Woman with Broom, Front Porch, Greenwood, Mississippi
Get a terminal diagnosis and you tend to reflect on things, ultimate things of meaning in your life – people, places, things done and experienced. It’s actually a marvelous byproduct of having a limited amount of time left. Everything, even those most simple things, shine with new meaning. I’m now three months into a “go home and let nature take its course” diagnosis – when asked I was told “maybe six months…we just don’t know.” Last week again it was nearer – this week, feeling a bit well again.
One thing I am doing is a lot of negative scanning and photo printing. My family has encouraged me to do at least that and, frankly, I’m amazed at the amount of good work I’ve produced in 52 years of actively photographing. Certainly looking back over it now I can see my progression both aesthetically and philosophically. If I could characterize that progression it would be as a progressive movement toward simplicity of both thought, design and presentation. Photography as an expressive medium need not be complicated to be effective. Simple works just fine.
Simple photos, profound in their simplicity. The emotional and aesthetic payoff is the power conferred by an ostensibly “simple” visual creation. Simplicity allows space for the viewer’s creative input. Complexity turns an aesthetic event into an intellectual event. Art isn’t intellectual. Art is an intuitive, right brain response. Intellectualization corrupts it with left brain logic.
But simplicity itself isn’t a guarantee of aesthetic worth. Sometimes a simple photo can be badly framed, awkwardly composed, dull. What makes simplicity aesthetic?
This Guy Played on 50% of the Iconic music of the 60’s, Usually Without Credit. Why? Because He Made it Simple. To the Point and Done.
I’ve been doing a lot of music listening as I’ve sat at my computer, and it’s become obvious to me that my tastes incline to the early to mid-60’s in both Jazz and Rock and Rock. In Jazz, Dexter Gordan, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins were still melodically and harmonically linked to the blues structurally, unlike the unfortunate era of “freer jazz” that followed it with Fusion and Free Jazz. Likewise, Rock and Roll. The Kinks, the Beatles, The Who, The Stones, CCR, the Byrds all made remarkably simple yet incredible powerful stuff through the 60’s. Throw on the Kink’s 1964 single “You Really Got Me” and if that doesn’t make you want to get up and move, there’s clearly something wrong with you. Its powerfully simplicity almost requires you do.
To me, the greatest single rock and roll song is the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” (1965) , with the Beatle’s “Rain” and the Byrd’s “Turn, Turn Turn” close behind. What makes “I Can’t Explain” such a perfect encapsulation of what rock and roll should be is 1) its brevity; and 2) Jimmy Page’s seeringly simple guitar lick at 1:33″-1:47″ that caps his progressive counterpoint surf of the melody up to that point and builds the song to the perfect two minute climax. (And, yes, that’s Page playing, not Pete Townsend, although Townsend has insinuated it was actually him; it wasn’t, Jimmy Page says it’s Jimmy Page; that’s enough for me). Apparently done in one take and then off to the next song. Remarkable. 2 minutes, get to the point. Done. It still brings the hairs up on the back of my neck after 55 years,
And then came the 70’s and the era of the extended instrumental rock and roll song, partly, no doubt, fueled indirectly by Page himself with Led Zep. However, one must make the distinction between the more extended blues work of latter Led Zep and their inferior 70’s era hair band camp followers. Even the latter day Led Zep is inherently simple, based as it is on blues harmonic and rhythmic structures. The skill-less imitators took the worst excesses and tried to make them virtues. They hid lack of simple vision behind faux-intellectualization They were bad bands unable to state the point and move on, false complexity as a mark of nothing to say.
What does this all mean for your photography? It’s simple. Find one thing to say. You don’t need to travel far or engage in constant novelty. Everywhere around you there are subjects for your study. You need not be covering a war in Bosnia or walking the streets of Paris or New York. Wherever you are is fine. Bring a simple eye to what’s around you. One thing at a time. Don’t overthink it and don’t overdo it. And when it looks right to you, stop and move on.