Thursday, October 8, 2009

Three photos about dogs followed by one simple lesson.

Inside the Musée d'Orsay

Outside the Centre Pompidou

Inside our apartment

A unified theme can create a story between different subjects and circumstances.

I was at the Photographer's Gallery in London last week where I saw an inspiring exhibition of André Kertész's photos of people reading. Photos of people reading on balconies, in parks and cafés, but also people reading from piles of trash, on top of discarded newspaper, photos of people reading in painting, and so many declensions of the theme that it struck me how much a unified creates its own story. Walking from one photo to the next, I felt a connection between cultures, classes, circumstances. Not that we-are-all-the-same sentiment that my cynicism interprets as willful ignorance cloaked in charity, but more of a look-at-this-human-impulse-at-work-in-such-varied-situations moment of awe. Together in that gallery, photos taken over the course of years and across continents told me a complex story about a subject that matters to me.

Before leaving the gallery, I visited the bookstore and bought the book On Reading, as well as an irresistible little contemporary work called Mrs. West's Hats—a book that features self portraits of Helen Couchman wearing hats left to her by her grandmother. I immediately felt attached to Couchman's book, not because of any particular photo in it, but because of the collection as a whole and the thought and emotion that it represents.

After returning to Paris, I prepared a brief introduction to Atget for my students and found myself thinking again about how a theme creates a story.

For this post, I rapidly pulled up three photos of dogs: one taken this week in the Musée d'Orsay, one taken a few weeks ago near the Pompidou Center and one taken tonight of my 4-year-old daughter's collaborative project with her grandpa (six dogs and a brachiosaur). My quick experiment made me think more about dogs and the people who feel compelled to portray them (in museums, on walls, on refrigerator doors...). It's certainly no On Reading. Nor is it Mrs. West's Hats. Three things that prevent it from becoming so are time, attachment, and development. Beyond this post, I don't plan on any dog-themed books (there are too many of those in the world already). But it is making me think more about how theme relates to story. And maybe it will start making you think about grouping your own photos into stories simply by organization.


michelle said...

Good food for thought here. I am completely enthralled by the On Reading project. So much so that I am half-tempted to start my own collection of reading photos. Why must I be condemned to being a copycat?!