Every Picture Tells A Story, Don’t It?
All photos are Copyright George Cannon, all rights reserved.
I’ve been working over the past several months to scan and catalog a lot of my older slides. They have been through numerous slide shows and class discussions when I was teaching. Many have been scratched and show some wear and tear from years of use. So with the help of photoshop and my slide scanner I can preserve these images, clean them, and add them to my digital library for safe keeping.
So as I look over these images I begin to think about where I was when they were taken and what the story is behind these shots. When I used to teach I used to always open my first class with a quote from Freeman Patterson. “Every photograph has its origin in the desire of the photographer to say something meaningful.” I would talk about how photography is a visual language. We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. The interesting part is what are the words that picture deserves? What is the image about? What does it make you think of? I would always stress to my students that a good image should be able to stand alone, without explanation. Nothing is more tiring than watching a slide show of someone’s pictures and with every image hearing, “and here’s Bill standing in front of our motel in Mobile….and this one is of a pretty flower I saw but it’s kind of small. See it there in the corner.” Photos need to tell a story. It may not be the story that is really attached to the image, but one that the viewer can hear in their mind. Or one that causes us to question our perception of what’s taking place. Maybe ask ourselves why or how the image was created. As photographers we are trying to say something meaningful, so our challenge is communication. As the creator of pictures we will always associate more with an image than most viewers, except perhaps the person who might be the subject of the picture. But for the photographer, the image will always bring back more of an experience. Where you were, what you felt like, what your mood was, whether you were cold or hot or hungry, what the smells were, who was with you and what those moments meant to you as you took the pictures. These things are hard to convey to a viewer. But the viewer’s experience does not necessarily need these things explained. They only need their own experience to be one of interest and value. To gain something from looking at the image. Whatever they feel is valid.
This image has a story for me. It speaks of a time in my life when I was isolated and on my own. I was living for a while in a studio apartment next to Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca. Sandbank Road began there at the bottom of the hill and wound upward and every day I would walk to the top of this hill and then run for another mile or so. It was a huge energy release for me and a place to be quiet and think. It was also a time of great transition and, at times, lonliness. The picture feels like it expresses that loneliness for me. A barren time in the winter when the trees were bare, an emptiness. A picture that expresses a journey. Life with twists and turns. But a journey all the same, leading somewhere unexpected. Very much a picture of where I was at the time.
I was so taken by the desert when I drove out west years ago. I felt like I would live there one day when I was old and retired. When my partner had perhaps tired of putting up with me and kicked me out. I would pack my bag and move to the desert and live there in the vastness of that sky among the sage and cactus and rattlesnakes with an old cat. Maybe in a place like this. I found this old trailer off the highway in Nevada. Parked beside what appears to me a miner’s shack and maybe a mineshaft. My imagined story is one of an old prospector digging away at a small vein of silver everyday. Looking for that one glint of something shiny that would mean reward for years of beans out of a can. The backbone of a burro or some animal hangs on the side of the shack. The place is enveloped in the darkness of the desert at night with a view of the stars like no where else and maybe that occasional UFO that frequents these remote areas. Who is this resident, and why is he (or she) there? They are creative, and artistic. The trailer is sponge painted outside with the colors of the desert sage. I’d be curious to know what they read at night in the quiet of this place.
Years ago when I lived in Boston, I would travel to New Hampshire to ski and photograph in the winter. Near one of the ski areas was one of those old mountain hotels that used to be so grand. I took this image behind the hotel and have always loved it. There’s something about places where people have thrived and lived and played that are now left to decay and reclamation by nature, that I find so interesting and appealing. I imagine the times when children splashed and squealed in the water of this pool, escaping the city heat. When families came to hike and play golf and ride horses through the woods and young girls hung out by the water hoping for that summer romance, while their mothers read novels and sipped cocktails in the afternoon with other mothers, awaiting their husbands’ return from the golf course. There are ghosts in places like this. And in the quiet of a winter day you can almost hear their voices and laughter.
There’s a beautiful wildlife refuge in Concord, Massachsetts called Wachusetts Meadows on the Concord river. One winter after days of heavy rain, when the river was swollen to flood stage, the temperature dropped like a rock falling below zero and amazing things happened. The surface of the river in the refuge froze solid to about a foot or more thick with ice that was, in places, so clear you could see well down into its depths. I spent a very cold morning out skating across the ice with a tripod and camera trying to capture the beauty and amazing quality of this winter phenomenon. In places the ice appeared like space, like galaxies and stars and clouds of gas. Nature is like that. Opening the world, or the universe to our eyes in the small space of a pond or a puddle. I understand why Thoreau and Emerson were so taken with the beauty of this area. It was a magical day.
Much of my photography today is from the urban landscape. While in Connecticut over the Christmas holidays I spent some time driving around the streets of Willimantic. Willimantic was an industrial town know for its thread mills years ago. Today this area is populated with many Hispanic residents and many of the large old Victorian homes are divided into apartments in the old neighborhoods on the edge of the Eastern campus. I took this photo on one of the neighborhood streets. It was one of those scenes that seemed so full of story possibilities and questions. Here among the trash behind a building of several apartments, old TV sets, packaging from Christmas toys, was what appeared to be a nearly new baby bassinet, in perfect condition. I almost expected to look inside and find a child. It was sort of a flash of a modern day Nativity scene. Strange juxtaposition at an inspirational time of year. As an observer behind the lens, we have the rare opportunity to slice out of the surroundings, a piece of art that stimulates our imagination, causes us to question, and connects with our mind in surprising ways. What a gift!