From Photograph to Image: A Journey

The words “photograph” and “image” are often used interchangeably.  The dictionary tells us that:

  • A photograph is “a picture produced by photography”
  • An image is “a physical likeness or representation of a person, animal, or thing”

I have my own spin on these definitions.

While a photograph is clearly something that is taken with a camera I believe it is also a representation of the scene where its capture is limited by the framing of the lens, the shutter speed and the aperture.  An image, on the other hand, is something that is created from a photograph and is the result of imagination influenced by experience and feeling.  In short, a photograph is made and an image is created.  Clearly, there is a journey between the two, the length of which is influenced by conscious decisions that the photographer makes to recreate the experience or feeling.  In documentary or photojournalistic photography the journey is intentionally short since the photographer’s objective is to reproduce reality.  However, in fine art photography the journey can be as long as the image maker wants it to be.  Constrained only by imagination the biggest challenge for the photographer is to develop the skills necessary to reproduce the image imagined.

During a recent trip with some fellow photographers we stopped at a small town on the eastern shore of Maryland.  We arrived early in the morning and since it was a weekend there were very few people around.  Some people started seeing subjects right away and commenced shooting as soon as the car was parked on Main Street, while others wandered off to explore the streets.  When faced with a new location like this I need to get a feeling for the place and therefore I tend to stay in a fairly small area and just absorb what is around me.  I spent some time wandering up and down the short length of Main Street just looking at the buildings and the carefully arranged displays in shop windows.  Slowly I started to get a feel for the place.  Given the interesting and, in some cases ornate architecture of the buildings I imagined that this was once a very wealthy and important town.  However, as with many small towns there was evidence that tough times had arrived at some point in its history.  Masonry had crumbled, wooden window frames had rotted and paint had peeled.   Attempts were clearly underway though to rejuvenate the town in anticipation of a new era of growth.  I wanted to capture a combination of the old and the new and how they juxtaposed each other.  This became my goal and at this point I began to shoot.  I captured photographs with the feeling of the place locked in my subconscious and when I later looked at the photographs the feelings that I experienced resurfaced and I was then able to start creating images.  This is typical of the “journey” I make when creating images from the photographs I take.

I chose one image in particular for this blog post because I think it sums up the feeling I have of the place.  Interestingly it’s not an image of the buildings that make up the town but rather an old wedding dress that I saw in one of the shop windows.  An elegant dress, its pristine whiteness became tarnished at some point in time with a single stain in the upper left hand corner, a stain that could not be removed.  To me this is a metaphor for what was once a pristine town that became tarnished with the passing of time and neglect during hardship.  I am not sure I would have even thought to take this photograph, let alone keep it had I not tried to feel and experience the place.

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