Old boats are the best boats—at least to photograph. While we were waiting for latecomers to join the tour that Karen Bell was to give of the A.P Bell fish house, Karen told me she loved the look of old boats. I said (of course) that I did, too. After the tour Karen drew me a map of where I could find nearby old boats to photograph. Below (way below) are the boat photographs I took that day.
The other day I happened upon the work of Richard Alan Cohen, who also photographs old boat hulls. His web site includes a link to a review of his work by Kat Kiernan, editor-in-chief of the photography magazine Don’t Take Pictures. It’s short, and I’ve pasted it here:
“I never want to see another abstract photograph of a distressed surface. Camera lenses pointed close enough to a subject will turn almost anything into an abstract photograph. A camera is unable to produce a true abstraction—it can only record what is in front of it. This forces the conversation to revolve around what the subject matter is. Most photographers making abstract pictures will say that the what doesn’t matter and that their image is only about line, form, texture, and so on. Too often, these types of photographs feel like a cheap way to get the look of an abstract painting without having to actually paint. And too often, they feel flat—lacking the depth and texture needed to pull off the illusion. Richard Alan Cohen takes a different approach.
“In his series Waterlines, Cohen makes no attempts at abstraction for its own sake. His “what” is right there in the series title and is a perfect subject matter for the “why.” He photographs distressed boat hulls not with the intention of reducing them into just lines, shapes, and colors, but instead explores the minimal elements required to form a landscape in the mind’s eye. He is not trying to hide the fact that these photographs are of the undersides of boats. Instead, he uses their waterlines to create an entirely new one—one that only exists through Cohen’s careful framing and our own psychological search for recognition. In Cohen’s photographs, the waterline becomes a coastline, corroded fiberglass becomes weather, and the footprints of barnacles become stars. He embraces the subject matter beautifully by making a strong conceptual connection between the subject—a boat—and the final image—an abstract photograph reminiscent of a seascape.”
Kiernan may have based some of what she writes about Cohen’s work on what he says on his website:
“Pausing to study this evidence of where the boat has been, one perceives that the waterline provides an horizon. Above and below that are details of imagined landscapes, perhaps those that could be seen from the boats themselves when they sailed on the water. In developing these images, I share my own imagination and provide the seed for each viewer to form their own remembered landscapes. This project is ultimately an exploration of the minimal elements required to form a landscape in the mind’s eye – the waterline as coastline, the texture as weather, the footprint of barnacles as stars.”
“The color and forms introduced by the interaction of the pollutants with the boat’s bottom paint provide iconic symbols of man’s disturbance of nature, and are inescapable evidence of the downside of the sailor’s voyage upon the sea.”
I urge you to read more of what Cohen says in his recent Lenscratch interview.
Here are some questions Kiernan’s review has prompted me to consider. I wonder, dear reader, what you think.
- How much do we miss out on a larger conversation about photography because we don’t think deeply enough about what we are doing?
- How can we learn to think deeply?
- Can we even learn to think deeply, or is that an ability we either have or don’t?
- How much do we hold back our work from greater exposure because we aren’t willing or don’t know how to talk about it?
- I absolutely don’t mean to impugn Cohen’s work, which I admire along with his stated intent, so forgive my cynicism (or not): How much verbiage about art, especially photography, is based on associations discovered or devised after the painting or photograph was made? And would this practice be legitimate?
- If we are not deep thinkers or writers, can we nonetheless entertain hopes of making noteworthy photographs?