Monday, June 27, 2011

I Am Here / Am I Here?

There is one disadvantage to traveling to magnificent places on one's own... very few photographs exist of me "conquering" the place - posing in front of it, "owning it," etc. Within the past few years, the act of holding the camera out at arm's length is the popular solution. Rather than asking someone else to take a photograph, we rely on our digital technology to show us that we are indeed in the composition though the background imagery becomes secondary due to not being able to position the camera further away. Not that I would ever use these photographs as "art" - more for the hypothetical photo album - but I started to wonder whether or not something could be said with this.

Yesterday at Point Lobos, I started to photograph all the places that looked like typical areas to pose in front of the scenic landscape. I am not sure this will go anywhere but here is a rough sketch (i.e. rudimentary at best) of the thought process.

Only the image with the suggestion of my absence reminded me a little too much of Joel Sternfeld's On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam.... It's also sad and that wasn't the emotion I wanted to portray.

Overtly suggesting my presence was the next step.

Then comes the crude, comical arrow which I gravitate toward on many occasion.

I am intrigued by using the 5-D to take a high resolution photograph compared to the low resolution of a camera phone. How about a diptych accentuating these differences?

Then I started to wonder about overlapping both (here's where rudimentary comes in). This reminds me too much of a poorly constructed William Wegman collage but the differences in exposure still interest me.

I haven't overlooked a tripod or rock roughly the same height but I'm not in the position to haul around the former and the latter is hardly ever convenient at these locations. The act of asking for help - "Will you take my photograph?" - brings many a complication. Very few people know how to operate my camera unless I specifically gravitate towards the person who has an SLR but where are they on hikes like this? I can't take a photograph asking them to replicate the composition as that rarely works according to plan. So do I think of this as an element of performance and take whatever I can get (again asking for help in an art project)? Or do I eliminate the idea entirely and prove I was there by other means? I would ask if it even matters but I already know the answer to that. We are taught to pose in front of these scenes and the well worn tracks at those locations indicate this is a universal practice. We want images of our loved ones in front of beautiful places and we want to remember that we were there. A photograph of the ocean is a very different animal than a portrait of a person standing in front of the ocean. All of this may seem obvious but it's a dilemma I'm grappling with heading to Europe with the high possibility there may be no evidence of my physical presence ever setting foot in Italy.

I've also considered the ghost presence, the overt cut-out initially photographed on a neutral background, writing my name in the dirt, or holding a photograph in front of the place. All or none of the above? One photograph is all that I ask for and that may be one more idea to add to Part 2 of the list. One more image that may ultimately end in failure.

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