Sense and Function

Politics, Philosophy, Art, Media, Environment, and Economics
FEBRUARY 22, 2012 8:36PM

Body-Movement and Photography

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Vermont Field 

Vermont Field

I have for several years been engaged in a photographic project about unmanageable, unphotographable scenes, landscapes, or subjects. See my photography and movement post on blogger for full images.

I took this photograph of a field in Peacham, Vermont, because as I was walking, I stopped suddenly, feeling as though I was in just the right spot. I walked a little to either side as I decided on the shot, but I had stopped in exactly the right place.

One of the primary ways photography works, for me, is through its relation to and expression of place. The work of the photographer is to get into the right place in relation to her subject, and it situates you physically, puts you in a definite position.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master of this. I think the message communicated by his brilliant timing is not actually temporality, but how astonishing it is that he is in just the right place, looking in just the right direction. How did he know to be there? It is like the world is directing him, pointing him toward what was just about to happen.

One of the primary roles of photography, both for photographers and viewers, is to place or displace you. But this means it is not just abous place, but about movement. The work of the photographer is to listen to or engage your subject, and let it situate you physically, put you in a definite position.

I was interested in the arc of the tractor wheels on the right of the picture, the way they sweep out and gather a kind of momentum. But I didn't notice until I looked at the picture later that the tracks in the field converge perfectly on the farm at the end of the field. That is why I felt like I was in the right place: the lines of the field were like lines of force reaching out and arresting me, moving me into just the right spot.

Alberta Badlands

Alberta Badlands

What interests me in this project is the difficulty of bringing out in a photograph a pattern that I perceive or feel with my body, a beauty that I certainly experience, but which isn't exactly visual, which doesn't jump out at you, which doesn't draw your attention to a particular object. Instead, it is a sense of place understood through my body movement.

Sometimes it is a texture, other times it is literally an atmosphere that utterly encompasses you and seizes you.

Near Lunenberg, Nova Scotia 

Near Lunenberg, NS 

In some pictures the image directs attention but in so doing seems to exclude the body of the viewer:

Parking Lot, BE

Parking Lot, BE 

Other pictures explore the push. What I mean is that they set up a more or less explicit affective response in the body. This one appears to give space but pushes you away from it.


On the other hand, this picture sets up a desire within the viewer to step into the river to see the house, while the opposite bank wards you away: a motor tension. Thanks to Adam for articulating this first:


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