From a workshop series exploring the photography of spring light, thru the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, May 2, 2009
Now Salem, a word meaning peace, shalom, salaam, and, Frank, one of the students, very knowledgeable about all things coastal, informed us was intended but the founders. The Puritans intended Salem to be a city of peace.
From noon to 4 we labored in the fields of images. The sky began mostly overcast with some definition and by degrees cleared to reveal sharply outlined cumulus clouds. Air was warm, drying out. Shadows proceeded from dimly lit short to sharply lit long. Our path brought us from our meeting point at the commuter rail station parking lot, thru central town to Derby Wharf (Derby was an early Salem merchant) where we discovered a replica sailing ship being manned. About 10 men, each with safety harnesses, were high in the main rigging wrapping a sail. Our photo exercise here—after warming up at the train station on the canal, a prime site for New Topographics—earth affected by humans—photos, and the blind faith walk awareness exercise —was to choose one spot, a vantage point, and make a series of photos. I chose a point near a pile of rope, began photographing the coiled rope, more and more fascinated by it, when I noticed the men in the rigging and from that same position and I made a 2nd series of photos.
As we were leaving the wharf, me thinking what might make a good vista exercise location?, I noticed a string of multi colored homes, drawn initially by a pink one. Here, I decided, is an ideal vista for practice. How to photograph it? Extreme angles, panoramic, near far, wide angle? Anything else? Later I remembered no one had mentioned synecdoche, the part for the whole. I used extreme angles and panoramic, and then found the ancient giant tree with a shape like an elm, but winged seeds in the detritus suggested maple. More photos, trying to break myself of the habit of centrality, my central mission of the day.
Along Derby St, the main harbor side street, Frank said he was departing the group to investigate a boat yard—boats in their white winter garb, he declared leaving us.
Let’s all do it, I suggested, and there we found most boats had already been denuded for the summer, yet they made appealing subjects. They are trim, sleek, curvaceous, elegant, streamlined, all very attractive to the eye. Here we practiced the exercise of the thing itself, what we choose and why we choose it.
Then, at our final together site, the power station which we could not readily photograph because it is behind a fence, I offered an introduction to what I call meta photography, meaning-based photography. How do photos mean? One way is thru metaphor. So I asked them, after outlining what metaphor is—essentially using a visible thing to show the invisible, such as tree of life, water of purification, blood of suffering, etc—I sent them off for the remaining hour, free time with an eye for metaphor.
By now I was somewhat fatigued, not a severely as I was in Boston after 4 hours of walking with my Tivas sandals (now I wear walking shoes, a big improvement), but enough to distract me, make me think: ice cream. Instead, because of ice cream prices and the fat, I chose an iced coffee, my first of the season, and an apricot pastry. This satisfied my base instincts but may have quelled my esthetic passions because I made very few photos in the remaining hour. Just one: a tree stump opposite a parking lot. Is this metaphor? If so, for what?
Reports of high moments and low moments mentioned the commercialization of Salem, its variety, the light and sky, the boat yard, the ship and its riggers, and the simple pleasure of being outside and in a new zone.
We discussed the next and last photo session, where to go? I’d suggested Revere Beach-Winthrop-Deer Island, but others suggested Logan airport, Charlestown Naval Yard, and Charles River. I’m to list these in an email and call for volunteers to research each. We decide at our review session.