This question has been asked of me many times and I find it relevant. Let’s take a look at it for a bit. Let’s begin at the beginning, the actual exposure of the negative.
While I am out with my camera, my eyes are open to any possibilities. However, the subject matter must be real to me. I cannot force myself to take pictures of something that doesn’t have an emotional connection. It will not be an emotional connection if I try.
Sometimes, I find myself in places that are not appealing to me. One example of this is the downtown of large cities, which is filled with high-rise skyscrapers. Although they are often ugly urban file boxes, there are fascinating geometrical interactions between them. It is very rewarding to find them. I’ve photographed in these urban centers with great enthusiasm, despite their lackluster beauty.
Nature is what draws my attention and inspires me. Nature is where I feel most at ease, with both my emotions and my photography. I don’t “search for photos” in nature. I simply enjoy being outside and occasionally something will jump out at me that requires further investigation. It finds me more than it finds it, I suppose. It is something that grabs my attention and takes some time to respond. Sometimes the light changes rapidly and it is instantaneous. In these cases, I need to respond quickly. Sometimes it takes a lot more thought, such as determining the best location for the lens to maximize the relationship I see with the subject.
With so much thought and consideration given to each image, and further recognition of the importance of the subject matter, it would make sense that every negative that I expose will be printed. This is not true. Why? Why do I choose to reject certain and print others?
Not every negative is printed, and not all prints are published
As it turns out, although I might be motivated to expose, once the negative has been developed and proofed, which gives me something to study, I need to approach it differently. It is up to me to determine if the message I want to communicate about the subject matter has any chance of being delivered. It must look professional and be readable by others. It’s like trying to convey something important. It is important to choose the right words and thoughts to communicate your message to listeners, whether you are speaking with one person or a group of people. Many images are rejected when I try to assess whether they convey my thoughts. They don’t excite me anymore, or they aren’t up to the challenge of communicating what I wanted when I exposed the negative.
A large number of people pass the test and get printed. Another evaluation is then conducted. I try to see the image as if it were me, the audience. Ask yourself the simple question, “Does it move you?” I try to be objective and not get in love with the image just because it was produced by me. It’s not an easy task and I don’t know how many times I manage to transform myself from producer to viewer.
Then comes a second evaluation, particularly if I want to put images up in an exhibition or publish them in a book. How do they fit together? The next question is how diverse the images should be. One example: I might decide that four images are my absolute favorite, independent of each other. If there is too many of these four images in an exhibit or book, I may decide to eliminate one or two. Instead, I will choose other images that I think are more interesting and more varied. Then, I don’t just evaluate the images as such, but the whole set.
This may seem strange, but it is possible to use a sports analogy. Let’s say you are assembling a football team. You have to choose eleven players (twelve if it’s Canadian). The three best players are all quarterbacks. It’s better to choose all three than to be clever and pick the best quarterback and then the best tackle to catch his passes.
Today I am in that process due to a book I am putting together, which is close to publication. This book contains images I have taken throughout my career, but never published or displayed. Before the pandemic struck, I began to look back at my career in 4×50 inch negatives in a chronological, systematic way. I wanted to find a negative, or two, or even several that were worth printing. These were ones that I either forgot to print or couldn’t print years ago. I discovered a treasure trove full of photos that I had never seen before, to my surprise and delight. These images became so numerous that I began to think of publishing them in a book.
This is a retrospective of my work, divided into sections. It includes topics such as general landscapes and forests, trees and trees, slit canyons or downtown urban images, cathedrals in England, etc. However, none of these images have been published before, making it an unusual retrospective. I go through the above selection process to select images for each section. Additionally, I am working to ensure that the transitions between sections are as smooth as possible. Although it is a difficult task, it is slowly coming together. It’s been an amazing experience to work on this project during this bizarre pandemic. It has provided me with untold joy and hours of enjoyment when I needed it.
This article will be illustrated with images that I have rediscovered over the past two years. However, they will not be published in the book. Images that I have included in this magazine article would already be published in the book. It was a moment that made me gnash and wonder if I had selected the right images for publication, while rejecting others. Although it’s not always easy to make a decision, there is no denying that the choice must be made.