Friday, July 23, 2010

revisiting "Panda Woes"

The documentary on Alfred Stieglitz (titled The Eloquent Eye) should arrive later today. I'm eager to see it and especially hoping that this documentary will mention something I heard in another documentary. If I recall, Stieglitz had expressed something along the lines of how he would be content if he was only known for (or if all of his work that survived) was one particular image. I believe that image was "The Steerage" but I am hoping to double-check or confirm that later today when I view The Eloquent Eye. The idea (or question) of being known or remembered for one image--especially when one has amassed a sizable body of work--is a compelling one and I wish that every photographer (famous or no) had to answer this question: If you could only be remembered or survived by a single image, what would that one be? I imagine this would be kind of like asking someone what their favorite song is--or, as a variation on this: If you were going to a deserted island and could only bring with one album (or cd) which would it be? Otherwise put, I'm guessing the response from many would be "it all depends."

And, certainly, for me, for a photo hobbyist, it seems silly to think about being remembered for one image. The idea of being remembered, is I think, a question for professional photographers or hobbyists whose work gets a lot of play--whose work has been widely viewed, known and subsequently re-viewed.

A variation on this question--a question for the hobbyist whose work has not gotten a lot of play then might be: Considering all the images you have taken, which one most often comes to mind? This is not necessarily a question about personal favorites--meaning that an image comes to mind because it was a favorite or represented some kind of milestone, but it certainly could be interpreted and responded to in this way. In many respects, I think this is a much easier question to answer for (or on behalf of) other people. For instance, there are a number of photos I've made favorites on flickr and that I revisit quite often. (As an aside, I think this is the greatest compliment you can offer someone--to share with them the fact that you first saw their photo a month or year or whatever ago and that you still feel the need to go back and view it again and again--another way of saying that just seeing the image once is never enough.) When I revisit these favorite photos on flickr, my first response is often (and selfishly), "wow, I'm so glad that I didn't take that image because I think I'd always be worried that I'd never be able to top myself and take another that is as or more amazing."

When I think about my own work, the "Panda woes" image below almost always comes to mind. I'm not sure why though I can always invent reasons or justifications, I suppose. I could say that it means a lot to me because it was taken with the Diana+ and we can't ever count on working (or playing) well together. Or I could say that I often feel like this panda. Or whatever.

And just to be clear: I'm not suggesting that this my favorite image of those I've taken. If I were, I would have phrased the initial question differently. I'm just saying that of all the pictures I have taken, I tend to think about this one the most. Or, put otherwise, I tend to think about this one the most consistently. Meaning that while I may go through phases when I'm thinking about or dwelling on other images for x-amount of time, I always come back to this one at some point to this one. Again, not really sure why. Maybe because it upsets me? Makes me sad? Maybe because I like how the black and white of the panda's body contrasts with the grays of the environment? I don't know. Usually when I really like an image it is because it does, in fact, represent some kind of milestone for me--trying a new idea or technique or camera and being surprised (whether happily or not) with the results. The other kind of photo/experience/moment I have a real fondness for has to do with the times when you see a picture, take the picture and get this feeling inside that it will turn out really great. The times when what you see with your eye and through the viewfinder (or on lcd screen) ends up being just as wonderful when you view the final product. This was not the case with the panda shot. I remember this day clearly--there was a long line of people shuffling through the exhibit. I think I had with me 3-4 cameras and I just grabbed whatever and took as many pictures as I could. I didn't think "oh--the panda looks so sad, let me get my diana since it's loaded with b/w film." I really didn't think anything other than (perhaps) how I'm not really a fan of taking pictures at a zoo.

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