"What Else They Are"

                                “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”                                                                                                                                                                                                   Minor White

"Quarter Note" © Mark Maio

"Quarter Note" © Mark Maio

I first learned of this Minor White quote very early in my photographic life, but it wasn't until almost twenty-five years ago that I finally understood what it meant to my photography.

Early in my career, I concentrated on making technically perfect photographs -  more concerned with what camera, lens or film I was using, how I customized the development of the negative and what particular enlarger, photographic printing paper or special developer I used. My formula of great equipment + highly tested film + finely tuned darkroom skills = technically perfect negatives and prints. However, in the end they didn't say anything to me or anyone else.

My mindset regarding my "formula" changed when I started my Against the Grain project. From the beginning I made a conscious decision to simplify my workflow. I began using one camera (without a light meter), one lens and a basic film development routine. Simplifying the technical aspects of the imaging process opened myself up to "seeing" what it was that I was trying to say instead of distracting me with thoughts of which of my many cameras/lenses I might select from my camera bag. In fact, I approached this project without a camera bag - just one camera, one lens, and a couple rolls of film in my pocket.

"Quarter Note" was photographed while boats destined for Buffalo, NY were being loaded with grain in the Duluth, MN harbor. My day started as I made many images of the empty holds of the boats, images of the men responsible for filling them, and images of the towering machinery that transferred grain from the elevators that stood along the docks.

The more I photographed, the less I included in my frame. Instead of attempting to tell the entire story by capturing everything in one image, I began concentrating on the smaller parts of the process.

I approached one of the openings in the deck as hundreds of bushels of grain/minute were flowing from a conveyor belt into the hold. With the camera up to my eye, I moved even closer, watching as what I framed through the viewfinder changed and concurrently becoming more aware of what I "felt" as the framed image changed.

Moving even closer, the process of filling the hold with grain suddenly became a musical note floating in space, and I finally understood what Minor White meant.

© 2017 Mark Maio

"The Way Back" - Critical Distance Photography Blog - Mark Maio

Following my recent post regarding the "U-turn" as the best accessory in your camera bag", I received a response from Dave Albrect reminding me of "the way back" as its complement. Dave is exactly right, and I practice it whenever I can. What is "the way back"?

© Mark Maio - "Abandoned Church, Isle of Skye, Scotland"

© Mark Maio - "Abandoned Church, Isle of Skye, Scotland"

When driving down various roads and photographing along the way, "the way back" refers to returning via the same road but in the opposite direction rather than coming back by an entirely different route. Generally, I organize my photography trips based on the direction of the sun throughout the day, as I prefer that the sun comes from my left, my right or from behind me - more easily illuminating any subject that I might want to photograph. I seldom choose to drive directly into the sun if I can avoid it.

Reversing direction on the same road gives you a completely different perspective of the landscape. Not only do you see things of interest in a different context, but you also find new possibilities that you missed or couldn't see from the original direction. If necessary, I'll plan "my way back" later in the day so that the sun has a chance to reposition itself behind me or to my side.

The first image today is of an abandoned church located on the northern end of the Trotternish Peninsula in Scotland on the Isle of Skye. The weather on Skye is in a constant state of change and many days are cloudy. Frequently in the late afternoon, the layer of clouds will start to open up and beautiful light will illuminate the landscape. When this happens, no matter what I am doing, it's easy to grab my camera and head down the road, and because of the play of clouds and light, any direction will do!

Since the church is just a few miles north of our home on Skye and the remaining walls of this church face northwest, if the afternoon light is right and the sky unique, I head north and the church is frequently one of my stops. On the other hand, when photographing in the mornings, I usually drive south when the early sun shines from my left over the water to mainland Scotland as well as towards the mountains of Skye to my right.

© Mark Maio - "Clearing Storm/Early Morning - Abandoned Church, Isle of Skye, Scotland"

© Mark Maio - "Clearing Storm/Early Morning - Abandoned Church, Isle of Skye, Scotland"

On the morning I made the second image, dark clouds hung low over the island as a storm was moving to the north. Driving to catch the light as the storm passed, I came up to the church from the "way back" just as the sun slid under the clouds and lit it up.    

Most of the roads on Skye are "single-track", which means only one lane wide for traffic going in both directions. So on Skye, I am quite often on "the way back".