[Before getting to the subject of this post, I’m pleased to announce that my drawing is the subject of a new post by Courtney Jordan on the Artist Daily blog. Check it out!]
Photography satisfies the ancient human instincts of hunting and gathering. Armed with specialized gear, photographers go out in search of their particular quarry, chasing after it or lying in wait for it. At just the right moment, with sure technique and trained reflexes, they shoot and they capture. Nailing the perfectly-timed shot of an epic sports moment, a stunning nature scene, an indelible image of war’s horror, or a celebrity wardrobe malfunction is like bagging the big game.
I lack the aggressiveness and the single-mindedness it takes to be a great hunter. I’m more of a forager. I walk around the city a lot, and I usually carry a camera with me (a dedicated camera, not a phone). I rarely go looking for specific images; instead, I just go about my normal business and social life, constantly scanning the environment for the kinds of images that feed me. Usually, that means some combination of natural or cultural phenomena, contrasting forms, and striking effects of light.
I don’t think of myself as a Fine Art Photographer. I have no concern for reaching a pinnacle of craft or making a bold statement through this work. It is in my drawing practice that I am serious about constantly challenging myself. Photography is a more casual pursuit, a way of gathering impressions so I can study and contemplate on them later. The concern that unifies the drawing practice and the photography practice is an effort to hone and expand visual perception.
Here are some of the fruits I gathered in my photographic foraging in New York City since the beginning of this year, presented in random order.
Because the nerves of our eyes feel light, we can touch at a distance everything the light touches. But light does not simply show us where things are and their shapes and sizes. Light is a mercurial substance that can be knife-sharp or misty, golden or leaden.
Humans like to think of themselves as free and unencumbered like birds, but we are more like corals, building around ourselves great accretions of stuff.
The constant building and tearing down, refinishing and repurposing, makes hidden layers and then sometimes reveals them, a world of palimpsests and pentimenti.
The world is a shattered mirror that makes the one thing look like a complicated lot of ragged striving things.
Organic forms and rectilinear forms go together like a bow-legged woman and a knock-kneed man.
The rain has cleared this park bench of sitters, the better to reveal its ring-and-spiral ironwork.
A cop on the beat, a man with a baby stroller, a Mister Softee truck, and a steam vent in the street – a Manhattan melody.
Sure, the Brooklyn Bridge is a beautiful piece of engineering, but look at all the geometry some designer put into these simple plastic barrier frames.
Another palimpsest – scraped away layers of advertising on a Subway poster frame. Is this great abstract painting an accident, or someone’s deliberate creation?
Water leaks in around the ironwork, leaving blood-like trickles on a concrete wall. The roughness of the wall makes the drips scribbly and frizzy.
At just a certain time of the evening, the deep blue of the twilight sky and the golden orange of the sodium-vapor streetlamps balance each other just so, giving magic to the most mundane features of the environment.
This sidewalk at night is haunted by the shadows of the old cast-iron fences and gates.
Street art is exposed to the chaos of the unsecured environment. This skull with a cell phone has flyers pasted on its forehead and is joined by a painting inspired by chemical diagrams, orange construction webbing, and some yellow caution tape that says “Screwtape” (a C. S. Lewis reference?), and then the shadows of leaves give the whole thing a mottled camouflage effect.
Beads of rain bejewel this fiberglass horsey-ride painted in psychedelic colors.
A minimalist found composition in red, green, gray and yellow.
These warped plywood sheets looming over the sidewalk remind me of Richard Serra’s space-bending steel walls.
This one is definitely a deliberate bit of sabotage collage of a kind often inflicted upon the posters in the Subway stations. The anonymous cut-and-paster has a certain surrealist flair.
A row of parked cars has to be the dullest thing in the modern world, but even here that great conjurer light works its enchantment.
The rectilinear, the organic, and the circular will all lie down together.
A bare tree in twilight and a blooming one in warm light, all of it crackling with the life force as it expresses itself in forms.
Mixed light sources and the shadows of foliage give the camouflage treatment to this stack of rectangles.
This mural turns a plain street with a windowless wall into an 8-bit video game.
The oblique angle and the compressed perspective of a telephoto lens emphasize color shifts across this row of windows and sconces.
A womanly figure beckons from a back-lit sign. The golden glow and the elegant curves beckon grail-like in dim and ragtag surroundings.
The lights of night are seen behind the homey screen of a lace door curtain.
A tree is the earth exploring space and air by reaching and branching into it.
At night a fence and a vacant lot full of weeds are a veil of mystery. Although I used a randomizing program to put these pictures in a thoroughly mixed up order, these last three all suggest lattices that reveal nocturnal space behind them.
Looking up a really long flight of stairs sometimes feels like standing at the base of a Mayan pyramid.
It’s hard to get the esssence of water in a still photograph, because it is all about how it moves. Sometimes, though, just the right kind of light and just the right amount of motion blur get the feel of movement in a still image. Can I get that kind of energy in my drawings?