Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fredrick Sommer

I have been reading an article published in Aperture from a speech Fredrick Sommer gave at the Chicago Institute of Art. Sommer is not much easier to understand than Minor White but I find what he says very interesting. I made a note on this page to try to understand my photography from what Sommer has written and to try to understand what he has written from the point of view of my photographs.

The speech is loosely woven but I find the following particularly interesting:

“I have a feeling that as I get a bit more acquainted with the things with which I’m dealing, or happen to find myself surrounded by, I get imprinted with them. The things that we are, are environment-making towards us. We reinforce that... so it’s a question of how far you dare to venture from the thing that you think is your thing. It’s a question of taking some chances. Yet let me assure you that nobody ever goes into far country. If you find yourself going to a zoo too often, it’s because you belong in a zoo in the first place; you’re at home there. We never go to strange places… We think we’re in exotic country, but, if we are somewhat comfortable there, it’s because we took a chunk of ourselves and found something of ourselves again… I know now that we are completely incapable of ever seeing anything. Consequently, we would never photograph anything unless we have become attentive to it because we carry a great chunk of it within ourselves… we are only paying attention to those things which already have busied us, occupied us, or better still, are so much a part of us that we lean into another situation which is already ourselves.

Perhaps we walk around with a camera. We find something that we want to photograph. We have photographed something of that already; we may have already lived that kind of feeling; and what we are really doing is intensifying that feeling and carrying it further. What then are we doing? We go on an excursion; we are not looking for the new, the different, the exotic. When we talk in those terms we are only propagandizing ourselves. Growth is the only modification; it is not change. It is important to make that distinction. 

So, we are trying to reinforce our moods. We underwrite feelings in other people and in other conditions which are congenial to us. You don’t ever see anything that is not already something of you. Although, how you go about this, the techniques of this, may vary with people.

How do you do something? How do you get involved in something? The answer is that you don’t get involved with something in which you are not already involved. What appears to be a new exciting condition you recognize as such because it is alive in you already and a great part of you.”

I have a certain confidence in what I do photographically. By that I mean that to a great extent I know why I do what I do, why I photograph what I photograph and what I want out of those photographs—what Sommer is calling ‘intensification’. That confidence I have always known comes from what Sommer is writing about—that part that is in me that I find in the objects I photograph. Yes, I do a lot of totally useless photography. What I am talking about here is not camera club assignments or field trips. I am talking about the photography that I do that is for me personally—the only photography that I do that has value to me.

Sommer also goes into ‘thinking about thinking’ but that’s another topic. I am a person that thinks a lot about my life and how photography relates to who I am. The two, my life and my photography seem to me to be inseparable. Lately I have done a considerable amount of photography in cemeteries. They have a very strong hold on me right now. I have a whole pocket full of themes that I pursue while photographing in cemeteries. But all the themes are functions of how I think about cemeteries, how I have experienced cemeteries. I photographed in cemeteries long before I discovered why, or at least think I discovered why I photograph in cemeteries. I photograph people because I have an emotional connection to people. When I don’t have people to photograph I photograph metaphors for people that hold those same emotions. I know that I do that in cemeteries. So is that the part of me that Sommer is writing about? Now I need to examine my cemetery photographs in light of Sommer’s article. I need to examine all of my photography. Do I need to take more chances in order to find other pieces of me?  
“You don’t ever see anything that is not already something of you.” I find that a very interesting statement. As personal as I find my photography I have never looked at it specifically from that perspective. It would certainly explain why certain genre of photography holds little or no appeal to me.

1 comment:

Bekkie said...

Gary my friend. It has been so long since we talked. You are just like putting on an old shoe! Perhaps we can catch up sometime. Meanwhile, I will read your posts.