The Life of a Photograph





I’m taking a few days off work and instead of my usual eat-breakfast-at-work-while-processing-email routine, I sat down for my mid-summer breakfast of peaches and yogurt with a recently purchased copy of the book: Fred Herzog: Photographs.

Fred Herzog worked professionally as a medical photographer but his personal work concentrated on capturing the street life of Vancouver. While reading the introductory material my mind began to wander. Fred Herzog had taken over 100,000 images of Vancouver over the course of time since 1953. I was wondering how Herzog determined what to include in this collection.

This thought was triggered by a couple of my nagging to-do items: developing a presentation of my work for the Ojai Photo Club and constructing a portfolio for review by David DuChemin for a visit in October.

I tend to make my images in short bursts of activity. The results are often a collection of short series of works, bound together by place or time. Often there are two or more images which are equally strong, showing single subject from different perspectives. However, there are not enough images, created over a long enough period of time, to create a real collection and I have a difficultly choosing exactly which image to show. I believe that the strength of story spans across images and not any single image.

It was while working out these ideas that I experienced a break-through moment for thinking about how to present my work.

About a year ago, I was introduced to the photography of Sam Abell, a veteran National Geographic Photographer. In Sam Abell’s book, The Life of a Photograph, he annotates the images with short notes discussing his photographic thinking. In many instances he presents two or more images side-by-side to show different visual approaches to the scene. In the book’s introduction he writes:

“Life rarely presents fully finished photographs. An image evolves, often from a single strand of visual interest” and he goes on to say, “Sometimes there is more than one finished photograph.”

This is his notion of the life of a photograph. The process of starting with “a single strand of visual interest” and developing that into one or more finished photographs.

It was this concept that I finally understood and say distinctly in my work. Through a seemingly random chain-reaction of thoughts, over peaches and yogurt, I was able to shed-light on my proclivity for creating small series of images and my weakness in editing down to the one single standout.

5 thoughts on “The Life of a Photograph

  1. Morton Goldberg July 30, 2012 / 7:15 pm

    Well, to my mind, this series of four images tells a better story than any one of them alone, but I would say the last one works on its own pretty well. I hope this was your point. We often seem to think so differently about photography that I can’t be sure, though.

    • inancy July 30, 2012 / 9:09 pm

      Morton: I too think that the series is greater than any individual. I am most partial to the second to last and the last image. With the last image, I’m not sure everyone will “see” that it is a little girl picking up tennis balls taken just by itself. Thanks again for stopping by.

  2. leicaliker July 30, 2012 / 10:53 pm

    Hi Nancy: I actually agree with Morten. The last shot is IMO, the best one that can stand alone. Nice article.

    • inancy July 31, 2012 / 7:19 am

      Elizabeth – thanks for looking and the feedback.

  3. -N- August 1, 2012 / 6:09 pm

    I think unless you are a professional out shooting every day, or retired and running around, Sam Abell has nailed the connection between time or place being the significant element. You can shoot scenics or people, but if you are in one place, a series can relay something far more than just a single photo. To me, it is rather like a short retrospective of an artist’s work – something happening as a process – so you can have a short story, or an epic, such as you might consider a retrospective showing of an artist’s work over several years.

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