City Places, Sewer Pipes 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
5 City Places, Truck Docks 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
6 City Places, Snow mound, parking garage 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
9 City Places, "Mobile Regular" 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
10 City Places, Knotted Rope barricade 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
11 City Places, Oil Drums, Milk case 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
12 City Places, Fire Escape 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
13 City Places, Railroad tracks 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
14 City Places, Snow - Industrial buildings 10.5x10.5" gelatin silver print
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