What the Photographer Adds is Revelation
by Ken Tanaka
Two weeks ago Carl Weese presented an article here in which he lamented that he found photographing such man-made creations as architecture and gardens boring because “…it’s all been done by the architect and decorators and I really have nothing to add.” I understand how Carl, and others, might feel this way. But, with all respect to Carl, there is a counterpoint thesis that I’d like to take a moment to present.
In my own experience, and opinion, what the photographer must "add" to such subjects is revelation. When we photograph something, whether it’s a building, a garden, or a car, we are using light and position to reveal its nature to future viewers of that image. One of my own overarching goals in photography is to reveal characteristics of, for example, buildings that a viewer might not casually notice or might not be able to observe at all in-person. How does it appear at night? In the early morning? In the winter after a heavy snowfall? What are the details of its construction and surface? How do people interact with it? How does it spatially interact with its context? What are the proportional relationships of its mass and fenestrations? Et cetera. I want each of my images to tell their viewers something visually new about that subject even if the viewer visited the subject many times.
The image of the country church that Carl presented makes me itch to see such characteristics of that structure. I want to see its symmetries and asymmetries. I want to see how it handles standing on that slope. (I'll bet it sags.) I want to see what's on that sign. What does it look like at different times of day and different seasons. Most of all, what does it look like when it's in use?
Looking at the small sample images I’ve provided of Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion you might say that such a lavish structure provides more abundant opportunities for such visual "revelations." No argument there. Frank’s designs leave plenty of food for a hungry lens. But nearly any building or other designed object offers plenty of opportunities to capture interesting and unique perspectives. You may have to physically discomfort yourself to get them. You may have to momentarily embarrass yourself to get them. You may even have to change to a different format of photography to get them. But the images are there, whether it’s a fireplug, a restored 1957 Chevy Impala, or a cathedral.
The primary defense against photographic boredom is inspiration. There's nothing more conducive to inspiration than changing your perspective on a subject to reveal its broader nature in new ways.
Posted by: KEN TANAKA