April 8, 2009

Make-Shift, Tilt-Shift, Literary Connections

At the YMCA where I work-out, for a donation of 25 cents, I can choose a book. I love these used books. They are sometimes stamped by a bookstore or library and are often labeled with a previous owner's name and address. I imagine the hands that have touched them and the minds that have been touched by the content. They smell old.

I regaled my father about the clean evocative writing and complex storytelling of Thornton Wilder's The Eighth Day. "Sounds like you got your money's worth," he commented.

I wanted to photograph one of the name and address labels in way that did compromise anyone's privacy. I contemplated using selective focus. Right on time, a student came into my office and our conversation turned to his recent experiments with tilt-shift photography. Instead of purchasing such a specialized lens, often used in architectural photography to shift the perspective of the lens to avoid distorting a building, he was actually removing a regular lens and holding it close to the front of his camera in order to control the plane of focus in a non-traditional way. See Vincent Laforet's creative work using a real tilt-shift lens (Click on Index, then Featured Work, then CN - Portfolio Commuters).

I thought the low angle of early morning sun would give me the light I wanted. It did, but on the day I decided to shoot, it clouded up quickly and I only got this one shot of Early Autumn by Robert Parker. (I photographed Mr. Parker for Time Magazine in the 1980s. Early in the book he mentions jazz radio DJ Tony Cennamo, a friend of my father.)

I retreated inside to one of my school's studios. Feeling time pressure as classes were about to begin, and fumbling with holding the lens up to the camera just so, stress hampered my progress. I stopped, recalling a conversation about creativity and the breath that I had with fashion/beauty photographer and teaching colleague David Turner. "Creativity comes from stillness," he had said.

I took a deep, meditative breath. Soon after, calmer and in the moment, I took this shot of House of Cards by Stanley Ellin. The normal plane of focus would be a straight line. Using my make-shift tilt-shift, I turned the last sentences of the book into a poem.