The Flame of Recognition 

 What do we see when we make a photograph? I don’t think our mind’s eye visualizes the finished work exactly. Photographer Edward Weston wrote: “My eyes are no more than scouts … the camera’s eye may entirely change my original idea …” In other words, it may not be what we see. “The flame of recognition” may motivate us to bring out our cameras. Camera in hand, we search for a clarity that gives voice to our inspiration. Composition – what we include in the frame, whether we move left or right – “is the strongest way of seeing.” We photograph when we sense a reward – even if we don’t initially see “the thing itself.” Our completed photograph is the outcome of this search.  


We cannot escape our history. A past event, even if unknown to us, sways our perspective. A wave traveling through time may be a ripple when it laps our feet, but that ripple has the strength to prescribe opportunities and influence choices. Edward Weston struggled to articulate the relationship between art and photography a century ago. What he saw and photographed was new to everyone then. But now, that novelty is gone. The photographs Weston (and a legion of others) made are, at a minimum, subliminally known to us. Consequently, we now risk making photographs because the subject looks like a photograph. The flame has been diverted. 


If we know exactly what a photograph will look like before making it, we’ve probably seen it before. Our work may be just another instance of someone else’s observation. As an artist, I choose the goal of moving the conversation forward. We must not only know and respect our histories, but also see our subjects with present-day eyes.