Home » Art » The Idea: A Case Study #1

The Idea: A Case Study #1

Water's Edge

Water’s Edge

Now that we have explored the way “Idea” works on many levels in our work, I thought I might present a series of examples of how the layers of Idea have worked in various ways for me.

When I started in photography,  my work was pretty much all over the place.  I didn’t really have any real framework of meaning that governed what I did but rather defaulted back to what we might consider a more simple, naïve aesthetic–things like flowers, ducks, sunsets or whatever was just nice and pleasing–and dare I say “cute” (although I don’t remember photographing Kittens!).  There wasn’t a whole lot of thought behind what I was doing just the attempt at creating a pleasing, successful photograph that others might “ooooo and “aaahhhh” over.  Certainly, this is a very normal beginning approach to photography and one that can give many hours and years of satisfaction to many.

(digression)This morning, I had the thought about this and how it affects the way we look at photographs, which is to quickly scan for subject and then whether we react favorably or not. (Not wholly different from how we navigate through our daily lives, only taking notice of those things that affect us in some way and moving past those that seem irrelevant to our immediate need–a topic for later discussion by the way!)  When that response is favorable, we might look a bit longer.  If it isn’t favorable, we tend to just walk on.  What came to my mind here was how, on the other hand, we will stand around and stare for a long time waiting for one of those abstract, color scribble-y images we see in the Mall to reveal itself, its meaning, what’s hidden there.   Some will eventually render those patterns into an actual picture–maybe even in 3D, I don’t know, I have never solved even one of those!

The point is that when we see an objective image or one we feel should be–particularly a photograph but it probably applies to most forms of art–, we don’t necessarily consider that there may be a puzzle hidden there but make a quick decision and only linger if it immediately elicits a positive response.  I realize that this is a matter of degree and is more individual than the generalization here, but maybe applicable to some degree to many of us or in certain circumstances.  Anyway, I just thought this was something worth considering.(/digression)

But, photography had ignited something inside of me and it became the means for a more personal form of expression.  As I recognized this, I moved towards a form of work that touched me more deeply inside than just the objective, grand landscape which I had evolved towards.  I found this happened for me when I saw the work of many of the Abstract Expressionist painters as well as in the work of a group of photographers that included Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Paul Caponigro (not John Paul), Frederick Sommer etc..  Minor White, as I posted yesterday, may have expressed it most succinctly as to what I became interested in creating when he said “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”

The image below is one I made in the early 80’s and may be seen more as a “crossover” piece in the sense that it still has a strong foothold in the tradition of the grand landscape but I was actually more interested in how it acted on a deeper level, more as a meditative piece, one that dug down into the psyche.  But, as I said in The Idea: Part 3, when one starts to work in a more personal way, how others might respond to one’s work will be less predictable.  And then, the audience for the work might be more limited as well.

Although the “framework of meaning” that I had developed didn’t–and maybe hasn’t to this time–change much over the next few years, I started to be more concerned with the elimination of any reference to “place” from my images–and even any sense of what it was that I had photographed.  There were many reasons for this becoming more of a consideration not the least of which goes back to the topic of my “digression” above.  I was just feeling that more people were interested in “where” I created the image than what the image was communicating, what its own puzzle was.  (I should say here that I don’t fully understand these images myself, which I like, as they continue to be fresh and give that way–even 30+ years later.)

Maybe it was my attempt to “force” the viewer to confront the image in a different way, but whatever the reason, it changed what I was doing in a positive way at that time–with the unintended result of  actually increasing the questions, which now were not only where but what!  The image above was made 5 years after the one below and around the time I was also working on my first major landscape series, which dealt with some of those same issues.

Hogan, Canyon de Chelly

Hogan, Canyon de Chelly

Tomorrow, I will look at a couple of series of work and how their idea and my more overall conceptual framework worked together.

As usual, comments and questions are more than welcome!

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