Photography can be a brilliant shorthand means of expression. What’s the famous line again? A picture is worth a thousand words? Which is not to say words are not important. But it’s why a blog is so useful to provide something of what novelists, screenwriters and chat-show hosts now refer to as ‘the back-story’.
It’s the background that led to a certain course of action and provides a deeper, richer understanding of events. Without this we may be left with a superficial impression of images without an appreciation of their context.
Art should stand on its own two feet - metaphorically speaking, of course – but sometimes it’s helpful to learn of the ‘back-story’ and how a certain photograph was conceived. This might be comparable to the magician revealing how certain tricks and illusions are performed. Do we really want, or need to know that the shadowy half-light and implied symbolism of an image is nothing more than a glorious accident or all-too-simple sleight of hand?
Does it really matter that someone trekked for three days through waist deep snow to take an image that otherwise may not earn a second glance? The truth is plenty of memorable images are taken from a car window, or sun-roof.
The passing of the great Australian artist Jeffrey Smart reminds me that some of my urban landscapes have been compared to his paintings. I’m not claiming for a moment that my images parallel his work and I’d prefer such comparisons weren’t made.The truth is that certain artistic and social concerns produce unavoidable similarities.
My photograph of Melbourne’s Bolte Bridge is taken through a sunroof directly up and at the sky while crossing Melbourne’s Bolte Bridge (under ‘Editions’). It’s one of those images that has drawn parallels with Smart’s work.
I would like to think that the slightly alien, dislocated quality of the soaring bridge towers, bug-eyed lighting and omni-present security cameras are all part of the invasive urban condition Smart addressed in his work with wit and irony. These are commonly shared themes and a way of seeing that help our understanding and perception of the world.
Sometimes a vertical view towards the heavens rather than the intense study of the roadway or pavement can produce the enduring perspective. Thankfully there was a reliable driver able to position our vehicle at sunrise while I composed the image. In that search for the ‘other’ view there is that split-second where the light and towering elements aligned. I’m surprised we weren’t run off the road by motorists wondering what on earth fascinated this fool with a camera thrust through the sunroof at almost 100kmh. At least it wasn’t snowing.