I’m taking part in Susannah Conway’s August Break photo challenge on Instagram in August. Day 14’s prompt was “Love is . . . “
I wasn’t sure what would most represent this for me, but I spent most of the day sorting out my archive and backlog of photos in my Hobart Street Corners photo project from the past four years, and starting to put them on my website so they have a life beyond Instagram.
I guess spending over four years on a project must mean I love it, right?
I mean, I do. I love the idea of documenting these places and how they change over time, and keeping a long-term record of this.
I can’t say I loved looking at some of the terrible editing I did back in 2018 and 2019 though, and I like to think I’ve improved a bit there. And I do sometimes feel I’ve set myself up to fail with an unnecessarily excessive volume of photos that maybe I don’t love as much as I want to.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Where to with the project? What do I want it to be? How can I maintain the love?
I’ve recently looked at collections of photos by Stephen Shore and read his reflections on structuring his images, some of which are street corners. Not that I’m comparing my work to Stephen Shore’s, but his comments rang true for me.
In the 1970s and 1980s Stephen photographed, among other things, city intersections. He talks about how content and structure would guide him to where he would photograph and exactly where to place the camera, but that there was a bigger question: Why this particular intersection on this day, in this light, at this moment? He says thinking about this gave him the experience of deep connection with the content of the picture. (Modern Instances, page 61.)
It would be easy for me to say that the answer to that question is that I simply wanted to record the street corner that I happened to be walking past at this moment in time. It’s the reason for the very first photo from the project in February 2018. I don’t think this is a bad thing. And it’s very easy to do when you’re using an iPhone rather than a view camera like Stephen Shore ended up using for many of photographs. (Have you seen the size of those things?)
(Random aside, I think I read somewhere that Stephen uses an iPhone for some of his images now.)
But even with this reason, I feel like I can only sustain this for so long, before it starts to get same-y and uninspiring. It starts to feel like a chore and I start to seek more from the pictures.
I’m not sure what this might be. I’m not about to run out and get an 8×10 camera to force myself to slow down. This is an iPhone project, and it comes with the many limitations of using that as a camera.
But even just becoming aware, as Stephen started to be when he started shooting with the view camera, of the “continual shifting” of the visual relationships between the elements while walking down a street. “The telephone pole bears an ever changing relationship to a building next to it or behind it, this mailbox changes its relationship to the telephone pole.” These changes we can pay conscious attention to as we walk. (Uncommon Places, page 201.)
As he worked, Stephen would ask, “Where do I stand so that the camera makes sense of the space I can see?” (Modern Instances, page 59.)
The intersection he saw as a three-dimensional problem. Where am I going to stand? Where am I going to cut it off? How much am I going to show? Am I going to wait for a person to stand in or a car to stop? (Uncommon Places, page 201.)
These are things I can pay closer attention to when I’m at an intersection, even if my phone can’t capture all of the detail that a large format camera would.
Bringing more awareness to what I’m including in the image, and why I’m making it at that time (apart from it being on the way to work) might make me slow down and think a bit more. I might make fewer photos but perhaps they’ll be more interesting or insightful.
By slowing down it will take longer for me to make a photograph, which I’ll then post on Instagram to be viewed briefly in someone’s feed. It’s a curious mix. The image maker and the image viewer experience very different things.
As Stephen says of his prints, “I can pay attention to small details, I can see relationships in space that may not reveal themselves immediately, and have all of this inform a picture which is then taken in very quickly by the viewer. So there is a compression of time in the picture: to be there and see everything could take minutes, but it all can be grasped at once on this piece of paper.” (Uncommon Places, page 201.)
But I don’t think this means I shouldn’t slow down, observe elements in place and be more deliberate in my framing. That creates the meaning for me, and that’s what I want to play around with for a while, and see where it takes the project.