February 19, 2011

Truth, Metaphor, Teaching | Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand | Film, Digital, Multimedia

He (Alfred Stieglitz) insisted photographs are not description but metaphor. "Photography is my passion," he said. "The search for Truth is my obsession."

Last week in photo history class I read these lines from Carol Strickland's engaging piece in the Christian Science Monitor on the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I was once a Monitor staff photojournalist. At a writing seminar I attended, the presenter advocated dropping a series of metaphorical gold coins throughout your article, sparkling nuggets to maintain reader interest and anticipation.

Light Reading
Ms. Strickland's gold coins were a series of quotes relating to photography's hard won acceptance as an art form.

Searching for Subtlety
A couple of days after the photo history class, I drove to meet students in Northampton, Mass. for field trip. I kept thinking about Mr. Stieglitz's ideas:  He insisted photographs are not description but metaphor. "Photography is my passion," he said. "The search for Truth is my obsession."

Shoot for the Stars
I felt compelled to take metaphor-laden photographs, mostly stereotypical.  A boarded up mall with a cell phone tower in the background, for example. 

I wound up at The Botanic Garden of Smith College, photographing plants in the Conservatory and my students working on their craft.  Their respectful behavior and creative imagery made me proud.  

Speaking of teaching, students and the history of photography, I just put together this video about Hallmark Institute of Photography, where I teach:  Old School using New School Technology.

Question:  When you create, what concepts propel you? Truth? Metaphor? Having fun? Or do you just do it?


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Unknown said...

Never thought of it quite in this way..... I do love Stieglitz work. I think that some of the photographs I create could be categorized as "Metaphor" but many have other meanings. After thinking about i, maybe below the surface they are all metaphorical... Either way this question will definitely be on my mind the next time I shoot!

John Nordell said...

J, thank you for your feedback. I agree that "maybe below the surface they are all metaphorical." Fascinating to get into the minds of these photographic pioneers.