Narrow Alley – Do You See What I See?
Part of the photographer’s art is to put you where they were when a photograph was being taken. Too often people think that an art print is ‘just’ an art print, and admittedly sometimes that is purely the case, however there is often more to a picture than just a visual representation of whatever the photographer chose to capture.
When you see a photograph, you are actually – when you think about it – entering the head of the photographer at the moment they are taking the photograph. You are seeing what they were seeing. If I am not explaining that very well, try and think of the film “Being John Malkovich.”
So, it’s quite a privilege to be allowed to share a moment of vision with somebody, but sometimes there’s more to the experience than just seeing that same as the photographer – the real skill sometimes with being a photographer is getting people to feel what you were feeling at the time that you took the picture.
To illustrate this point, I’ve chosen this art photograph of mine called ‘Narrow Alley’ – as you can see, it’s all lines and perspective leading towards a door at the end of the alley in front of which is a mound of piled up snow. I almost walked right past the alley, it was so unmemorable. I’m not sure what it was that made me stop and go back. But I did. And, if I’ve been successful and have achieved what I set out to achieve, then you’re experiencing much more than seeing ‘something’ – can you not ‘feel’ the narrowness of the alley? Are your shoulders not tingling with the sense of being closed in? Do they not feel that if you were to continue down the alley you would do so with the threat of bumping your shoulders against the brick work? Do you feel hemmed in, closed in and compacted?
If you do feel this, then I’ve been successful, and isn’t it interesting how one sense (vision), can, by association trigger another (touch), when there is nothing actually physically there to trigger it?
Of course this is not the only occasion where seeing can trigger an associated sense – how many times have you started salivating upon seeing a photograph of a large, juicy steak (unless you’re a vegetarian of course!)?
Our old friend Ansel Adams once said:
“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”
I think that’s a wonderful quote. We are all very different beings and all have rights to our own perceptions and the emotions those perceptions create. I’m always puzzled by how heated people can become if someone doesn’t like the same film as them, or dislikes their favourite bands, trashes their favourite book or even (since we’re talking about photography) uses a different photography technique to create their art. How dull the world would become if everybody reacted in exactly the same way to every aspect of human existence. Variety is the spice of life, and any meal without even the merest whiff of spice or flavouring is pretty unsavoury.
People having the same perception of a photograph (in this case feeling the same claustrophobic nature of this narrow alley that I did even though they were no there) enhances that shared that shared experience that photography offers. It’s like we are co-creators of the same story even as the additional perspectives viewers will add to and build that story, as if we’re all standing there in the same scene. That it can happen with my shot of an unnamed unimportant grungy narrow back alley is one of the many wonderful things photography offers that I continually seek out and enjoy.