Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hunting for Images

I enjoy hunting. Hunting for images, that is. The excitement of the chase, pursuing a sometimes-elusive prey, the satisfaction of a job well done. And the occasional experience of coming up short; that, too, happens while hunting for images.

Unlike hunting for game, the pursuit of the fine photographic image always results in the revelation of an entirely new species. Or variations within species. For no two photographs are the same, even when the genre and subject matter are most familiar. That is part of the surprise.

Today I loaded my falling plate pinhole camera with eight large-format film plates, and went hunting in the northern foothills of the Sandia Mountains, near the village of Placitas. Armed with tripod-mounted box camera and backpack, I was unaware of the particulars of what I would come across during my hike, but was hopeful that, with an attentive, open eye, quiet yet watchful, I could take advantage of every opportunity presented to me.

What interests me at times like this is how preparation meets opportunity. When one is intimately familiar with the materials of one's craft, having worked through the difficulties and struggles peculiar to a genre or field, it soon becomes second nature to tackle the technical aspects of the task at hand, allowing a deeper attentiveness to be placed on the raw truth of what one is confronted with. In this case, how best to represent the clear, thin air of the high desert climate of New Mexico's mountains in all its rugged beauty, and not come away feeling that only cliché or sameness had been the end result.

One hillside of juniper and pinon pretty much looks like another; what excites me are particular uniquenesses one happens across, fashioned from a juxtaposition of form, perspective and light. These ancient hills seem ever so timeless and permanent, yet the details one happens across speaks to the transient and temporal, the ever-present process of change, death and renewal.

A tree grows from seed, matures, and then dies, becoming driftwood in some flash flood ridden canyon. Eventually the organic materials making up this once living thing return to the landscape, to once more enrichen and nurture a new tree's growth. And the cycle continues.

And I feel at times like I, too, am participating in a cycle of recreative birth. I find myself loading up the same camera, driving out to perhaps the same areas, lugging the awkward equipment up and down hills that look for all the world like all the others I've hiked up and down; went through the same setup procedure for making an exposure as I've done time and time again, only to heft the tripod back onto my shoulder and trudge on a bit further. Yet the results from these cyclic workings are new, fresh, alive. Sure, some of it succeeds in certain measurable ways better than others; but what remains unmistakable is that constant miracle of having captured permanently on film a place and a moment in time of my choosing. Happenstance and the ephemeral intersect with a structured methodology of visual selection to create a photographic reality representative of the uniqueness of who I am at that time and place.

These aren't just pictures of the mountains; they're pictures resulting from me having been to the mountains, hunting for pictures.


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