Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September Monthly Special: Points of View

Three view of Time

Blogger has been buggy and locked me out for 3 days. I'm so glad to be back on!!!


Ever since I bought Sam Abell's latest book, The Life of a Photograph, I have been wanting to do something along the lines of "two views of" or "three views of"—in short, a month about points of view. We often talk about artists as having "a point of view"—an outlook that defines them and their work. Think of a famous musician, an artist, a chef—any well-known creative mind—and I bet you describe certain characteristics that typify their point of view. But where does that come from? I won't pretend to have the whole answer, but let me focus on one aspect: editing.

Philosophical Ramblings
If I had read Winifred Gallagher's book (and I really want to), Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, I could give you a more authoritative explanation of how we choose to pay attention to some things and ignore others. Why do some of us focus more intently on sound or smell or sight than others? How can two people live through the same moment but have different experiences? Or bringing it back to photography, "attention" and "the focused life" are two things I most associate with the process of capturing photos. As I said in my last post, when I have a project, I pay attention. I change the way I filter my world. Which brings us back to editing...

In an interview with PDN, Sam Abell explains how the editing process places value on photos. In a magazine spread, for example, one photo may get a full page and another a thumbnail-sized print. Still, another may never be printed at all. But naturally, that editorial eye is subjective (see a brilliantly entertaining example of editorial subjectivity in the documentary about Vogue magazine, The September Issue). Abell explains that his own values—or point(s) of view—are in constant flux:
There are pictures that were part of the process that now I like better than the pictures that were chosen some years ago. I was a different person, and the influences on my decision-making were different. For example, I can look at a picture that is tighter, that was chosen say ten years ago, and now I like the picture that’s more stepped back, that’s more inclusive and less concentrated or less intensely composed. (PDN)
The problem with talking about points of view is that we can quickly slip into a mindset of radical skepticism that I find useless. It may be charitable to claim that every choice is equally valid, but that doesn't mean that the wedding announcement that came in today's mail won't go into my collection of tacky treasures (mean-spirited, but oh so entertaining). And it doesn't mean that Sam Abell's older self chooses better photos than his younger self. In fact, what inspired me is how Abell gives equal value to multiple points of view and let's the reader/viewer make the judgment call.

The Monthly Special Challenge
This month I invite you to cultivate your points of view. Look at the same thing from different angles or at different moments or cropped differently or...

This is a chance to keep working on triptychs or polyptychs if you so desire and/or to hone your editing skills both at the moment of capturing the photo and in the editorial decisions. I would see more people post and link back here to share your own ideas about experimenting with points of view and about the decision-making process. This might be a time to reexamine those second-best photos in your collection or to revisit a site you have photographed. This might be a good time to get out of a rut or to decide what most defines your photography (and embrace it or modify it).

I hope to get back to more regular posts this month. I leave for Paris in 6 days, so I will see what new ideas my favorite city gives me. And I'm looking forward to your own ideas.


michelle said...

Hmm. Now I'm interested in Gallagher's book, as well. I love your series here, and you've given me some things to think about.