Friday, January 31, 2020

Telling Stories

Lights Out!
Cordele Drive-In Theater
U.S. Hwy. 41, Crisp County, Georgia

The thing I most like to do with my photography is tell stories. Early in my career I realized that, for me, photography is above all an art of exploration. Yet, it took a long time for this understanding to come to fruition. For many years I randomly clicked my shutter at anything and everything without any structure or purpose other than I thought it might make a good picture. My professional work was moderately successful, but I did not really know who I was as a photographer.  

In time, I gradually came to realize that in order to be fully engaged I need to be working toward some sort of story, whether a photo essay or a photos-and-words story. The best years of my career were the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when I was traveling around the country and internationally, developing and shooting A-V programs. Telling stories in photos and words. This kind of work was even more comprehensive than shooting for a magazine article, because it was like making a movie; telling a complete story, but in still photos rather than motion pictures.

Later, I moved on to creating books, which is also a great vehicle for photography; perhaps even better in some ways because books are more permanent.

I’m not an art photographer, except perhaps incidentally, or perhaps I should say accidentally. I’m always looking for visual puns, of course, but other than that I’m mostly not looking for stand-alone photographs, although I certainly take them when I find them. Some photos, of course, are a complete story in themselves and require neither context or prior knowledge. Most, however, work better when accompanied by captions or other pictures or text, and some are basically meaningless without that context.

Many of my photographs are not strong on their own, but gain strength from their context as part of a story or sequence. The thing I do, though, is photograph the “thereness” of things. Many of the photographs in Georgia: A BackroadsPortrait are like that, just “there.” Presented without art or artifice. A good example is the photo of Katie’s General Store on page 64. It’s just there and that’s just the way it looked. It bears quiet witness to a vanishing way of life in rural Georgia. As Wright Morris might have put it, it's "commonplace." Not a remarkable picture in itself, but stronger because it's part of the sequence of photographs that precede and follow it.

Katie's General Store
GA Hwy. 376
Echols County, Georgia

On the other hand, "Lights Out," the photograph at the head of this post, can stand alone, telling its story without need of a context. But it also adds strength to the sequence in which it appears, a story of time passing, a world fading away.

My domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. I am a visual historian of an earlier America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life.


  1. It's good that you can describe your work in these ways. I'm still figuring out how to describe mine, which perhaps suggests I'm still figuring out who I am as a photographer.

  2. Thanks, Jim. It took me a long time to come to this understanding, and I'm a lot older than you are, so you still have plenty of time to work on it. :o)

    Looking at the work you've done over a period of time will help you understand who you are as a photographer.