Doug Stockdale's Singular Images

October 16, 2007

Objectivity

Filed under: Photography, Projects/Series — Doug Stockdale @ 5:47 am

As I work on my latest project, Transitional Seam, I also find myself questioning my objectivity in what I photograph.  I will also admit that at times this same questions of being objective were also present while working on the series Bad Trip – Sad Trip.  For both of these projects, I seem to be acutely aware of the idea that I knowingly choose certain subjects and that I photograph them in a certain way.  That is probably part of the process of photographing, what I choose to photograph is also a statement of what I have choose not to photograph.  What I choose not to photograph is extremly hard to evaluate if for no reason that you have no evidence of what it is that is not photographed.  Okay, just what the heck am I trying to say??

When making the intial images for Transitional Seam, I had this idea of what it was that I was trying to suggest with the series, thus I wrote a brief note for myself outline my artistic goals.  For some reason, I thought that in order to complete this project that I needed to be “Objective”.  I drive around this area of the Inland Empire, arbitrarily turning out some of the dirt roads that run through this area. I see many older homes and the homesteading lots. Okay, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.  I then stop to photograph when I see some unique configurations of home, surronding landscape, sky and other items that form a composition that I find hold my attention.  And that seems okay as these areas help me with what I want to suggest.  But I also see the demolotion of these old unique homesteads that are very individual, as though the homes are a true reflection of those who live there, being torn down for new cookie-cutter housing developments.  This loss of originality is gradual and I am not sure that anyone is noticing.

And I think that might be where I am losing this objectivity that I thought that I had.  I don’t think of myself as an agent for social change and I don’t think of myself as a preservatist, to keep the old buildings for the old buildings sake.  So part of my question for myself is that am I being objective or do I even need to be objective in what I photograph for this series?  Or was I  ever objective to begin with?

Partly to answer my own question for myself, I am not a news reporter who can not alter the image, thus I do not need to have that kind of strict objectivity. I am not a documenatary photographer who is trying to preserve the here and now. Perhaps by using the project or series format to suggest a feeling, thought or mood, I am more of a story teller, that what I photograph here is a metaphor, and could be similar to what others might be experiencing? Thinking about my photographs in this frame of reference, then I do not need to be objective at all.

For some reason, that conculsion makes me feel uncomfortable.  and I don’t know why…..

Best regards, Doug

4 Comments »

  1. Interesting that you’ve been having these thoughts about objectivity. I’va had similar arguments with historians in the past. My take is that the chronicler (in this context, documentary photographer) has the job to record without judgement. It is too often expressed, wrongly in my opinion, that it is our job today to pass judgement on the events we record. I think that is for future generations to do and we best serve them by sticking the the facts dispassionately.
    I think for this series it would be sufficiently worthwhile to say this is what we have, and this is how it is being changed. Viewers maythen have differnt takes on a message: some seeing it as a good sign of positive progress, others as destruction of some sort of “heritage”. for me, looking at the photos as a group I see images of both slices of unique locations as well as clear signs of neglect and decay. It’s not that any of this is “good” or “bad”, it just is.

    Comment by Martin Doonan — October 16, 2007 @ 9:21 am

  2. Why do you need to be objective? It’s your art. As for the documentary photographer or the news reporter, IMHO, they are not objective either. A photograph can portray different meanings based on where you place the camera, high, low, left, right, etc. A news reporter, for example, who has children and is covering a fire where there may be children involved will not be objective in his reporting, neither will the photographer. They are trying to portray the horrors of the fire and will choose shots accordingly. War photographers: Some will choose shots of soldiers helping families (Fox news), others of the complete misery of war (CNN), both are reality, but each is subjective. I don’t know of you can have a truly objective photograph. We photograph that which is important to us and wherever we point and how we take that picture is not happenstance.

    You are who you are and those things that are important to you, you photograph. Go with the flow, Doug. You needn’t be objective. I don’t think that you can. You are swayed by your experiences and that is what makes you unique. Last, you photograph for a reason, perhaps it is metaphorical, but on the other side of the process, the print, your viewer has his own predispositions and make take away a wholly different meaning to your series than you intended. Your viewer is not objective, either. None of us are.

    Comment by paul — October 16, 2007 @ 10:31 am

  3. Another of your wonderfully provocative posts. Please don’t become objective.

    I never thought of your Bad Trip – Sad Trip series as objective and liked it all the better for that very reason. This new series is equally interesting and, believe me, others are noticing the changes that you see in our landscape. I am not one who is wed to preservation of what is old for the sake of preservation. I fully understand that change is part of growth and eventually we would have room for nothing new if we were to cling to everything old regardless of it functionality. But, that doesn’t keep me from being sad to see some old things fade away. You said it beautifully. It’s the loss of the original and replacing that with the endless repetition of the unexceptional. Yet, I wondered even as I finished typing that, do at least some of these things (buildings, for example) seem so original now because they are few in number? For instance, there was a time when some of the old houses I now find charming and original (to steal your terminology) looked like most of the other houses in their neighborhood. Now, what is it I am trying to say?

    I don’t think you can get around the very real feelings evoked by these last remnants of lives that were lived in those places. You are stirring up ghosts and your response to those stories determines what type of photographs you make. I hope you will share your point of view, let us know how you feel, and make the work richer for those feelings.

    Thanks for another outstanding post and fitting companion for your thought-provoking pictures.

    Comment by Anita Jesse — October 16, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  4. Thanks for all of your comments, they get to what is bothering me. Perhaps a little more clarification about what I wanted to express; which is that at times I am afraid that I get toooo suggestive either in the image or the title, as might a politician or propagandist. I want to look and see, then capture an image of what has captured my imagination. I am trying to not over emphisize my point of view or have the image become a a tritely obiveous and over-done image that I recall seeing many times before. I guess that I am trying to maintain a sensitivity to what I feel that I am trying to accomplish. A fine line to walk;- )

    Again, thank you for the wonderful feedback and encouragement! I will continue to go with my flow;-)

    Comment by Doug Stockdale — October 17, 2007 @ 4:25 pm


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