The Art of Restraint
"If I knew how to take a good photograph, I'd do it every time."
-- Robert Doisaneau [1912-1994] French photographer
Being an expressive sort, I am not one to hold back. Still, I’ve been pondering the idea of restraint. Not the S&M variety that show up in emergency rooms, I’m talking healthy perimeters - mainly with regards to photo snapping.
In 2008, I’d like to shoot less and say more, think less and feel more - to shoot from my gut and edit without doubt. With this ideal in mind, I pretend I’m still shooting with film - really, really expensive film. If I’m feeling especially creative, I might imagine myself an unemployed and particularly filthy Parisian alley dweller. If I can’t sell my prints, no croissants for me.
And, there’s nothing like a road trip to test my resolve so …
I capped off the recent Holiday Extravaganza with a much-anticipated three-day adventure with Dad, my favorite travel buddy. I’d only seen the coast of Mississippi and knew there was more to the Magnolia State. So, we headed northward, stopping in Jackson long enough to hang with fellow blogger and photographer, Susan, and her swell family. With Dad driving, I had to be damn sure of my vision before issuing a command: “Turn around – I need that shot!”
We made our way to Clarksdale, specifically to visit Ground Zero, Morgan Freeman’s blues joint. As I ate Fried Green Tomatoes and drank beer, Dad and I tapped our foot to Big T & The Family Band while watching the Giants v. Saints game. We was livin’ large.
In Clarksdale, I took just three shots – none brilliant, all for documentation. This is supposedly the crossroads where famed Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unearthly guitar skills. Standing on a corner in Clarksdale, I waited patiently but Lucifer failed to make me a similar offer for mind-blowing photography skills so ... it looks like I'm still on my own.
"If it ain't been in the pawn shop, it can't play the blues."
--sign in Clarksdale blues club
From there, we headed down along the “Blues Highway” – Route 61. We pulled off in Vicksburg and history popped up everywhere. We even came across the old courthouse where Jefferson Davis made his political debut. This did not matter to me as much as the way the late afternoon light was hitting the old cement columns. Later, standing alongside the mighty Mississippi River, I was captivated by its size and power; neither the camera nor I could fully grasp it.
Then, we caught up with the beautiful Natchez Trace, a 440-mile-long path extending from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. It was used extensively by Native Americans and early European explorers as a trade and transit route in the late 1700s and early 1800s. We passed massive farms, shotgun shacks and one fireworks stand after another. Splendid scenery though I opted to absorb most of it in my face, rather than the lens.
Dad and I spent New Year’s Eve exploring Natchez, established in 1716. We even took a Ghost Tour – where I chose to embrace the overwhelming evidence of haunted antebellum mansions and my father chose to ignore it. Hmph. Doesn't he know it's only fun if you're fully creeped out?
Time and again, I walked around, fully using my eyes and heart first, before the camera. More often than not, asking myself the question, “What's the story here?” helped. Several times, I paused, set up the shot and then declined it, knowing deep down that it was more of a twitch than anything else. Basically, I let my emotions run the show.
Back home now, I've noticed that there were fewer stinker shots to delete. Turns out a little pause here and there improves my aim. Just like yoga, childbirth and stand-up comedy - seems I've got to remember to BREATHE.
Meanwhile, check out three (or more) photographers who do just that:
Canadian Andrew Edmond offers his unique worldview, with a focus on urban industrialism, in Worksongs.
Behold, Spudooli - a group photo blog by the Cooper family – Dave, Gabriel, Sarah and Alice who “all live in supreme happiness and contentedness in North Shore City, New Zealand.”
Finally, hats off to Diana, a 66-year-old hobby photographer living in Hudson Valley, NY:
“Since I do not have a car my photo ops are limited to where I can walk and the occasional tag-along with a more mobile person. Trips to the city are rare but valued. Photography has been a hobby for many years but also has been abandoned for 10 years at a time - only to be picked up once more.”
Diana’s stark images show little and say a lot. She's way ahead of me.