by Briggs Nisbet
I probably never would have started taking pictures if someone hadn't given me a camera. But someone did. For my birthday one June about ten years ago. It was a good German-made camera, with a well-ground lens that could take a medium close-up as well as the slight wide-angle needed for landscape shots. I spent every weekend of that summer driving up and down the coast in my crumpled and faded red VW bug, detouring down dirt roads and clamboring over coastal cliffs searching out the picturesque, the odd and the typical.
When I peered hungrily at the first developed photos, I was disappointed to discover that what the eye sees isn't necessarily what the camera sees. Or rather, the brain is organizing, modifying and censoring half the details in any given scene but the camera is democratically inclusive. Everything is there -- the big tree branch you didn't notice, gum wrappers in the sand, a bunch of weathered wire and wood flotsam that actually turns out to be more interesting than the seascape I was aiming for.
But when I gave up looking for artistic photo ops and just tried to record what I saw -- that is, what my brain was choosing as important out of the mass of details, usually something I had an emotional response to -- my pictures came to life. I discovered that colors evoke emotions. So do shapes and textures. It wasn't just the things I consciously saw but also the things I might not have realized were there. Not only things but time itself has shape and color and texture. So I started to photograph moments as well as places and things. And soon each roll of film developed a plot and characters and wrote its own story.