Making a photograph can work in two ways.
We can plan a photograph. We can walk the scene, find the strongest way of seeing, decide best vantage point, apply craft and engage light and shadow. We compose the shot, arranges elements that will become the photo, exclude elements not serving the photo. We look, see, brood, wait and press the shutter button. Another way we photograph is in response to what is seen in the moment. We react to scene, subject or situation in a photo – what Ralph Gibson calls a ‘perceptual act.’ The experience, subjective, is a moment we sustain in ‘taking’ a photograph … we engage the subject. Taking the photograph draws out connection from us, our understanding, our appreciation. In that moment, we respond with camera and write with light. An image is produced. Then, we move beyond it. The photograph records how we see and what we have seen. With a camera, a photographer becomes a ‘stealer of moments.’
By coincidence, the medieval conceptualization of moment surfaced last summer in a twitter feed I follow. “[A moment is a medieval unit of time. Then, as now, twenty-four hours comprised the day. An hour was one of the twelve lengths/portions of the period from sunrise to sunset. An hour had four puncta, ten minuta, or, forty momenta. Averaging with twelve solar hours, one moment should equal ninety seconds (tweet, Fermat’s Library, 26 July 2018).]” While an actual time frame surrounds the conceptualization of a moment, in contrast, the moment that a photographer finds her- or himself within when creating a photograph can be more a subjective entity, a state of presence without sense of time, something timeless. Within a moment, beauty, understanding, appreciation coalesce into presence. The photographer gathers (or steals) the moment, the photograph’s viewer can return to that moment. It is almost as if the photographer halts time’s progress and encapsulates a given moment, putting boundaries around it in the making of a photograph. And, it’s worth considering that the term ‘moment’ derives from momentum, a trajectory of time moving us forward, moment by moment. A photograph becomes a means to contradict time in our return to former moments, through our backward glance, seeing where we’ve been, what we’ve moved through and to encounter again all that was there in that moment.
Gratitude – I am indebted to New Zealand photographer, Paul C. Smith, who surfaced this consideration with his comment about a photographer being ‘a stealer of moments.’ Thank you, Paul for your stunning work and photographic sensibilities. Good, good schtuff! To readers, here, check out Paul’s Youtube videos, Instagram feed and find him on Facebook – it’s worth your time.
Words to Consider / Inspire – “I just want to make a picture [so] that the subject of the picture is essentially my perceptual act. I do not want the subject to support the content. My relationship to photography is the content, not the subject. The subject is merely a pretext. If you take a horizontal frame [landscape] you’re essentially triggering an allegorical or narrative reference – cinema, television, photojournalism. Turn it [the frame] vertically and many tensions are discoverable. I am interested in how we perceive photographs (Ralph Gibson).”
Listening to: Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ and Billy Joel’s ‘This Is The Time.’