About a month ago, I went to Little Rock for a conference. The conference was fine, but I took as much time as I could to wander around downtown Little Rock looking for photos. For the most part, I felt pretty good about it. There was some nice decay and interesting things to be found. At the same time, it was dull and empty in a weird way that doesn’t seem to exist here in Madison, although maybe it does somewhere in Milwaukee. There are probably social and economic reasons for this, but I’ll ignore going into that for now.
On Sunday, while waiting to head to the airport, I took one last wander and found the photo above. Mainly, I liked how the clouds were giving the buildings a background. Maybe it’s not among the best of the photos I made there, but a week or so ago, I happened to get the original edition of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon places (1982) from the library and what did I see, but this building, from a slightly different angle and 40 years ago. Amazing! Still, it was a very synchronistic moment for me, because here was a literal echo in my work of the work of one of my inspirations as a photographer.
This is something I never do consciously — I try to see through my own eyes when I’m making photos. But part of what I see is undoubtedly influenced by what I study and think about and observe. I have always been intrigued by Shore’s work, in large part, I think, because on first glance it feels so ordinary; and yet, there is always subtle structuring going on that takes a while to unravel consciously. This is the element of Shore that I think many photographers miss when they try to make this sort of photo.
This next one is maybe more consciously in Shore’s style, made just little while later and a few blocks from the first.
Here, I was very conscious of aligning the trees and utility poles and finding the POV that worked best for this photo. In particular, I think the slope of the parking lot pulls subtly against all the verticals to good effect. In addition, the light is clear and yet muted; sort of glistening on the asphalt and yet dull on darker forms. Even the little grouping of poles with the capitol dome at the left makes an interesting little micro-composition.
Making photographs is a rather contemplative discipline. It requires a trusting reliance on intuition and the subconscious when working, combined with clear reflection on the aesthetic and technical issues when not directly involved with making photos.