"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