Monday, July 10, 2017

Words and Pictures

It never comes out as good as I want, whether I'm capturing an image with my camera or describing something in writing.
Photo by Vito Acconci

My camera is always with me because I always expect to see something beautiful and/or interesting wherever I go. I’ll photograph it, but the result falls short in some way. There’s beauty there, yes, but the colors aren’t as bright or as vivid as in the actual scene. The contrast or focus isn’t as sharp. I don’t get the same feeling from the image that I got when observing the real thing.
Granddaughter Lila at 7 months

It’s the same when I finish a piece of writing. Whatever words I put together do not sufficiently express what I think or feel while I’m banging them out, so I edit. Then I edit again. Then I edit some more. If I didn’t have deadlines, the editing process would never end. The piece will improve, but never to my complete satisfaction.
From elephant

It’s one thing to record an image to evoke a feeling, but trying to accomplish that by stringing words together is another matter. Nearly every week for over a quarter century I’ve published an 800 word account of whatever was foremost in my mind at the time. Subjects vary widely and while feelings drive my picture taking, thinking more often catalyzes writing. Feelings are not absent, especially when writing about family or telling a meaningful story, but making a point about something abstract involves stepping back, thinking, and analyzing. Picking something to write about means I have some feeling about it but intensity is sometimes problematic. It can energize the writing, but it can also put analysis out of balance if the feeling is too strongly in favor of a thing or against it.
Photography and writing are both limited by perspective as well. Since my camera lens goes from wide angle at 18 millimeters to telephoto at 270 millimeters, I can record a large crowd scene or zoom into an expression on an individual face to fill the frame. I can shoot the big picture or focus on a detail. The same is true when commenting. I can opine about general trends or discuss a particular aspect of whatever’s happening. The result, when published, will gratify some and annoy others depending on the readers’ perspectives as much as my own.
The same is true of the photos I take, though less so. I and others may like a particular photo of a family member or friend, but the person who is the subject of the photo may not. Maybe the pose or a facial expression displays an aspect of personality about which others are aware but the subject is not. A photo can capture mood, and it has a degree objectivity by its very nature compared to a column. “Pictures don’t lie,” they say, but that’s not entirely true.
When I post the column on my web site, I include images of whatever the words describe. Sometimes they’re my own pictures and sometimes I borrow them from Google Images, which usually has something suitable. Browsing the site, I was surprised to discover they’d posted pictures they’d mined from my blog — which is enabled by Google. Now I don’t have any qualms about using theirs. Their archive has such a wide variety, I can find shots that portray any personage favorably, unfavorably, or something in between. Doing this kind of spin myself, I more often notice when mainstream media does it. Pictures may not lie outright, but they can distort.
My four-year-old grandson, Henry, got annoyed last week while I was photographing him as he played with his sister. “Stop doing that!” he said, angrily.
Grandson Henry: "Stop doing that!"

“What? You don’t like me taking pictures of you?”

“You don’t have to take pictures of everybody!”

“No,” I said, “I don’t. Just of the people I love.”
Grandson Luke

Later I mollified him somewhat. He likes sandwiches made with peanut butter and honey, so I proposed a deal: “How about I let you eat my honey and you let me take pictures of you?”
Granddaughter Claire

“Okay,” he said right away. We’re all good now.
Grandson Riley at Colosseum

No, I’m never completely satisfied with either images or columns, but with each I must come to a point where I have so say, “Good enough.” That I have done with over 27,000 pictures and 1200 or so columns. They’re as good as I can make them and that will have to do.


Uber_Fritz said...


Some great pictures. My favorite is the one of Luke. Similar to you, I taught but finished a career of 36 years. During this time frame and after retirement, I worked for two different studios in MA. Still, have my Canon 1DX with me and shoot frequently. Like you, I'm rather tough on myself, but once in a while, there's a shooting star.

Anonymous said...

Great. Now try to photograph (draw/paint) music, if you "visualize" it as colors, and other math.
It can get worse. A lot of folks will "see" a picture of (ie) two kids (grandchildren?) on the wooden porch.I'll see that geometrically irregular death trap of a slightly tilted granite step architecture, just WAITING for a thin layer of snow and ice. But the exposure, in sunlight was great!
(I have one of those steps, in New England, too. A bit WORSE actually)
That amusing op-art "oval"? I can only focus on "THIS is what you GET for expecting computers to visually interpret humanity adulterated concepts." (Probably an early "glitchy" Hewlett Packard CNC plotter that does EXACTLY what it was told to do.)

Anonymous said...

Tom said "It never comes out as good as I want"

Well I would hope not! If your columns really represented your best thoughts then you would probably need somebody to feed and wipe you. I'm sure things somehow seem logical and truthful in your head, but do they ever come out sounding like irrational hogwash on paper! Keep trying.