When we talk about the art of photography, we normally use the word “take,” as in: I’m going to “take” a photograph of . . . . However, is it possible to “give” a photograph rather than to “take“ one?
For example, this photograph doesn’t tell us that the photographer and her subject are meeting in an empty loft that for more than three decades had been his painting studio. There had been drawing tables here, and easels, music, students, food, wine, filing cabinets, incense, fluorescent lights, models, shelves of books, watercolors of flowers and portraits of vintners from the Napa Valley. All these are now only ghosts in what had been the life of this place.
Nor does the photograph reveal that when he began all those years ago to construct this space, she had just been born. a baby less than a year old. The photograph also can’t reveal cobwebs and sawdust and give us the faint smell of turpentine, all that remains of what had been his creative and spiritual home for as long as she has been alive.
But here in the photograph, she is the artist, not he. It is she, not he, who notices that the colors of the building next door mirror the colors of his clothing. It is she, adept at probing below surfaces, who sees the shadows around him, and in him. She reveals what he would prefer to conceal: his own sadness and exhaustion in having so carefully destroyed what he had so carefully created.
He expects to get an image of him as he sees himself. She gives him an image of him as she sees him. He remembers hearing long ago that some so-called “primitive” people would not allow themselves to be photographed because they were afraid that the camera would take away a part of their souls. Her photograph does not take away a part of his soul. Instead, she gives it to him, her gift.
My own site for more images and musings is johnmichaelkeating.com.