It took me decades to understand the magic of photography. At first I thought the magic sourced from the medium, so I studied light, lens, and wet darkroom craft. Then it dawned on me that the photographers I admired photographed certain things. Without meaning to, I searched for those things as if they were touchstones on the path to enlightenment. Eventually, I stumbled across my blind spot. I had been thinking of photographers apart from their subjects. Great photographers were keen observers, this I could see in their work, yet I had pictured them at a remove. I had thought an interesting life just happened to parade in front of their cameras.
Now I know that parade is no accident. These photographers were not fortunate bystanders – they chose to be involved. Events we see in their photographs would not have happened absent the photographers’ presence. The photographers were partisans, collaborators, facilitators, challengers, antagonists, lovers, and muses to their subjects. Moreover, the photographers had agency. They made things happen. Photography is a bridge connecting photographers to the people and things they photograph. Magic sources not from medium, but from what transpires because of the photographer’s engagement.
Artist Caroline Gibson needed publicity pictures to promote an upcoming show, so she stopped by one evening for me to photograph her work. Somewhat casually, we created a studio in my living room. As we began to photograph, an unexpected momentum built. She continuously brought out new pieces, and I kept pace by unpacking more equipment. Soon, we had cluttered all of our space with both art and camera gear. I shot more film than I intended, and in ways she didn’t need. My compositions began to include more of Linny. Only later did we realize that we had made a portrait.