Saturday, November 28, 2009
Whenever I run across it, I pick up an issue of Artful Blogging, a relatively new (and, as far as I can tell, irregular) Somerset Studios publication. It’s a fun magazine, with excerpts of beautiful blogs and good blogging inspiration – something for which I have dire need (as you might have noticed from the sparse entries lately).
So, I dive into the magazine and the first article is all about photo staging. The point of the article, I guess, is to help folks create photos to convey the imagery they want to feature on their blogs. Wait, I thought, people “create” those vignettes? You mean those aren’t photographic glimpses of what their real lives look like?
This reminds me of the sheepish shock I felt years ago while taking a black and white photography course (in the “before digital” days of darkrooms and film winding and all.) We were all novices, trying to get artistic composition and good black and white tones and the right exposure, all at the same time. One woman in the class printed out a lovely picture of a sweet household scene – a weathered cane chair, a small pair of rainboots leaning drunkenly to one side, a casual bouquet of daffodils wrapped in paper and resting on the chair. Silly, naive me – I looked at the shot and thought “Wow, she took that great picture AND she has that great scene in her house.” In my mind, I imagined the wonderful, cozy, picture-book life she must have with daffodils just lying about with such casual whimsy. I could just smell the cookies baking and sense the gingham curtains that surely must have decorated the charming life that went along with that picture.
And then, of course, the woman started talking about how she arranged the shot and posed everything Just So to get the right lighting and shadows, and how she moved the chair from another room, and found the rainboots at a local thrift store for use as a photo prop. Boy, were my illusions shattered. It never occurred to me that you (I mean, I) could do that! Isn’t that, um, cheating?
Here it is years later, and I’ve taken a lot of photographs. But I’ve never mastered the art of staging a photo to get a picture that looks real and spontaneous ... truthfully, it still feels vaguely like cheating so I never really try. And as I’ve pondered this idea over the years, I realize that it undoes what it is I like about photography – the frozen moment of reality, the wonderful discovery of some real moment in time, the discovery of beauty or happiness in some small detail. It’s using the camera to find something artful that appeals to me – as opposed to creating something artful and using the camera to document the creation.
This means, of course, that when I see those great shots of people sitting on victorian sofas in the middle of wheat fields, yes, I do like thinking that somewhere, there’s a couch in the middle of a field because it just IS there. I don’t want to think about it being hauled out there, just to be a prop. I want life to have sofas in fields, I guess. It gives me hope about the magical, unanticipated gifts just waiting out there for us.
The picture above, by the way, is a scene from real life -- not exactly a sofa in a field, but close enough for me.