There is something about photography, something missing. I have had a hard time identifying exactly why, but I just can’t convince myself to give photography the same attention that I would pay to other visual art forms. When I see a beautifully composed photograph, or one with exceptional subject matter, I will stand in front of it, and I will try. I will try to get pulled into the image. I will try to stay focused, and really consider the piece. I will try, but I will usually fail.
Obviously, creating a great photograph takes a lot of planning and precision. I am not trying to claim that photography is easy, or that it is not a useful and potentially powerful form of art. Maybe it is because I spend so much time using photography as a tool to create prints or paintings. Maybe it is because I spend too much time on the internet, burning hundreds of throwaway images into my eyes each day. I don’t quite know the answer, but I default to treating photography (even the really good stuff) the same way I treat my Instagram feed. Quickly stopping in front of the ones that catch my eye, then moving on about my day without ever slowing down to collect more than an immediate impression.
Last Friday, I set out to check out the Jacob Collins show opening at Adelson Galleries here in Boston. Now, landscape and still life paintings… are not exactly my thing. This is not the kind of subject matter that would normally motivate me to get up off my couch and across town on a Friday night. In this case, I hoped to find something in Jacob’s process. By all accounts, he is a talented realist painter, and while I am not generally concerned with following traditional methods, I still know enough to see that there is a lot I can learn from them. So I headed to the show in hopes of finding some technique that really spoke to me. I wanted to be dazzled, not by his imagery, but by his process.
I left that show after not much more than a quick lap around the gallery.
Instead, I found what I was looking for in Dell Hamilton’s photographs at SubSamson. As I walked into her space (she is the current resident artist at SubSamson), Dell was describing her work to another visitor, and I was immediately pulled in. She was describing exactly the problem I had been having with so much photography. Creating a great photograph takes planning. It takes technical precision. It is not an easy process to get right, but most of the work is done before the act of actually hitting the button. A lot of what I respond to in a work of art, has to do with the process. There is a lot of magic that can happen, after the plan has been established, but before the final product is presented. The act of creating, of working through problems, of making mistakes, and then finding a way to use them to your advantage; this human touch lends an air of importance to art work, and it is missing in a most photography. In the case of the photographs Dell was showing, composing and taking the photograph was just the beginning.
She described using the initial photographs as the basis for improvisation, experimenting with traditional analog, as well as digital techniques to introduce distortions and allowing each process to leave its mark along the way. Some of the marks are identifiable, key codes from old film, dust or fingerprints collected along the way; others are harder to pin down, distortions introduced by older scanners, glitches from editing software. The resulting images combine that nostalgia for old analog mediums, with the visual ques that may one day arouse similar feelings (future nostalgia?), in a way that really sings.
The work, and Dell, really speak better for themselves, so I will simply say that I left inspired, and recommend that you pay her a visit.