Musings on Photography

Figuring Things Out

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on January 18, 2007

From this interview with John Sexton (found thru Photostream):

When I was first working on these photographs felt I had no idea why I was making them. I felt torn inside, but it was one of the few times where I actually did something that seemed, in retrospect, intelligent because I knew that the answer to why I was making the pictures had to lie within the pictures themselves … and me. The answers lay somewhere between me and my photographs. I realized what I needed to do to figure out the answers was make more pictures. I can’t completely explain it today, but 13 years later I have a lot more answers than I did when I started.

And, slightly earlier in the interview:

I was trying to grasp why I was fascinated by making these new photographs, when prior to that almost everything had related to the natural environment seemingly with the overriding hope of preservation. In 1987 I stumbled into a power plant, and then 3 years later found myself photographing at Hoover Dam. All of a sudden I understood that the thread of continuity within this body of work had to do with human activity, invention, and creation over a span of nearly one thousand years, and the project included my work on Anasazi ruins. Almost instantaneously I realized what I needed was a subject that was contemporary. That’s when I first got the idea to photograph the Space Shuttle. It took time to figure out how all of these subjects working together.

Heady stuff.

And then finally, on the idea that beauty is an aspect of functional design:

I think that we don’t often – look at the natural environment as a functioning system. There are very few things in the natural environment that are not beautiful. There are things that we might not be able to comprehend, or that may not agree with our tastes. For instance, some people have difficulty with the desert. They find it too void of life. But to me it’s aesthetics boiled down to raw nudity.

I think it’s interesting that John extends this ‘beauty of functional design’ not just to his photographs of industrial stuff (power plants, and the space shuttle, etc.) but also to pristine wilderness landscape.  When I took a workshop with John, I was deeply impressed by the depth of his understanding of the how the landscape he photographs all fits together to form the integrated whole he shows in his photos. 

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