Musings on Photography

My Early Photographic Career

Posted in whimsy by Paul Butzi on March 6, 2007

While pondering the issues surrounding ‘meaning’ in photography, I spent a little time browsing through some prints of photos of me, taken when I was very young.

Amazingly, I found a series of photographs that document what may be my earliest foray into the world of photography.  WARNING: these photos are absolutely saturated with meaning.  There’s so much meaning in these photos that it coats the surface of the prints, runs across and down to the lowest corner, and drips in a more or less continuous stream to the floor, where it forms swirling, viscous puddles that fill the air with a spicy fragrance.


Here, we see me at the very earliest moments of my photographic career.  As you can see from the presence of the primitive xylophone/marimba/vibraphone and mallets, I have just abandoned my dream of achieving fame and wealth through a career in music, casting those interests aside for a career as a visual artist.  Inside the cabinet behind the instrument is a stereo, presumably playing either the Benny Goodman recordings with Lionel Hampton on vibes, or perhaps the early recordings of the Modern Jazz Quartet with Milt Jackson on vibes.  These early jazz influences were to provide my aesthetic foundation for the rest of my life, and of course the synergy between the world of music and photography has been long established in the academic world.

Note my early selection of quality equipment, and the way my body language displays both self-confidence and command of the situation.  “The camera will go HERE,” I seem to be saying.


In this next photo from the sequence, I’m directing my assistant with confidence and poise.  Notably absent is are the self-doubt and existential angst that would plague my later years.  The xylophone, now abandoned, remains in the scene but is completely ignored – evidence of a singular conceptual focus and utter commitment to the path chosen.  On the top of the stereo cabinet a skein of yarn is clearly visible, presaging the strong influence of the American Craft movement in my later work.  Also visible are plaid curtains, a Modern lamp, and a clock of elegant simplicity.  Surely the graphic elements in the environment of my youth were important factors that influenced my later attempts to capture the tension between the natural and built landscape, works which at this point lay more than forty years in the future.  Note, also, how the cast down mallet, the xylophone, and the cardboard box have been left at angles to each other, perhaps demonstrating an early form of the  preference for strong angular composition that characterize so much of my work done in the last decade of the 20th century.


And at last, we come to the end of the series.  In this photo, I am conferring with my photographic mentor as we edit the work and make decisions about which photographs are strong enough to be in the finished portfolio.  The anxiety of this work is relieved somewhat by the presence of the comfort blanket; the newspaper lies close at hand in case it is needed as a ready reference to the social context in which the work will be viewed.  The fact that my clothing has been labelled with “B is for Best Boy” provides a sardonic commentary on my emerging reputation as a brilliant but temperamental artist with control issues.  Although I am holding a slide in my right hand, in my left hand I am holding the slide viewer – an early indication of the left-handed preferences that were viewed with disfavor by teachers in my early school years, perhaps providing the impetus for my distrust of authority figures and my intense dislike for pointless social orthodoxy, and providing an explanation for the fact that I always got bad grades in penmanship.  The right brain/left brain implications of this are, of course, too profound to be addressed adequately in this short discussion.

Finally, in retrospect, it’s perfectly obvious that the out of level painting on the wall behind me was the catalyst that started the process that culminated in my ‘obsessive/compulsive’ tendencies.  The slides, scattered randomly across the surface of the sofa, stand in mute testimony to my ability to maintain concentration and focus in order to wrest aesthetic order from a random, chaotic world of meaninglessness.  Even as a small child I was determined to take up the struggle against the forces of thermodynamics.

6 Responses

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  1. Chantal said, on March 7, 2007 at 9:51 am

    does your jumper say “B for Bad Boy”?!? too cute!!
    And you’re right…these photographs are timeless and FULL to the brim with meaning.

  2. Paul Butzi said, on March 7, 2007 at 11:13 am

    It says “Best is for Best Boy”, thanks.

    Best, best. Not ‘bad’. Best.

    My poor mom is probably having an attack, now, worried that someone will think she dressed her child in overalls that had “B is for Bad Boy” on them.

    Trust me, my mom would never do something like that. Not in a million years.

  3. Dad said, on March 7, 2007 at 11:20 am

    All very nice, but who’s that handsome mentor? And what is he saying?

  4. Oren Grad said, on March 7, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Now I understand everything. 😉

  5. Gordon said, on March 7, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    The text really helped me understand these images. Thank you.

  6. Lisa said, on March 7, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Hey, very enlightening! What great introspection. 🙂

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