Hi folks. Today’s exercise has been fleshed out of a Jeffrey Loffman prompt. Thanks, Jeff!
The web holds hundreds of quotes about photographs and photographers, from both the technical process – light source, framing, best camera, etc; to questioning genius or not of land, work, art, face, war – Adams, Man Ray, Disfarmer, McCullin, Leibovitz, Hedges, Arbus, Gruen; or debating what the images themselves are believed to do – stop time; document struggles; harness souls. But whether an article about a famed photographer or amateur advice, try to ignore them for today.
Unless from a family where the Box Brownie was deemed evil, or money had to go on more important things than Polaroids, years ago many households used to have a stash of photographs. Even if taken in fun, it was important. They were treasured. Were us.
Whether a formal great, great uncle in his itchy1914 khaki; gran proudly holding up a prize-winning, WI sponge; dad beaming, breaking ground on the allotment; mum on the bonnet, all pin-up legs; cousin’s wedding toast; ex hiding/ Lambriniing; head-high graduation; brother flicking Vs; or shy grandson in first day uniform, we of certain generations all had albums / shoe-boxes / pin-boards full of photographs.
Now? Now phone shop staff tut or occasionally empathise when death/dysfunction comes to our Samsung/Sony/ iPhone, wiping out everything we ever / never realised was important – or funny. We are told one million selfies are uploaded/ posted every 24/7 or get poached from the clouds. These days a vast percentage of photographs are rejected & deleted instantaneously whilst still miniscule behind the lens, or saved but never printed – unless onto a birthday mug, calendar or stag/hen-do T-shirt.
The Exercise Itself
For this exercise, find the oldest photograph you have in your possession – or, if you are bereft/ultra-modern/don’t have any – your family’s collection. Find a rarely seen one.
If the subject is unknown, try not to ask any questions or get any information apart from what you see front-on, ie don’t even turn it over to check the back for names, dates.
Look at the picture for a good two minutes or until you repeat your thoughts/actions.
If you want, place it with others on a mantel; bedside table; in your wallet. Then look again. When things cease to feel new or start to feel odd, separate it and start to write.
There are no suggestions about duration, form or content to this exercise. Whatever comes out the other side will purely be based on how – or if – you connect to those few square cms of the past; whether you feel anything; what you infer from/ insert into the frame. In this instance, you are looking at what can emerge from naked, pure, sight.
Remember, art, music, beauty, poetry are all subjective – even if you aren’t the subject.
Good luck. Happy snapping.