Tuesday 26 July 2016

The Usual Seen Unusually

The starting point for today’s posting comes from the late American photographer, Beaumont Newhall: “We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually.” I’m not sure who the “we” is in this quotation, but I do know that Newhall (1908-1993) was an influential photographer, curator, critic, and author, best known for his still popular book The History of Photography. As I understand his philosophy, he was more interested in insightful images of the ordinary than in seeking out the exotic simply because it was exotic. In this approach to photography, Newhall echoes the Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson who once wrote that photography “means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

The philosophy of both of these photographers strongly resonates with me. My instinct is to zoom in on the tiny thing, the telling detail, the micro image that normally gets lost in the grand parade. My dear husband, Bill, once asked me why I preferred close-ups to sweeping landscapes – an excellent question, which I really hadn’t thought about until he asked.

And I’m not totally sure of the answer, except to say that I love exploring the micro-world around me at any given time – the pond in the backyard, the sculpture in the monastery, the flower in the garden – rather than climbing mountains in search of grand vistas. It’s the same approach I took to choosing scripts for the Middle School plays I directed for many years at Havergal College: the best plays were the ones that fully explored and celebrated a character’s daily lived experience; under that microscope, the universal truths could then emerge. For me, great truths are rooted in daily lives.

I’ve been taking photography seriously for about two years now, and one of the clearest themes to have emerged is my preference for tiny, intriguing details. When I record and share these details, I believe that I have contributed – in a small, humble way – to the search for truth.

Here are eight images that I have recorded over the last eighteen months that in my mind celebrate the ordinary while illuminating the universal.  I hope you enjoy them.

A pail of fabric that Bill dyed recently at the Haliburton School of Art + Design, Haliburton, Ontario.

Green onions in our kitchen.

A cabin hiding in the woods in Warkworth, Ontario.

A blue knife and green dye in our kitchen.

A red umbrella in the snow near our house.

Blue chairs stacked at a Canadian Tire store in Haliburton, Ontario.

My friend Frances’ computer.

A headless duck in Primitive Designs, Port Hope, Ontario.

Thank you for reading my blog. Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

Until next time.

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