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De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Some Favorite Photos
Yesterday, masoo kindly remarked, in reference to my "real night shot" of Kim in her new thrift-store French dress, "This has got to be the best picture you ever took." While I don't agree, his compliment started me thinking about which of my photos I rank highest. So I went through the archive of the ones I've made public here on De File -- click on "Picture of the Moment: Archive" in the right sidebar if you ever want to see them all or, for now, simply click here -- looking for personal favorites. I realized that, while it would be impossible for me to pick a single image as my "best picture," I could select a few that I'm particularly fond of and explain why.

This photo predates our digital era, which began in January, 2004, by five years. Luckily I had a picture disc made when I processed the negatives back then, so it looks decent on the computer:

Aside from baby Skylar's already intense "I'm thinking hard" expression, I love the way the background balances the foreground, how the out-of-focus parts strengthen the image's power. I always think of this as a modern-day equivalent of one of those Renaissance portraits in which the subject is not sugared over, but presented in her or his psychological complexity.

Frequently, the photos I like best are ones that weren't obvious compositions, for which I had to think hard in order to see something interesting. I took this one last February in Louisville, Kentucky at the Holiday Inn I was staying at:

The left side of the image represents its foreground. It's the right side of a second-story pillar on the balcony overlooking the pool below. The right side is the background and shows a portion of the pool where one of its lights has made a ring. I'm extremely proud of this photo because a person could walk that balcony every day for a year and not see the juxtaposition it captures.

As regular readers may have discerned, I'm drawn to images that use reflections to create layers of meaning. This photo also dates from that Louisville trip:

While I would have been very happy with the image in purely aesthetic terms -- that red fire hydrant and yellow center-line stripe offset the purple shirt beautifully -- the social commentary I was able to pull off by showing this lifeless homemaker staring out the window in defiance of the sign around her neck elevates the photo into one of my special favorites. It makes me think of Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas and the Rainer Werner Fassbinder tribute to Sirk -- still not available on video, I believe -- translated into English as Fear of Fear.

One of the pleasures of my rather antiquated digital camera's limitations is that I've learned to make photos that exploit them. I'm not always happy with the slow shutter speeds and even slower reaction time between the time I press the button and the time the photo is actually taken.Yet under the right circumstances I can produce surreal images that tell a story in their departure from the conventions of realism. This one is from The Cuff, a gay bar in Seattle, and comes from my April, 2004 trip to that city. cpratt and sinnabor graciously let me accompany them to their watering hole, where I spent hours enjoying the play of colored lights on rippling flesh:

The bartender is reaching into his customer's pocket. But to what end?

I've always been a big fan of landscapes. For years, they were practically the only kind of photo I was interested in making. More recently, I've gravitated to the urban sort. Without a shift lens, however, it's difficult to create images that don't look like some tenth-grade exercise in point perspective. This picture dates from our trip to the Bay Area last July:

I love the way the west blurs into white light. What really makes this a compelling picture for me is the foreground. The position of Joel's head and his cigarette-holding fingers slows down the hectic pace of the city and, more personally, captures the meditative, "Let me think about that for a minute," dimension to his personality that I love.

On occasion, an image that means a great deal to me might not interest other people. I shot this photo from a moving car as my parents and I approached New York City last November, on the way to my sister's wedding:

While I like the extreme gloominess of the landscape and the Franz Kline-meets-Charles Sheeler quality to the structure in the foreground, the real power of this image for me derives from the knowledge that I snapped it at the precise moment when the absence of the World Trade Center towers was obscured by the support in the bottom-right corner. You see, I drove that stretch many times as a child, always tracking the Twin Towers' appearance and disappearance through the detritus of New Jersey's industrial wasteland: now you see them; now you don't. My photo, then, documents my desire to not acknowledge that this little fort-da game had been transformed into one with no da da.

Although I'm not sure how I feel about the ideological implications that emerge when a correspondence is established between the "natural" and "human" worlds, the visual echoes that result often make for arresting images:

I wouldn't like this photo as much as I do were it not for the fact that the Bean is out of focus. There's also something about the absence of dramatic contrasts, its muted midrange tones that appeals to me, perhaps because I have generally tended to prefer high-contrast images over the years. It's nice to do something different from time to time.

We photograph our daughter so much that the stream of images that we put forth here and at kdotdammit may start to blur together or, better still, seem like real-life represented as it happens, with the mediation of the camera disappearing into a suture of familiarity. That's the goal of family snapshots, I think, even if the imperfection of the majority of them -- think about those "found image" sites that display ordinary people's mistakes with the reverence accorded to art -- prevents it from being achieved. Still, it takes a lot of work to erase the evidence of work. I spent a lot of time repositioning myself, not to mention engaging with Skylar to minimize the camera's presence, before I finally got this in the frame:

Most of the time, when I'm photographing her at close range, I don't even bother to look at the viewfinder. I go by feel, content in the knowledge that I can delete the photos that don't meet my standards without having to pay to develop them. That's my favorite feature of digital cameras, as you might suspect. Anyway, I love the sincerity of this slice-of-life, even if its representation required a lot more artifice than is apparent on the surface.

