Posted by: John Looker | 3 July, 2011

PHOTOGRAPHY

Z

PHOTOGRAPHY

            So may we call it Art?
Well yes, at times,
especially when the camera

 is borrowed by the Muse
to bring us beauty,
present a new perspective;

 when it’s flourished like a brush
to catch our breath with colour,
transfix with light and shade;

 thrust as a key, unlocking
the doors of prison cells,
drawers inside the mind;

 when it puzzles,
ravelling common sights
into thick conundrums;

 when it vaults over chasms,
hacks a pathway through forest,
saddles a steer;

 soothes the nerves,
sponges the brow,
caresses. 

.

© John Stevens 2011

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Responses

  1. I‘m reminded of the time I took a group of students to the Museum of Modern Art. They bought into the Brancusi without too much promoting from my part—the simple beauty worked for them, though there was an undercurrent wonder as to what it was supposed to be—and they liked after some explanation on my part the Jasper Johns flag, but I lost everybody—everybody—in the room with the Fred Sandback sculpture. Fred worked with string, interpreting space by stringing it from floor to ceiling. No matter how I pitched it, the students couldn’t get past the fact that it was just string stretched from floor to ceiling.
    So, may we call it art?
    I think you are right John to go to beauty here. And I think your poem reminds me of Fred’s work, stringing a structure very delicately, and very delicately filling the room with—what? This poem strikes me as a poem about (and of) punctuation. All those glistening semicolons, the commas—both the commas there and the commas not there. I put one in after that first ‘so’. So? So a nice line down the page: soothes sponges caresses. Comma, comma, comma.
    A photograph of Fred Sandback’s work does not do it justice, by the way. You have to be there.

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    • Your students’ reactions were a challenge! I guess beauty is a safe starting point for art appreciation, but it’s not always on offer and I wouldn’t say it was with the Jasper Johns flag – although perhaps a new perspective might be (why are all those stars rearranged, and what’s the flag all about etc?). Is that right, do you think?
      Wish I could see those string sculptures though -they sound ethereal and beautiful. I don’t recall seeing any Fred Sandback in London.
      I like your remarks about punctuation. Lend me a comma and I’ll pop it in after the So.

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  2. I love the thought John of lending my camera to the Muse – that line on its own took me off into a reflection into why and how I take photographs. And into the fact that I never really know what a photo will tell me until I get the camera home and download onto the computer.

    For a number of years, whilst working in a rehab for young recovering drug addicts, I ran ‘Image and Poetry’ workshops in which we first studied a particular photo as a group then as individuals wrote about what the picture had said to us. I was constantly on the look out to take photographs which in some way depicted journey. The young people reacted better to photos rather than paintings and to photos which either I had taken or friends of mine had taken.
    Those sessions were some of the most satisfying that I ever ran.

    So yes, I think we can certainly call it art!

    David

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    • These are intriguing reminiscences, about those rehab sessions, and I can see that photos could well have the effect you mention. The idea of the photo (or any art form) exploring ‘journey’ was in my mind when writing the penultimate stanza above. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. I really like the subtle placement pattern…

    “thrust as a key, unlocking
    the doors of prison cells,
    drawers inside the mind”
    beautiful…

    Like

    • Thank you Evelyn (I went round in circles trying to get these lines right).

      Like

  4. ‘Ravelling commons sights/into thick conundrums’ – what a lovely line. I think that’s what we do as poets a lot of the time, too. It’s a source of great regret to me that I can’t take a good picture (I don’t really have a photographic memory, either!) so I have nothing but admiration for those who can. Another intricate, contemplative piece, John – bravo.

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    • Thanks Nick. You’ve taken some pretty good photos of bikes though!

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  5. thrust as a key, unlocking
    the doors of prison cells,
    drawers inside the mind

    Lovely poem. Photo’s can be art surely. One I had a good camera, a Pentax, and it had much better sight than I. I didn’t make art with it though. It still needs a photographer to do so!

    Like

    • Thanks, Ina. You can’t be as poor a photographer as I am!

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  6. What a fabulous spiral as this poem unravels towards the close. Ohhh, definitely one of my favourites of yours. Can I print it out for my wall of inspiration?

    Like

    • Wow, what a wonderful compliment. I’d be honoured! (I like the idea of a wall of inspiration by the way … everyone should have one!)

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  7. John, I’ve missed this one. I know your son is a photographer, and mine, while he was alive, was one too. I suspect that this poem is wrapped up in your appreciation of your son’s work, and that is good and proper, but what you say is true too. Art is not just paint on canvas or words on paper. If that is all it is it would not be worth pursuing with the passion you and I have been known to pursue it. Beauty is always a starting point, but trying to see around a bend of light into what exists beyond (a new perspective) is equally as valuable. Being within yourself is good in some ways, but getting out of yourself and seeing through another’s eyes helps you understand who you really might be.

    when it puzzles,
    ravelling common sights
    into thick conundrums;

    when it vaults over chasms,
    hacks a pathway through forest,
    saddles a steer;

    soothes the nerves,
    sponges the brow,
    caresses.

    photography, or any other work for that matter, transcends the normal patterns of being and leads us into the realms of art where the sun shines on waters that roll inexorably to a shore just beyond our ken.
    I enjoyed this, partially, I’ll admit, because it made me so aware of my son’s, and your son’s, art.

    Like

    • I so much agree with you, Tom! And of course, with the photography of you own son featured on your blog, I’m aware how important these arguments are to you and your family. I would say that photography is not always art of course – sometimes the aims are different (journalism, record – the passport photo perhaps!) – but most certainly it can be and often is, and for a wide range of reasons.

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      • I have spent some time on your son’s photography site, following the link on your blog, and have enjoyed his work. The photo of the owl that introduces the site in stunning. I especially liked his nature series, although the portraits are nice too. He is, like Kevin was, an artist and not a journalist. This poem sparked all kinds of thoughts in my head. I can’t believe I did not read it earlier.

        REPLY FROM JOHN:
        Thanks Tom – that’s very kind – I’ve let my son know and recommended that he takes a look at Kevin’s photos on your family blog.

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