Long before I became interested in photography I was a quote collector. I love to read. I love to gather words well spoken. I love to write them down over and over, memorize them if I can. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. For almost as many years as I have been a photographer, I’ve been combining favorite quotes my favorite photos. I know this is taboo with many photographers but for me it is a combination of two loves; photography, which is my life, and quotes, which speak to my soul.
I remember being young and pouring over the pages of Bartlett’s Book of Famous Quotations. At first it seemed like a perfect collection, the best and the brightest, all neatly alphabetized and categorized and cross-referenced. But as I grew up, I started noticing that I had my own favorite quotes for books and essays, quotes that didn’t make it into Bartlett’s. And in one instant Bartlett’s lost its authority, and the responsibility of finding and reading and holding onto the great words and ideas, fell squarely on my shoulders. That’s when I became a bibliophile. That’s when I started reading with a highlighter (libraries don’t appreciate when you read their books that way). That’s when I started marking up my books, always reading with an eye for what parts of it I should keep with me.
I said earlier that with many photographers words over images is taboo. I have known several photographers and heard stories of many more for whom the sanctity of the images shall not be violated. What does that mean exactly? That means no cropping, no altering of the image, no changing what the photographer produced. No editor for any reason has any excuse to trim off even on line of pixels from edge of an image because the photographer’s finished work is perfect and there are no other considerations. This sounds extreme, but there are photographers who view their images this way.
I’ve never personally fallen into this category. It’s probably because of my first real post-collegiate job. Out of college I went to work for Northern Arizona University as the photographer for the school. It was a PR gig, one where my job was about selling the school and presenting the message they wanted to convey. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good job. In many ways it was great. I worked with some amazing people who had a deep and lasting impact on my photography. One of these was my immediate supervisor Phil. He was the designer. Phil is the one who taught me that no one can ruin a great photo faster than a bad designer, and no one can help save a bad photo better than a great designer. Photo and design and text — we work independently together to get the message out. To this day I still photograph images with an eye for design. I often photograph images with extra space in them for text. I photograph details that could be completely written over. I photograph abstracts that could be used in any number of design elements. At my current paper the design is fairly straightforward, but I still shoot with room for design because who knows, maybe one of these days somebody will grow a wild hair and really decide to mix it up.
But truth be told this idea of photos and quotes belonging together predates my time in Arizona. Like countless other photographers I have been inspired by the work of photographers for the National Geographic. I don’t remember the names of the photographers who captured the images I loved, at that age I didn’t care about bylines or photo credits. I simply loved the world they saw, not realizing then how much of themselves a photographer brings to the images they create. There are countless amazing photographs in those bright yellow framed volumes. But of all I saw, and all I loved, there is one particular collection that stands out in my mind. It is the collection that first showed me the way photos and quotes could work together.
I don’t remember the month or the year, all of that has been lost, but when I was in high school looking through copies of my grandmother’s collection of National Geographics, I found an article about Walt Whitman (my favorite poet at that time). I don’t remember the article. What I remember are the photos. The photographer did such an amazing job of capturing the essence of the quotes that it seemed to me that the image and the words complimented and completed each other. They belonged together. So much so that either alone would always be lacking. This was really the article that made me first think of wanting to take pictures. After all, I needed some way to display all my favorite quotes.
For years I focused on the images. Learning to be a photographer. But all along I have continued collecting my quotes. Whitman. Tennyson. Shakespeare. Emerson. And as I got older Rilke. Kazantzakis. Frankl. And so many others. I find myself more drawn to poets rather than philosophers, ironic, since it is the poets Plato excluded from Utopia (but that was just because he was jealous). And now, for a number of years, I’ve been doing these photo-quote collages. I use various fonts to write out my favorite quotes within photos.
It is out of this that one of the biggest project of my life has grown. I found a copy of the King James Bible for note-takers. Every other page is blank. My goal is find my favorite verse from each page and make a quote collage to go with it. I know I’ll be working on this for years to come, but as I work I have begun adding pages to my Etsy account. It’s a website where people who make crafts can sell them to those who might be interested. I have no idea if anything will come out of this, but it’s a new venture for me, and I love the excitement of that. And there publishing my work, even if it is only online, is still an encouragement to me to keep going, keep working. I have no grand illusions for this project when it’s finally finished, but I imagine that the benefit for my soul will make all the work worthwhile.
If you want to check out my new “store” go to: http://www.etsy.com/shop/BrendaAhearn?ref=pr_shop