Reflections on The American Small Town
This series focuses on several historic downtowns in my native New Jersey. Each one has significance for me in my life experiences. I photograph them to see what's beneath the surface and what I can find of myself in them. Nostalgia plays a big part since I have roots in each one that go back to my childhood. Their 19th century buildings and houses are a long-time interest of mine and so they are an integral element of this and my related American Small Town project. Together these involvements provide the foundation for my 'visual archaeology' of each town and the creation of my visual poetry.
These ideas carry through to my photography of other towns that I haven't seen before. The personal history part applies to the towns I know, but the fascination continues in other places.
A large part of creating the pictures has been like visualizing reveries of my childhood experiences in these places. In his book, “The Poetics of Space,” Gaston Bachelard suggests that real images are engraved in our memories by our imagination; the engravings ultimately replace the real ones, deepening them, so they become imagined recollections. Similarly, the Modernist photographer and painter Charles Sheeler learned through making pictures of decaying New England textile mills, which he had seen years before as shining examples of industrial might, that our memories of the past act as “overtones” on the present. The discovery of these two separate yet similar philosophies finally led me to understand what my images are and where they come from within me. An interesting aspect is that a lot of it comes out afterward during editing and writing about the pictures. A photographer friend who saw my work called them “visual poetry.” That's an apt description and I agree that they are, above all else, artistic expressions.
Finally, I see the panoramas as my personal take on the landscape tradition in photography, through which I want to convey a sense of place.
The images were composed entirely from reflections in storefront windows. In the first two iterations I photographed some of the surface texture I found in each place and applied it for both a literal and symbolic meaning, and simulated film grain was applied to impart the aesthetic of film. The collaged look was composed entirely in-camera.
The first iteration of the project is in portrait format and uses a lot of texture and desaturated color. This seemed to work well for the historic aspect and also to suggest a dream-like state. The work first came together just prior to this where I felt I could confidently realize my vision, make a lot of good pictures and complete each one I attempted. My success rate was very high from this point on, although not every picture made the cut, of course. This one is a favorite.
In this iteration my images evolved into urban landscape panoramas. They began with a wide cinematic format and grew more in height as the work progressed. In this phase I was able to delve more deeply into my history with these places where it seems more like a story, and this is where I produced the most work to date in this series.
In this phase I felt I had fully explored the cinematic approach and wanted to make my pictures more like pictorial landscapes—with more image height but retaining the panoramic format. I also wanted the pictures to be more like straight photographs, so that meant eliminating the texture. There is some grain added for which I've developed a digital method to simulate real film, and a vignette is still used to enhance the dream state effect, which is important to my concept. My work currently isn't fully focused on this project but I'm very happy with the pictures so far and I continue to add to it whenever a picture presents itself to me. The rate of production has been slow, but that's good...Edward Hopper only produced 1 or 2 paintings a year. Quality before quantity.
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