Monday, October 15, 2012
The Photographer and the Subject
It started as an attempt to jump start my art for the fall. After taking most of the summer off from any serious art projects or series, I figured it was time to find new inspiration in art. Photography seemed like an easy enough medium to see what direction I might want to go. I've always been interested in the physics of smoke and the art of photography. The source was simple enough -- some Japanese incense I bought at a tea shop in Claremont. But the problem of illuminating the smoke against a dark background was a little bit harder but for the most part, solvable with an LED handheld flashlight positioned just below the incense holder. What was totally unexpected is that smoke is a very unpredictable object as it rises in an updraft that is anything but stable. It just wouldn't go where I wanted it to go so I was basically in this get-lucky capturing the moment mode. Just get the finger on the trigger in the hopes of something interesting forms. The smallest perturbation in the room from me moving my arm affected its shape, movement, dispersion and just about every attribute. With the lack of control, of course, came lack of focus. I tried a couple lenses just to see what works best a different distances from the subject. The majority of my shots were way out of focus and the few that came in focus were against the non-interesting features of the smoke. Needless to say, my yield of decent shots was around the 10% mark -- frustrating since this was a full 2-hr effort. My final thoughts on this is the concept of detachment -- where a photographer is an external observer of an event or a subject does not apply to photographing smoke. Much like the concept in modern physics where the scientist cannot measure a physical property without altering that which he is measuring, the theory that there is a separation between photographer and subject is patently false. The fragility of the subject almost require that I understand it before it will let me capture its image.