Sunday, January 27, 2008

Home again

I am back now from a week away from computers, supplemented by 3 days without power upon our return from vacation. Despite what I said in the last post, we weren't actually in Kyrgyzstan but Clearwater Beach, Florida. Clearwater has two claims to fame. It is the base for the Church of Scientology and it is the home of the original Hooters restaurant. Take away those two things and it has about as much identity as, well, clear water.

I found it difficult to take photographs in Clearwater for a few reasons. First, I like to take photographs on foot and Clearwater is very automobile oriented. The boulevards are fast and wide and the town sprawls everywhere. It would take a month to cover it on foot, a very unpleasant month during which you would be one of the few pedestrians in the city. Second, the city is incredibly generic, with mile after mile of Target, Applebee's, Burger King, etc. The entire infrastructure is designed to be convenient, disposable, and replacable. Perhaps some people could turn this into a photo essay (Martin Parr's Mexico?) but I don't have much interest in photographing it. I would rather photograph the vernacular, the things specific to a location that form its identity, and I couldn't find that in Clearwater.

Third, and I think most relevant to the type of photography I do, is that Clearwater has very little physical decay. Buildings go up quickly. When one gets old it is torn down and replaced before any evidence of aging sets in. I saw no graffiti or unkempt corners or weed-strewn parking lots. The overall effect is of a place trapped in amber, where time has been suspended, where everything is new and it's always been that way. And I suppose that is a purposeful effect since many Florida residents are near the end of their lives and don't want to be reminded that time marches on.

Struggling to make good photographs in Clearwater I had the self-realization that I depend on the effects of entropy for many of my photographs. I can't walk by an old leaning fence or a pile of scrap lumber without slowing down to consider the photographic possibilities, and in Clearwater I realized I am in fact dependent on those possibilities. When they do not surround me, I feel rudderless.

Why? That is something I've been thinking hard about the past few days. The obvious assumption would be that I am interested in portraying the passing of time photographically. I think this motivation is behind some folks' photographic attraction to old barns or peeling paint, or even perhaps sunsets, wherein the idea is to show time's progress. Reverse the equation and the portrayal of time --the freezing of it-- is responsible for perhaps 90% of all photographs taken. Every snapshot of a birthday party, reunion, wedding, or senior portrait is an attempt to snatch a moment out of time's current.

But I don't think either motivation fits me. Instead I think it has more to do with form, specifically unplanned form. Generally geometric forms are the first thing I look for when I am out photographing. But for some reason they can't be designed forms. I am only attracted to forms created inadvertently, through the effects of entropy (I have a bumper sticker on my car: "Entropy Happens"). But why? I've been thinking hard about this and have not yet reached any definite conclusion, and perhaps that's ok. I'll go take the photographs I need to, assuming that later they will make sense. Shoot first, ask questions later...

A mislocated birthday party?

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