What Else?

What else? The question I always ask when looking at my work. Photographs are interpreted by the same visual apparatus of cornea, lens, retina, optic nerve, and brain, as is regular vision. But I like to imagine what else this image might be. Is it a river system, an x-ray of a patient’s arterial structure, a bolt of lightning, or just an abstract painting? This imaginative process is critical to me when I edit my own work. Can I tell something about the external world or about my internal world (normally only encountered in a therapist’s office).

I don’t think of vision as a fixed, mechanical and electrochemical process. My vision is malleable and subject to change. Why? I’ve struggled to maintain physical vision throughout my life – so I can never take it for granted. Through the ups and downs of lenses, surgeries, daily life, and becoming a photographer, I’ve seen with perhaps 20 or 30 different kinds of optical systems. What has remained constant, since the age of 25, is my desire to make good use of my vision – to record it, catalog it, and save it for later consumption.

Okay, so I’ve decided that today this image looks to me like a river system as seen from above. I like the combination of graininess and soft edges. It kind of reminds me of my sight through the set of glasses that I currently see through. But tomorrow, arriving at a horrible, frustrating day (e.g. one of a string of Mondays), I will see it as lightning. I’d like to knock or shock down everything that stands in my way. Tomorrow might be a Covid-19, uncertain, scary, frightening day and yet on the news I see crowds lounging on Florida beaches. What are they missing … or what am I missing? It depends on perspective.

Plenty of other photographers (actually, most) make photographs as indelible records of moments. Let’s say I’m looking at an image of a New York city woman on the street, dressed in 1960’s style – Garry Winogrand’s work. It’s beautiful and it’s chock full of information, but I can’t see it as anything other than what it is. At that moment I feel limited.

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