If you study the history of photography from it’s first shot through today’s almost incalculable iterations, you will see the art form takes on an enormous range of artistic expressions. I’m actually proud to say I started off in the age of film photography. I know what it’s like to have to be super intentional about the exposure, about getting it right the first or second time because film cost a fortune, and getting it developed cost even more. I also know what it’s like to take a photo and not see the results for a week or more (that was probably the worst part about shooting film back in the day), which made improving as a photographer a slower, more intentional process. Looking back at all that film I shot, I know it helped me tremendously when it comes to shooting in today’s digital world.
My grandad was a photographer as well, and he of course also did all of his work in film, but it wasn’t the 35mm film I grew up shooting, it was a medium format, 4×5 film, and still popular 220 film roll that he used. The one 4×5 negative I still have of his is this self-portrait, taken with the very camera showcased in this post. It was taken back in the 1970’s (when you kept cameras for more than a year or two), back in a time when these were called “self-portraits” not selfies.
Perhaps a little known fact about me is I really love the unique beauty of urban decay. In the south, as is the case virtually all over the world, you see abandon buildings, houses, and various different structures that are being reclaimed by nature. You’ve heard of “urban decay photography,” sometimes referred to as urban exploration, urbex, or UE, which is the exploration of those various places, but you rarely hear of “rural decay” exploration. Probably because most people don’t live in the rural backwoods of wherever, they live in the city.
For those of us who do spend most of our days in the rural south, little abandon houses, barns, sheds, and all kinds of structures are literally everywhere. Sometimes you have to look pretty hard because they have been completely reclaimed by the trees like the first image above. Barely visible from the road, it was probably once a small house sitting on the road on the way to town. Today it’s being consumed by the land.
The clear summer skies are upon us it seems, so my nephew and I setup for some viewing and photography last night. For more of a how-to-tutorial I should at some point talk equipment and setup but I’ll save that for another day. The skies were clear last night but the atmospheric conditions were not the best for planetary astrophotography, so we stuck with “night shots” and the Milky Way.
I finally made it over to the Southern Museum of Flight. I have lived, worked, and traveled around Birmingham for the better part of my life, but had never been over to this particular museum, even when I worked at the Birmingham Airport. On Saturday I had some uncommitted time in Birmingham and I decided to head over towards the airport to check it out. I wasn’t real sure how much there would be there to see, but I was pleasantly surprised and I had basically complete access to shoot throughout the museum. I love aviation museums (the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola is probably my favorite, thought I haven’t been to the Smithsonian yet). There is a civil aviation side (hanger) and a military aviation side, each with unique displays.
I finally had a chance to get out and “smell the roses” as they say. I’ve found it to be harder and harder over the years to just slow down and spend an hour or two walking through the property, there always seems to be something pressing that needs attention, and that is not my most enjoyable (or effective) pace. I took a few images here straight out of the camera that were my favorites. There was no post-processing done on these images, they were the jpg’s right off the card (and as such need a little sharpening and so on).
One of the first pictures created was said to have been taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, which shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris. Susan Sontag in her classic 1977 criticism On Photography said “to collect photographs is to collect the world,” and as a photographer I often ask myself, hasn’t the entire world been collected yet? Why does the world need one more photographer taking one more photo?
The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. ~On Photography, 1977.
The answer often seems much more complicated. What is amazing about Sontag’s words from almost 40 years ago is we actually haven’t yet photographed Plato’s cave, our world. Today we upload over 2 billion images a day to social media sites, and just trying to figure out how many images may have been taken in the world is basically impossible. How, with billions of photographs being taken each day, has the entire world yet to be fully photographed? Because time is always moving forward, and the world is always straining under the constant change that time provides. If constantly changing, the art of photography an always ever changing medium, showing the world we live in 1/250th of a second at a time. A small point in time, but one that will never happen again.
As the Newtown “anniversary” approaches I came back to this poem I wrote on the day of that tragedy. It seems our world is confronted with the realities of these shootings almost every day now. The likes of Newtown, Roseburg, or just this week the San Bernardino shootings, are all too frequent. For most part, there really isn’t any good or “proper” way to express thoughts or feelings about these events. Historically, in times of great joy or sadness this is poetry’s job, to express the inexpressible. That is what I love about poetry.
I’m not sure why I even picked the Newtown tragedy to write about three years ago. As far as I can tell, there have been ~85 school shootings since Newtown, and I have no connection to any one of them. No connection of course other than being a citizen of this country, disgusted at the face of evil, and at the time found no other expressive outlet other than poetry. At the time (September 2012) I had watched a live news broadcast showing a typical “car chase” in Los Angeles that ended in a visibly paranoid [perhaps mentally disturbed] man committing suicide, mistakenly broadcasted live over the air in real time. For some reason this incident was still fresh on my mind on December 14th. The face of evil has many disguises, but I think it probably feels the most horrible, the most evil, when it surfaces among our schools and children. Those lives we try to protect the most from situations in the world just such as Newtown.
The verse below has gone through some revisions over the last three years. Not many, but enough that the day it was written is still fresh on the mind, yet time has allowed for perspective. The name of the poem could have been Columbine, or Roseburg, or any number of names. The words seem to ring true to me no matter the title. Evil may have won on this day, but ultimately it’s time is fleeting. So, here are the words I penned that day.
It was so hot today that every time I went outside I felt like I was going to just pass out. The humidity has been so super high this summer that it just feels suffocating. I decided before dinner I was going to get off my butt and go for a walk, and I made it around the property exactly once. I was walking slow and looking for something of worth to take a photo of, like these mushrooms, but couldn’t do any more than one lap. It was worth getting out here, but the woods were full of the summer spiders ever expanding their reach from tree to tree, and I had to be constantly look for snakes, especially since the kids killed that rattlesnake our here last week.