27 October 2010

Still Life

I'm captivated by this image. It's a Daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre on the streets of Paris in 1838. It is believed to be the earliest image that includes a person (ref: The First Photograph of a Human). Early photographic images required exposure times of several minutes.

The human in this Daguerreotype is on the street corner -- standing still with his leg propped on a stand -- looking like he was getting his boots shined. This image was made in 1838! As historical marker, it would be another 38 years before Bell patented his telephone.

It would be another 23 years before Mathew Brady's haunting images of the American Civil War, like the "Starving Soldier" (shown right).

These images must have seemed like pure magic.

Photography is still magic.

When I make time exposures of people using a digital camera, I'm never sure what palette of motion will be imprinted in pixels. Most of my photographs are what master potter Randy Johnston calls Nourishable Accidents. If my photographs turn out to be compelling in some way, I owe a debt of gratitude to dumb luck.

The draw of photography is that it can make life still. Photography suspends the animation of day-to-day life, framing it comfortably for consideration at our leisure - a powerful potion indeed.

A Personal Perspective

I learned about the history of photography from my long-time friend, and former photography professor, Rudi Dietrich (see this video profile of Rudi Dietrich).

Susan Sontag's book On Photography was influential to many would-be media-types of my generation. It gave me an entirely different perspective of the camera in the modern world. Her book inspired me to toss out hundreds of negatives and images in 1980. But I'm back to photography because I'm drawn to illusion that it frames life, and because the act photographing and the time-sliced imagery, lets me contemplate life at leisure.

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