If you know my personal photography at all you have to have noticed my obsession with water reflections.
I spent three years on a series of these and even though the project is completed it is a subject I return to again and again.
It is my own personal leitmotif.
The first time I heard this word I was in college. I was a young photographer eagerly reading all I could get my hands on of the great photographers. James Nachtwey. Ansel Adams. W. Eugene Smith. Walker Evans. Robert Capa. Annie Leibovitz. Mary Ellen Mark. David Hume Kennerly. Alfred Stieglitz. Paul Strand. And, of course, the man responsible for the phrase “the decisive moment” Henri Cartier-Bresson.
It was in one of HCB’s books that I came across the word “leitmotif” and had to go to my dictionary to find out what it meant. A leitmotif is a dominant recurring theme.
I have had very few of these over the years. The first was in 2004. I started a project on the color red. I had noticed how certain artists had times in their artistic lives that were defined by themes. One of these that really struck me was Picasso’s blue period. He simply became obsessed with the color for a while and it dominated his work.
It was February 22. I was in Bologna, Italia (a city famous for it’s red marble) and I decided to give myself an assignment. To photograph anything red. Anything. Curtains. Bicycles. A red candle in a catholic church, a symbol of the presence of God. A man with a red scarf under a McDonald’s sign. A woman’s shoes. A bit of dead ivy that had dried a shade of reddish brown against a black stone wall. I even did a photograph of myself on this day because I have red hair. The weirdest of these photos was a picture of a dead bird — why you might ask? It had red feet. And my personal favorite from the project — a red mailbox contrasted beautifully next to a green wall.
I intended it to be a one day project. But I found that I loved the color. Once I had really opened my eyes to it, I was seeing it everywhere. And the unexpected benefit of this project was the way my eyes were opened to other colors. I have loved color photography since I switched from shooting TMAX and TRI-X (black and white films) to shooting Velvia (the greatest color slide film of all time), but rarely am I as acutely aware of the colors around me as those days when I make the color my main focus.
My second leitmotif has been the water photos. I’ve written previous blogs about the reflections series, so I am not going to go into all of that again, but my series was expanded this weekend in a most unexpected way.
On Saturday the Kalispell Fire Department helped the Flathead County Fairgrounds make room for more parking by supervising the destruction of an old house. I am going to write a separate blog about this shortly, because the whole process was just awesome to watch. But as I documented the fire, there was a moment when one of the firefighters decided to cool off a truck parked near by. As he aimed the hose at the engine steam came hissing off. And it’s not like the truck was right by the house or anything. It was parked at the very edge of the property, but still, the radiant heat from the fire was incredible. As water starts sloshing over the windshield I suddenly thought wouldn’t it be cool to get shots that combine the fire and the water. So, I climbed inside the truck and shot through the windshield.
And these photos are the result. They are similar to my other reflection shots, but they have a vibrance that I am really liking. Most of the photos from that day are journalistic in nature. They are documentary. But these are different. These aren’t for the paper. These are the pictures I make just for myself. They are my art. And as always, it is the photos that do just for myself, that keep me going.