What purpose is a photograph?

What purpose is a photograph? 

 

Southwest from the South Jetty, Clatsop County, Oregon, 1990 A - Robert Adams

Southwest from the South Jetty, Clatsop County, Oregon, 1990 A - Robert Adams

We take them or make them. Maybe it does not matter to try not to forget  – a mark in time always, a promise perhaps – an insane attempt to address the inevitable next with optimism.

Three important and beautiful series of black-and-white landscape photographs will be showcased in Oceans, Rivers, and Skies: Ansel Adams, Robert Adams, and Alfred Stieglitz.

National Gallery of Art, October 12, 2008–March 15, 2009

The Man of the Crowd

   It was well said of a certain German book that ‘es lasst sich nicht lesen’ — it does not permit itself to be read. There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told. Men die nightly in their beds, wringing the hands of ghostly confessors, and looking them piteously in the eyes — die with despair of heart and convulsion of throat, on account of the hideousness of mysteries which will not suffer themselvesto be revealed. Now and then, alas, the conscience of man takes up a burthen so heavy in horror that it can be thrown down only into the grave. And thus the essence of all crime is undivulged. – Edgar Allan Poe, (source)

Let it be obvious then, that some good pictures might also be more like some good writing.  It’s no mystery really, but rather the power of observation that matters most in achieving this elusive goal – good pictures that is.

Empty street corner - Night approaching - Matt Niebuhr, 2007

Empty street corner - Night approaching - Matt Niebuhr, 2007

It seems to me that you need not go to the extreme of making up your own version of reality – not withstanding that fact that you can – if you are too impatient. But merely you must practice your own powers to observe what’s happening from multiple viewpoints – and then when the moment occurs – be as ready as you can…  What comes after a picture (or story) – is interpretation – which is the role of the observer – is something you can try to anticipate – but to my mind should never lead the way.