As John Ashbery suggests in "Forties Flick," the art of making art is often revealed in, "knowing what important details to leave out." The compulsion to get everything in the frame, one even the best photographers are sometimes susceptible to, is one that usually results in a claustrophobic image, hemming in the viewer's eyes and mind. This photo is from a week ago, when we were frolicking in "Teletubby Bye-Bye Park.":

There was serendipity involved in its creation, since I was holding the camera so far over my head -- Kim was on a platform above me -- that I couldn't really see what was in the frame. I knew, though, that I wanted this effect, of a close-up that cuts the body off abruptly, and adjusted the zoom accordingly. I'm just lucky that the auto-focus worked properly for once. Let me add, in closing, that this particular image captivates my "dastardly" side even more than the one of her in that French dress. The light on her arms is fabulous.

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Mode: angular
Muse: a memory of Stephen Malkmus's new album, track 3

17 comments or Leave a comment
cpratt From: cpratt Date: June 19th, 2005 09:10 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Damn, that picture of Kim is sexy.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 09:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I sure think so! :-)
commonalgebra From: commonalgebra Date: June 19th, 2005 09:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
this is a great entry. One that I found strangely, dreamily gripping when you first posted it and still do--blurry Skylar standing on a rock with the branches focused in the foreground. There's something quietly shocking about her...sort of uncanny, all the brown and then a blurry figure.

And, Happy Father's Day!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 10:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks! That one's subtle. But it does give me a feeling like the one you describe. Great seeing you and Kiyomi on Friday. We'll have to have a dinner thing sometime soon.
From: thewhitaker Date: June 19th, 2005 09:43 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I like your NYC photo best. I like the sky. I never knew I could say this, but I miss days with that hue. Since moving here, I've become more of a photographer than I've ever been. I used to appreciate photos without the need to take them. Now I get urges to take photos every day. Tucson is very photogenic.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yeah, you can't fake that sort of sky. Even the darkest day in California, at least in the coastal areas I frequent, is too lit up from without to have that cast. Glad you and commonalgebra have endosed the images least likely to be sung.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: June 20th, 2005 04:03 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I like them all, especially Skylar standing on that rock out in the stream. Also, Kim's hand, arm and, bracelet. I've always loved looking at people's hands. I think that's because grandmothers (mine) have such great narratives bound up in each wrinkle of skin and every cut and scrape. :-)))
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 20th, 2005 04:30 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I never understood why people try hard to erase the history from their hands. Or, rather, I understand why it's in certain people's interest for them to erase it, but think real beauty comes with the inscription of the body. Thanks for the nice words! I've learned an awful lot from your photography.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: June 20th, 2005 12:46 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Why, thank you so much. :-)

I so enjoy reading your blog. I have to thank Chris and Dan for your introduction.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 20th, 2005 02:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I was reading Chris for a year and a half before I decided to take the plunge. He deserves the credit, along with my friend masoo, whose regular blog dates back almost as far.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: June 20th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Chris is very sly in the way he puts his ideas forth to the public. I have been tricked by him, more than once. I wonder how he would be in person many times because as much as I don't know about him I always find myself commenting in his blog. I think he would always be testing me to see if I was awake. *wink*
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 20th, 2005 06:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Chris is inimitable. I've known him since the fall of 1988, so I can say that with some authority. I do wish he'd share more of his strange, abstract thughts, though.
fao From: fao Date: June 20th, 2005 04:09 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The pictures of the city eith the with the light and the one of your daughter at the creek really cool!! (actually, all are wonderful, but those 2 are my favorites).

Have a great week!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 20th, 2005 04:17 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You know I love your photos. They're amazing. And so many. I wish I understood the context better. Where did you get such good-looking friends and relatives? :-)
tpratt From: tpratt Date: June 20th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
These are all very good pictures. You've taken many more that I like very much, too. Out of these, my favorite is the one from New York. It provokes a somber mood, even without knowing when it was taken. It's also awesome to see Skylar as a baby. She is just beautiful, and you know I don't mean to give short shrift to her brilliance when I say that. Those eyes!

Still, though, out of all your photos I've had the pleasure to see, the Forties Flick one of Kim is my favorite.
myarchway From: myarchway Date: June 21st, 2005 07:51 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed visiting your "Picture of the Moment" gallery. There are so many beautiful family moments and interesting perspectives. Here are some of my favorites (the Valentine's Day cat treats would be in there, too):

This one is my favorite. She looks so beautiful and happy. And I love the handwriting - so expressive!



Looks dreamy and romantic.


This picture of Skylar looks soulful.



I love these family adventures! You have a beautiful family.

On a two way street. Children learning to ride bikes and exploring the world. Adults taking small giant steps alongside.


Lovely and joyful.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 21st, 2005 03:05 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I can't begin to tell you how delighted I was to get this reply. To have our photos in your always awesome comment space is a great honor.

I've always loved the one with Skylar in the highchair, anticipating the arrival of strawberry shortcake. Her expression is great. And I also really like the one of the children bike-riding, because I really like photos that give a sense of the relationship between people. And the one of Skylar looking into the window is one of my favorite reflection photos.

I should point out that the first photo was taken by our friend danlmarmot in January, 2004, right before we got the digital camera. And the one from the operating room was taken by a nurse (obviously!).

Thanks so much for brightening my morning. The Bean woke with a sore throat, so it was a good day to be cheered up.
17 comments or Leave a comment