Paul Lester has an interesting post on ‘working the subject’ up on his blog this morning, and it’s had me thinking all morning.
A brief excerpt:
The premise is that if you find a subject that calls your attention for some reason, make sure that you give it your attention. My implementation of it is that I don’t just shoot one or two shots and then move on. I work the shot. Try it from every conceivable angle that I can think of, even if I think it is silly.
I am, I admit, something of a wussy when it comes to ‘working the shot’, at least in the sense that Paul means in his post. I’ll make several related exposures, sure. But trying every conceivable angle? Once in a while, especially with closeups, I’ll go on a tear and try everything I can think of. But mostly, something catches my eye, I examine it for a while, and then I proceed to make the photo. Often, even for intimate landscapes, there just aren’t many choices for angle, and all but one are two are bad on the face of it.
I suspect this is a holdover from my view camera days, where if you tried to work every conceivable angle not only would you never make it to the end of the front walk, you’d succumb to exhaustion from continuously adjusting the tripod again and again.
It occurs to me, though, that I do something similar. It’s not ‘working the shot’ in the sense that I’m trying every conceivable angle. It’s more that when I do what I think of as ‘coming to grips with a spot’, I go back. I go back to that same spot, over and over and over.
There’s one spot in the valley, right next to a bridge where the road passes through a grove of trees. There’s nothing particularly scenic about that spot. I’m sure that Jeff Wall would call it an insignificant place. For reasons I can’t easily articulate I find myself there with the camera on the tripod, time and again. I could probably throw the camera and tripod in the Subaru, and the car could drive there on its own, like a horse heading home. And each time I come home, the photos are different. Different light, different vegetation, different sun position, different weather – it’s a wonderment that the very same place can have so many different faces. We tend to think of places as ‘one place’ but really they’re lots of different places that just happen to all coincide in space. Place is as much about time as it is about location.
Joshua Baer told me a story about his dad, the great landscape and architectural photographer Morley Baer. Joshua told me that he’d be somewhere with his dad, and his dad would look at something for a minute or two, and then announce “I think I need to do something about that,” which was apparently Morley Baer’s way of saying “I have to go make a photograph.” There are lots of places I visit or drive past, and I make a what I think of as mental Morley Baer note – “I need to come back here and do something about this.” The funny thing is that my list of places I need to do something about seems to grow but never shrink. I can’t remember ever visiting a spot and then thinking “Ok, now I’m done with this spot.”
Anyway, maybe I do ‘work the shot’, but I just tackle it in the time domain rather than the angle domain.