Photographing love

Lovers1Sally Mann, “Ponder Heart” (2009)

In the late-winter afternoons for half a decade, I photographed my husband of forty-two years. With the weak sun coming through the studio windows, we were warmed by the woodstove and his two fingers of bourbon. I loved it, this work: the quietude; the muted burble of NPR; the exposures sometimes so long that he fell asleep. In this picture, a relatively short exposure, he was braced against the glass, holding still for the counted-out minutes. You see that slight movement at the tips of his fingers? That is the beating of his heart.

From the series “Proud Flesh,” exhibited at Gagosian Gallery/Courtesy Gagosian Gallery and Edwynn Houk Gallery.

Lovers2JoAnn Verburg, “First Day Back in Italy (Pisa)” (1998)

Why, after all these years, do I keep wanting to set up my tripod and camera when I’m with Jim?. It’s a puzzle. What impulse is it that he—and only he—brings out in me, that has lasted seemingly forever, and goes as deep as it does? It’s a miracle. At this moment, we’re on the road, driving west, squinting into the sun. My camera is in the back seat. I can’t wait to stop in one of these little motels and watch him fall asleep: watch his arms, legs, and torso give in to gravity, see his breathing become slower and even, and watch as his face loses all traces of expectations and judgment. It’s one of the great gifts I get when I look in the ground glass: a gift Jim gives me. I lose track of time and our two bodies no longer separate us. What he is, I am, and what I need dissolves into a single, concentrated act of seeing.

Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery.

Lovers3Angelo Merendino, from “My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer”

In September, 2007, I married the girl of my dreams; five months later Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer. Throughout our battle, we were fortunate to have a strong support group, but still struggled to get people to understand the difficulties we faced daily. I began to photograph our everyday life, hoping to show the reality of living with this horrible disease. As time passed, trust grew, and at a certain point Jen stopped feeling like she had to pose, she was just Jen…happy, sad, silly, or whatever she was feeling at that moment. Now that Jen has passed, I look at these photographs and I feel our love.

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Do photographs tell the truth?

We’re photographers. We know images aren’t real. Don’t we?

I mean, we know the image at right by Jerry Uelsmann (Untitled, 1991) doesn’t capture “the real”… logic tells us such a bizarre and implausible juxtaposition of object and situation must be a construction, right?

But what about “straight” images? Do they capture the real?

All images, after all, are constructions resulting from a range of authorial choices – decisions about camera angle, framing, cropping, focus, film stock, lighting, background, proximity, facial expressions and clothing, for example, all add to the meaning of an image.

Yet, despite their lack of objectivity, photographs are seen to have a special connection with the real, and are the standard against which the realism of all other images is measured.

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Colour or black and white? (part I)

above images ⓒ SWS

If I’m forced to choose, black and white images almost always win out for me, although I’ve posted the above example because I’m less sure here… I keep wavering!

I think Diana Eftaiha sums up the appeal of mono images well when she says:

Vibrant saturated colors can very easily steal the spotlight away from the more important elements of a particular image, while working within a more restricted palette means putting more emphasis on the true nature and value of a given image.

Black and white photographs often have more impact, especially in a world some may say is already over-saturated with colour. I think portraits in particular resonate more powerfully in mono, which adds a layer of complexity and timelessness to the subject. A black and white portrait seems to better convey the story of a person’s lived experience somehow.

For me, the following portraits from the Immediate Family series by Sally Mann, for example, just wouldn’t be as strong in colour…

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