For those of you who don't know, I've become quite a shutterbug lately. Some of you may have already fallen prey to the swift shutter of my S2. Many of you have probably seen me firing away at trees or piles of books or something else that won't run away. I've got the photo fever so badly that I've taken to carrying my camera everywhere I go. Actually, come to think of it, it seems like the entire Reference staff has been bitten by the bug: Mitch started scanning and saving his film shots from his old Pentax onto Flickr.com, Steve bought a brand new EOS Digital Rebel and Vicki has been going into serious overtime with her Kodak (as well as with Steve's EOS, which often gets enlisted for library photos on our public Flickr page). I'd say I started the trend when I started showing off my Canon S2IS after I won it on eBay last month, but that'd be a bit over the top, wouldn't it?
So...why is a reference clerk going on about camera work? Shouldn't he be ranting and raving about the historical accuracy of the latest David McCullough book? As off as my clocks might be, I think we're all on to something here at KPL. Books, it seems, aren't the only medium for us.
Photography has quickly become an art in its own right. From the moment Joseph Nicephore Niepce first committed his "View from the Window at Gras" to a polished pewter plate in 1826, the delicate balance of mathematic and aesthetic has developed as a veritable language of expression for the peoples of the last two centuries. But it's not just that, either: it has become a device of remembrance, a volume in reference, a catalog of history. The photograph is as important to us and our posterity as the written word was to the children of Phoenicia, Rome and Israel. Like the Phoenician alphabet and its early offspring opened a doorway to cultural preservation never before imagined, so did the camera do for a rapidly expanding Western World: The sprawling expansion of the wild American West...the ravages of war, both civil and international...the social and cultural revolutions that shook the peoples of the Old and New Worlds...the rise and fall of minds unparalleled in science, math, philosophy...As moments rose to the eyes of the post-industrial world, a camera was there to document them-a scribe for future eyes. The importance of these documents is undeniable. The importance of this device is undeniable.
With all of this long-winded argument in mind, I suddenly reflected upon a recent inquiry about my own photographic blunderings. After a particularly heavy flurry of pics, a friend of mine asked, "Why do you shoot so much in black & white?" I'm sure I shot out some spur of the moment response, either horribly cheeky or horribly geeky in nature (depending on whatever my mood was at the time), but the question just lingered in my head. Why is that, really? What is it about Black and White that's so intrinsically profound? Now that I'm knee-deep in this, I think I can answer that question...
There's an elegance, a classicism to monochrome photography that I can find nowhere else. B&W is neither cursed by the gaudy nor the trendy: it flattens the assault of color, garish light saturations, busy clashes of color coordination and not-coordination. It erases the bias of temporarily hip shades and hues; it flattens out the allegiance of national, regional or political colors; it takes us away from the flash and glamour of all the details. Colors of skin become unified as mere shades of grey; race is united under the gloss of a singular shade.
It draws our attention to shadow and light, shape and contour. It forces us to look away from shades of our subjects and instead toward the nature of them- their expressions, their motions; essentially, it brings us to the heart of the matter.
Distance between 'them' and 'us', 'now' and 'then' utterly disappears. A photograph of 1963 could be any day in 2006; a moment taken now could be any time in 2084. It's Classic. Pure Classic.
Well, that's how I see it anyway.
Heck, now that I've written that out, I'll probably have my camera firing away all evening in color, and by next week, I'll be writing an argument as to why color photography is a superior medium for the immortalization of culture how it is superior as a textural element or blah, blah, blah. That's art for you...
If you're interested in photography, Kankakee Public and our Prairie Area Library System brethren have a variety of photographic works on book, as well as some great guides and how-to books to get you started.
If you're really interested, drop us a line, and maybe we can even consider a camera club or a few photography classes. Who knows? The possibilities are endless.
Oh, and here's the photo page for the library:
If you hunt through the community hard enough, maybe you can even find my page!