“Seeing Photographically”- Best of 2012

December 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Vietnam Women's Memorial, Glenna Goodacre, 1993Washington, D.C.Photo by La Tanya S. Autry, June 2012

Vietnam Women’s Memorial,
Glenna Goodacre, 1993
Washington, D.C.
Photo by La Tanya S. Autry, June 2012

“The photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically – that is, learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacities of his tools and processes, so that he can instantaneously translate the elements and values in a scene before him into the photograph he wants to make.”Edward Weston

I read Edward Weston’s “Seeing Photographically” essay years ago. But I only came to grasp its meaning this year as I was taking a digital photography class. Although I’m not sure how Weston would have felt about digital photography since he wasn’t a fan of color, hated what he called photo-painting, and preferred simple equipment, I believe my learning experience corresponds to the core idea of his essay – the need for good composition. Weston urged photographers to carefully frame their subjects. He believed this process should happen as the photographer captured the image, not later in the darkroom.

In the past I’ve created many poor images because I didn’t pay attention to composition, focus, lighting, or image quality. While my shots were usually ok as informal snapshots, they were horrible for sharing my research. This problem was doubly worrisome because I study the history of photography. Although I often examine well composed photographs, I wasn’t spending much thought on constructing my own images. One day while presenting blurry images in a PowerPoint, I realized that I needed to upgrade my camera and learn how to take photographs of outdoor art and landscapes that actually conveyed the work and experience of being in those spaces.
The course that I took at Delaware Art Museum taught me how to use the dslr that I purchased for my fieldwork. As I learned how to frame my shots, I began to better understand photographic techniques such as depth of field. In addition to now being better able to teach my students, the class has also encouraged me to see public art differently. Now when I’m looking  I’m thinking about how to best document and capture the spirit of the works. Consequently, I spend more time closely looking at the works than I did before.  After taking numerous shots of a memorial, I study each image at home on my computer. This process often leads me to realize what I’ve missed. So when possible, I return to sites to re-look.
For instance, a couple of years ago I had visited Glenna Goodacre’s Vietnam Women’s Memorial, 1993. At that time I quickly surveyed the sculpture and took a few wide shots and one close-up. This past summer, after my photography class, I re-visited the memorial and I spent much more time at the site. I paid closer attention to the sculpture as a multidimensional work and I noticed more details of the individual figures. My new training encouraged me to zoom in on those details. As I kept looking, I realized that there’s a tenderness in the faces and interaction of these figures that I didn’t recognize when I was just snapping quick shots.

I’ll continue working on my photography skills over the next year. You can see more of my photographs of Glenna Goodacre’s Vietnam Women’s Memorial and other public artworks on Flickr.

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Entry filed under: Art, Material Culture, Memorials/Monuments, Photography. Tags: , , , , , , .

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