The Selective Process
Thanks to some dear friends, poetry’s been crossing my path recently. As I read the works I’m being introduced to I’m struck by what I feel are close similarities with the craft of photography. It’s all about the process of selection.
In a poem, words are carefully chosen and when woven together a new creation emerges. And it’s not just the passing of words over one’s tongue that creates the experience…it’s everything in the spaces in between. It’s the beat, the sounds, the rhythm and the flow that sets the table and serves up the meal.
Photography is the process of selection, too. When looking through the lens the photographer selects a portion of a bigger picture to tell the story. Deliberately leaving some parts behind. As the poet leads you down a trail with his or her words, the photographer directs your eyes by taking you to a spot you may not have seen before. In both cases, through the process of selection you are taken somewhere. Somewhere you hadn’t before imagined.
Which is the sole purpose of art.
"In the Zone. Winthrop, MA 1972"
When I was a student of photography at Emerson College we were taught the zone system. Made popular by photographers Ansel Adams and Minor White, the idea was through optimizing exposure and negative development you could capture to it’s fullest, all the tonalities availabilities of the black and white negative. Though it was a system based on science and chemistry what it really provided was a methodology between visualization of the photographic subject and producing the optimum final result. To capture all that was in what you could see, was the ultimate goal of the zone system.
Many photographers struggled with it. It wasn’t easy. A slight variation in exposure of your negative or the temperature in the developing bath and you missed it. I think I might of got it right once, with this photo of the woman on the commuter train. But, when you did achieve it, when all the right pieces came into place, you took your photographic skill to a new level. You were…in the zone.
We’ve all used this term before. And I believe we have all lay witness to the experience of someone, or ourselves. being “in the zone”. It’s that singular moment when everything that’s there, that could be there, is there. We see it in sports when the team’s power forward is draining three pointer after three pointer. We see it in music when the members of the band on stage seem to be so locked into each other that the music takes off to a place one can only imagine is reserved for the heavens. But what is most important, I believe, is that we recognize it as human beings. We all know, that down deep inside all of us is a place where it can all come together. Whatever it is, in the end we become locked in with what we believe is how good it can be. How we get there is different for everyone. It takes practice, hard work and great faith. But the beauty of it is, is that you know down deep inside it does exist and you know this to be fact. The zone is always there, it’s up to us to find it.
Caffe Trieste, North Beach, San Francisco 1975
When I first moved to San Francisco, a writer friend of mine insisted we make a pilgrimage to the city’s North Beach area. To him, this was hallowed ground. At the Caffe Trieste writers of the Beat movement in the late 50’s and early 60’s would spend their time here. It was the meeting place of choice for Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg, Richard Brautigan and Gregory Corso among others. Years later, Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of his screenplay for the Godfather while sitting here. It remains today a popular destination for writers, artists, musicians and actors. Perhaps all wanting to soak in the great expression that had been born here before them.
For me shadows always provide a different frame of reference in a photo. To some they present a challenge to control instead. In portraiture, you seek to control them, in landscapes, you look to calculate the detail in them. I say why fight them. Let them be what they are. Embrace them.
These shadows in the late afternoon at the Trieste conjure up a feeling of pause and quiet. A brief moment of solitude. Maybe holding a place for the another group of great minds waiting to take their seats.
"Jackson Browne, sound check. Boston 1974"
"Bruce Springsteen, Cambridge, MA May 1974, Piano Series #5"
Once in a while you revisit your work to see if you have missed anything, This one was a pleasant surprise.
"Bruce Springsteen, Piano Series #3, 1974"
Another one from the Cambridge, MA May 1974 show. With the E Street Band.
"Bonnie Raitt, Backstage, Boston, 1974"
Jesse Colin Young, Pt. Reyes Station, California 1977
"Van Morrison, Cambridge, MA 1974"