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Jan 27, 2021
Photography reminds me always of the transient nature of life. I can snap a photo of a beautiful sunrise or sunset knowing that I will never see the same scene again.
I can take many other similar scenes but never that exact scene.
As much as my days may seem the same, no two days are ever alike. I’ll never be as young again as I am today, and I’ll never have today again no matter how similar tomorrow feels.
By tomorrow afternoon, my memories of today will already be fading.
I think that’s why I, and many other people, love photos so much.
Photos capture today, hold it in our memories as well as allow us to create art.
When I was in college at UCSD, there was a visiting photo professor from Dartmouth. I was honored to get into her class for a quarter.
I liked her, and we had some fun and interesting conversations but she was cynical and contrarian about almost everything - at least it felt like that to me. Being in her class was fun, interesting, informative, and…rough.
She was a harsh critic.
When you’re an art major, criticism is the nature of the beast. I understood that was how I would grow in my art but art is also very subjective and I thought many of the professor’s criticisms unwarranted.
In all my photo classes, we’d come in and put our week’s project up on railings on the wall. The professor and the class would gather around and discuss and critique each person’s work.
I can still feel my sweaty palms.
Most of the time, I felt the criticism was constructive. I wanted to use the critique to change my work for the better without losing my personal style.
There were a few times I felt the professor let her personal taste enter in a little too much.
I was a little embarrassed once when she critiqued my photos heavily for being “too contrasty,” and a fellow student jumped down her throat about how most of the student’s photos were “mushy and lacked depth.”
That was one of those times where you want to crawl under a desk because they were literally fighting about my work.
I still have a couple of those photos as a reminder that EVERYONE has an opinion about your work and they won’t all be the same opinion, and not everyone will like your work. That's okay.
I wasn’t one to speak out a lot in class, but I wasn’t a timid mouse either. One time I got defensive for another student when I thought the professor wasn’t critiquing so much as expressing her personal taste. Personal taste is a huge part of art which is why I thought the professor should have acknowledged that the student work was good, just not to her taste.
The student’s project was a documentary-style collection of his family while on a vacation.
The professor asked the class why people felt compelled to get photos while gathered around monuments, signs, and famous places they’d been. She didn’t understand why people had a need to prove where they’d been and what they’d seen.
She seemed personally affronted. Huh.
I could see her point…a little, but the photos were great. They were technically good and revealed a sense of humor and family camaraderie.
I swallowed my fear of getting ripped apart in front of the class by the professor and told her that it was more than proof of being somewhere, it was proof of life and a desire to cement the good memories we made with family and friends and that the student's work was great.
I mean, isn’t that obvious? Hasn’t that always been obvious in photography?
Think of the early tin-types with stiff-looking families posed together. Those photos cost a lot but people had them made anyway as a reminder of who they were - at least for that moment.
We humans have notoriously bad memories and photos help us capture precious moments. Don’t you have moments you’ve completely forgotten about until you see a photo?
I probably wouldn’t have remembered the day I took the photo of that clock very well but for the fact that I took the photo.
The very act of taking a photo helps cement the moment in time. If only for a moment, it turns back time while you’re looking at the photo.
And yes - photos can lie. They lie all the time, but that’s an entire post in itself!
My classmates chimed in that day and offered similar opinions.
It’s strange the things I remember from a long-ago day in a nearly forgotten photo class, but maybe it’s because it resonates with me so much now with cameras being ubiquitous- something everyone carries in their pocket.
I wonder what that professor makes of the near obsessional need people have today to take selfies everywhere they go? The need to show the world where we’ve been and what we’re doing. I imagine it drives her crazy.
Which photos do you treasure most? The answer is obvious to me.
I love my art but the photos I treasure the most are photos of my children, family, friends, and places I’ve been, and people I’ve seen and met.
What does photography mean to you?
It's another rainy day in Atlanta...
See you between the raindrops!
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