Photographing for me is a twofold process: first of recognition and capture, and then of transformation and shaping. Choosing what and how to photograph is the principle part of the first step. For me, subject selection is a process of discovery. I move through the world with camera, enlivened eye and prepared mind, both actively searching for, and receptive to being found by, an image that embodies my ideals of beauty, expressiveness and metaphysical reality. Composing, extrapolating and abstracting; in other words, conceiving and visualizing the final print, are the most significant parts of the image-capturing process. The associated techniques of metering, choosing the correct lens, film, exposure, and manipulation of perspective, plane of focus and depth of field are but means to an end: tools in the craftsman's hand, like the sculptor's hammer or the artist's colors. The actual releasing of the shutter is anti-climactic, the creative processes being finished beforehand. The development of the negative is the culmination of this first step, a process that, although almost entirely perfunctory, nevertheless requires the utmost care and attention to detail to insure that the vision is wholly transferred onto a medium which can be used to make an expressive print.
Crafting of a fine print from the negative is the second element in the process. Here the vision is made manifest. The negative contains the information, it is the “score” for the “performance” that is the fine print. Like a demanding piece of music, a good negative can be challenging and often reluctant to relinquish its nuances. It is for this reason that I do not make limited editions, although I do number my prints. I cannot imagine not being able to return to a negative again after a time of growth for yet another “performance,” another attempt to render more perfectly that which I may have overlooked or only dimly seen at the time of the first printing. Limiting editions of photographs is like forbidding a pianist to play further performances of Beethoven's Appassionata after 25 or 30 recitals.
Selecting a suitable negative is essential to producing an expressive print. Most do not pass muster, chiefly for aesthetic reasons. One should not conclude from this that art photography is somehow haphazard or random. Most negatives will yield an acceptable print. It is the ephemeral, more elusive elements that transform a photograph from mere representation into the communicative and expressive print which I pursue as a photographic artist. These are uncommonly rare, like the nuances and insights that distinguish profoundly moving performances in the theater or concert hall.
The printing itself is a highly-creative and subjective process in which my main concern is to draw eloquence from the tonal relationships. Here I must bring all my printing knowledge and expertise to bear in order to extract the information from the negative and shape the image to my artistic vision. Aesthetic considerations include choice of photographic paper, developers, printing manipulations and toning. It takes hours, sometimes days, to achieve a satisfying print. Contrast, tone and the subtle differences in shading all are manipulated and combined in order to achieve an indefinable expressive quality which makes the print “sing,” and without which a photograph is merely a lifeless representation. A successful fine print takes on an tangible, almost tactile, quality, evoking in the viewer sensations, emotions and ideas.
Technique is a servant to vision. I do not consider myself a “technician.” Empty virtuosity is as disappointing in a photograph as it is in a musical performance. The spiritual, emotional and intellectual depths of a work of art are the reason for technique. Technique only has to be adequate to express the artistic vision. For me, the most important part of all of photography is what I point my camera at: what I see in my mind's eye and in my heart's eye. Nevertheless, a thorough mastery of photographic technique is as indispensable to the photographic artist as the mastery of fingering and bowing is to the concert violinist. Without it, the vision cannot be realized. Technique and vision meld in the mind of the artist to both provide and constrain possibilities, to suggest and to assist in “speaking” photographically: it is the language the photographer speaks, the instrument he plays. The poem and the music however, must come from within, from the universal place from which all art springs. The depth of perception and sensitivity of the artist, the creative genius which cannot be taught, are as essential as the command of the medium in which he works.