“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Triggering Memories

I had been working on this shot for a few weeks. In my head was exactly the image I wanted to capture. I knew it would be black and white. I knew what would be in focus and what would not. I didn’t know exactly where I would stand, but I knew how the framing would work going in.

I waited for an overcast day to get the even lighting I desired and to have a little definition in the sky without it being a dominant element in the shot. I hopped in my car and drove the ten minutes or so northward to the location I had been to numerous times throughout my youth.

I walked from my parking spot at the entrance across the spongy ground to a location opposite of that which I usually find myself when visiting, only a stones-throw from the snack bar and projection booth. I pulled out my cheap, spindly tripod – I desperately want a “real” one – and set it up to capture my shot.

With a little post-processing – converting to black and white, getting the exposure and contrast about right, split-toning, and adding a bit of sharpening and lens blur where necessary – I came up with a shot that is fairly close to what I had envisioned weeks before.

Photography is more than just capturing moments. It’s about expressing emotion, telling a story. Beyond that, a photograph is meant to conjure up memories in the mind of the viewer so that one can move from looking to engaging.

I know some artists are out to say something with their art. They have a specific idea of what their work is meant to be and evoke. Some even get upset when their work is misinterpreted or taken out of the context the artist had initially intended. We all put a little bit of ourselves into our pieces and, for me anyway, photography is a means to share a part of ourselves. The act of creating, in fact, is itself a great reward and worthy goal.

I’ve always said that art, in any form, is never complete until it is experienced. For the creator, the act of creating and manipulating the work in order to express a certain emotion or story brings the art to completion for the artist. But we can’t expect another, who comes to the piece with their own personal history and perspective, to relate to it in the exact way it was originally planned. So true completion comes when it touches the viewer in a meaningful way.

So, for me, even though I had a particular idea in mind for this shot I began to think back across my life and remembering the fun I had growing up heading off to the drive-in (this very one, at times), staying up late, watching lots of movies, bringing all sorts of food that we could never have at a theater, and running around with the other kids.

I remember sitting in the back of a mini-van and ducking down, almost uncomfortably, to see the screen. I remember, more recently, sitting in folding chairs with my brother and his family while my nephew hung his feet over the edge of the car with the hatch back open as we swatted bugs of all kinds. I remember the night the fog rolled in and I could only hear the movie and all I could see was some flashing beams of light. I remember late nights in high school with my girlfriend asleep in the passenger seat as we drove home from a late show with the warm summer breeze flowing in and a good song softly playing on the radio. And I always remember the silly intermission films (“Let’s all go to the lobby. Let’s all go to the lobby. Let’s all go to the lobby, to get ourselves a treat!” It’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it? You’re welcome!).

So the next time you encounter a photograph, don’t just look, engage. Once you acknowledge the aesthetics and how it makes you feel move deeper, not only into the image, but into what stories and memories it sparks in you.