Epiphanies are rare, and not always true.
That being said, I did
have a revelation about my own work. It seems to me,
lately for sure, but earlier on as well, that I have unconsciously been
trying to do - how can I put this - Saturday Evening Post covers.
For those youngsters out there who don't know what the Saturday Evening
Post cover was - think Norman Rockwell.
The epiphany tale began while I was trying once again to define for myself,
'Street Photography.' And it dawned on me that just because you photograph 'in the street' doesn't make you a street
photographer. Street Photography is actually a style of shooting
In the best street photography, there is a sense of almost inchoate
moments coming together and bouncing off each other. Ideas are
half-formed. There is usually some angular, gritty vision.
Not always. There is the delicate side of street photography as
well, but again - there is almost always a sense of quickness - the
camera as a fast moving recording device.
That has not been what I've been after. You don't take a 4 x 5
view camera into a subway car (10 years ago) to capture the fleeting
moment - especially when better tools are available.
Even though some subjects may glare at me in the picture, or run away,
or smile, or be completely unaware of my presence - if you were to take
many of my pictures and convert them to a painting - you would be
surprised at how they are mostly about composition and light and story.
Especially when people are subjects, there is an attempt to illustrate
some aspect of a story. The story may be
funny or depressing - but the people shots are almost as if they had
been models for a illustration.
And so I asked myself where this quest for illustration might come from
since I can assure you we did not get The Saturday Evening Post. And
the answer was simple: children's books, mystery books, (you could
include Comic Books but I don't think they were much of an influence in
terms of style), were all illustrated.
We had lots of hard covers of Dickens, of Twain, all in illustrated
editions, books that I pored over as a kid and I can still remember the
illustrations they held.
One other thread of this revelation (if it turns out to hold water) - began
at the hotel the other day where I noticed that the room all had old
prints (1890's) on the wall: carriages cantering down a rural hill
outside of London. And I got up close to the image and while I
was still sick from the bad hamburger, I spent my time studying the
design, how the driving was placed in the carriage, how each horse was
caught in mid-stride (and probably wrongly shown), and how much I liked
this print. This English print from a time and place I had only
read about in children's books and Sherlock Holmes stories. Not
great paintings. But great illustrations.
And as epiphanies will - one idea joined another - what was street
shooting - not what I was doing. Where was I first exposed to
illustrations? Children's books. So why should I even want
to recreate such things?
Ah - yes. Those were how I escaped from life in the Bronx - which
could be cruel and miserable. Those were my happiest moments -
going through those serial books on a rainy day and looking at the
pictures. Wow. That was a rush. I was
unconsciously trying to recreate the illustrations from childhood
books. That would explain all the kids in the pictures. In
fact, I even have several pictures I took of children reading.
So here I am, trying (I must say again, without realizing it) to
recreate my own happy moments spent as a child with illustrated books
but on the streets of Manhattan (for the most part). I can only
say - is that true - or am I trying to tie things up with a neat
bow? I'm not sure.