Tag Archives: Near Carr

The Mysterious Far-Away

Plains Song. Near Carr, Colorado, 2020.

I suppose it goes without saying that, as a photographer, it’s important to pay attention to the backgrounds of your images as you are composing them.  I’m sure most photographers do this, but sometimes I get the feeling it’s done pro forma, as kind of a chore that goes along with making a photograph of an interesting  foreground subject.  The background is something that’s necessarily there, but the task is simply to make sure nothing in it detracts from whatever the main subject of the image is.

Me, it’s almost the opposite.  I’ve said before that I feel like many of the subjects of my images are simply excuses to be able to make a photograph of an interesting background.  It’s an exaggeration, I don’t really believe that, but it’s not that far from the truth, either.  The content of the background contributes just as much to the meaning of the image as the content of the foreground, be the background a sky, a horizon, a collection of buildings, whatever.  It has to work in the composition as a matter of visual design, and it has to exist in meaningful relationship to whatever is placed in the foreground.  It’s not an afterthought, it’s that important.

But, I’ve also come to realize that, for me at least, the importance of the background extends even further, to a metaphysical level.  Backgrounds have the characteristic of being the mysterious far-away.  Whatever is in the foreground generally is definite, described, known.  That which is in the background generally is indefinite — again, to greater or lesser degrees, mysterious and far-away.

Take the image in this post.  it’s fairly easy to take the measure of the broken fence post that is the subject of the image because it is close, observable, and easily seen.  As a matter of visual communication, you know most of what there is to know about it because you can see it clearly.  The background, not so much.  What’s there, on that distant horizon?  Do you see the range of mountains?  Do you see the break in the clouds?  What lies in those mountains to be discovered?  What light shines there on what is to be seen?  How unlike the plains, with its broken fences and dangling barbed wire, must those mountain landscapes be?

I guess it’s in my nature to think the grass is greener on the other side.  That’s the appeal of the mysterious far-away.  It’s all about possibility and what is not yet known, rather than the immediacy and definiteness of what’s happening in the here-and-now.  And, maybe, it’s useful food for thought when thinking about backgrounds, foregrounds, and photographs.

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All Talk

Two Posts Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Two Posts
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Some time ago I read about a study that determined people experienced similar levels of satisfaction upon stating their intention to do something as they did in actually doing it.  For example, a person stating their intention to go on a diet to lose 10 pounds apparently experiences a similar physiological response of satisfaction as someone who actually goes on a diet and achieves a 10 pound weight loss.  The study went on to reason that talk about achieving a goal is a disincentive to actually working toward achieving that goal, since a level of satisfaction similar to achieving the goal already has been experienced simply by talking about it.  The conclusion of the study was that if you want to achieve something, it’s better not to talk about doing it before it is done.

I’ve found this to be true in my practice of photography.  At any given time, I have at least a few photography ideas or projects floating around in my head.  Most of them don’t go anywhere, but some do.  The one thing I’ve noticed, though, is that those that I’ve shared with others, prior to my actually starting them, uniformly still remain unrealized.  For me, there really does seem to be something about sharing an idea prematurely, before I’ve really committed to it in some fashion, that takes the wind out of the sails of doing it.  So I think I’ll revert back to my general practice of not talking up my projects that I would like to do, but instead simply having completed projects that speak for themselves.

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Heresy

High Plains Windmill Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

High Plains Windmill
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Not too long ago, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There’s a lot of art galleries in Santa Fe, including several that specialize in photography.  I was able to see quite a bit of photographic work spanning the range from old masters to contemporary artists, the majority of it captured on film and made as traditional silver gelatin prints.  Viewing all of this work, I came to a somewhat startling realization.  I’ve really grown quite fond of modern inkjet prints.

Don’t get me wrong, a well-done traditional silver gelatin print is a thing of beauty.  My interest in photography predates the digital camera revolution, and it was photographs made by film and darkroom processes that sparked that interest.  My appreciation for the medium remains firmly intact.

But…

Having started in photography as a digital photographer, and having worked exclusively with inkjet printing, I’ve naturally seen and worked with a lot of inkjet prints.  To me, inkjet printers and textured matte papers are a match made in heaven.  Done well, they produce prints that look and feel, to my eye, a bit warmer and a bit softer than their traditional counterparts, while still remaining distinctly photographic.

It’s a bit hard to put into words.  Once, I had a few photographs exhibited in a show that was mostly paintings.  I overheard a couple of the guests speculating on what medium my works were, and they went back and forth between photography and woodblock printing.  You might think that, as a photographer, I would be offended that someone would think my work could be woodblock prints.  I’m not.  It’s not a perfect analogy, but this is kind of what I mean when I say that inkjet prints on textured matte papers have a warm and soft quality.

By way of comparison, I couldn’t help but feel that the traditional silver gelatin prints I looked at in Santa Fe felt, well, a little cold and hard.  I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, they were still very beautiful.  But their beauty was manifested in a way that’s specific to silver gelatin printing technology.

I think among a certain group of photographers, my words here are a kind of heresy.  Throughout the short history of inkjet printing, silver gelatin has been the benchmark against which inkjet prints are judged.  The battle lines seem to have been drawn over whether or not inkjet prints are “catching up to” or “yet as good as” traditional film and darkroom processes.  Few seem to have taken the position that inkjet prints have their own qualities to recommend them, and that in those qualities can achieve excellence on par with the standard set for traditional prints.

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