Every Picture Tells A Story

October 18th, 2010

It’s been said a picture is worth a thousand words. Is that a fair trade? Every picture? A picture doesn’t replace words and the images of the mind bring their own storyline. How often have you had the experience of seeing a photograph of a cherished event only to realize your memory of it was grander? Or maybe it was the other way around…

Anyway, words and pictures are not a zero-sum game and they live side by side quite nicely. Now, I hate having to come up with captions for my pictures. It’s three guys looking out of a train window-what more do you want me to say? But I love embellishing a photo with a story. Giving a background, filling in what the frame could never encompass, letting the viewer see the picture and know more than what the camera saw-this I enjoy doing. Fifty words will often do the trick.

Over a five year period, 1968-1973, I was fortunate to have spent 18 of those months on the road in foreign lands, living out of a backpack and cheap hotels. Overland to India was the goal; diversions were welcome. A new day, a new currency, a new language ringing in my ears was as sweet as the music blaring from the torn speakers hanging by a bolt to the ceiling of the bus that plied a dusty road into a new land. This was a time when photography beyond the snapshot was also new to me. I was in awe of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The world beyond my past life was fresh and vigorous and I wanted to share it with my homebound friends. No daily updates to a web page in 1968; months would go by before I would see a single frame, before I would even see if I got the shot in focus. Months before I could groan and realize I’d underexposed a killer picture, or my processing was sloppy and air bubbles dotted the film.

Shoot enough film. Travel enough places. Live with the pictures long enough and a few will shine through as maybe having interest beyond a fond recollection. I wanted to do a book at a time when that was a wild dream. Instead, I hung prints in my college library, gave slide shows to friends and family, got a magazine story or two out it and put it all away for decades. Every once in a while I pulled a favorite slide out and tried to get a decent print before it faded anymore (Agafchrome CT-18-I loved the color but its grainy goodness faded faster than a memory.) Color slides were contrasty and the Cibachrome printing I was doing taxed the stuff to the max. As the photography world turned digital, I started scanning that old film. Sometimes my assistants would have an idle moment and I would put them to work scanning. And spotting.

A decade of desultory progress finally produced good scans of most of my favorite shots from those trips. I tweaked the files, made proofs and revisited the dilemma of what to do with these pictures that meant so much to me. Now, with the passage of too close to half a century, I thought these pictures might actually have a wider relevance as a glimpse into the recent past. I realized how much the world has changed since the 60s and 70s and how the concept of taking off with a pack one’s back to explore the world has itself changed dramatically. No Lonely Planet guide books (there was Europe on $5 A Day), no cell phones, no GPS belt buckles; not even a reliable telephone system. I remember having to ferret out the local telephone exchange in India, make an appointment and come back hours later to get use of a phone, then wait 15 or 20 minutes until a connection could be made and pray the person on the other end was home (no answering machines, either.) I understand it’s a little different now…

I couldn’t get excited about yet another round of big prints, cutting mats, assembling frames, or swapping everything into existing frames and storing those prints somewhere so I could hang a show in the gallery for six weeks. The solution came in the concept of a folio of prints. A small, elegant enclosure of a limited number of prints, with the feasibility of a text accompaniment, in an affordable package-this idea had possibilities. My inspiration for this folio concept came from Brooks Jensen, publisher of Lenswork. Brooks himself may not have been the first photographer to slip a few prints into a paper cover and call it a folio, but he has refined the concept to a point I had not seen previously.

I’ll write more on this in the coming week. Stay tuned.


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