Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘street photography’

The City Weird

In Photography, Travel on June 19, 2012 at 6:00 am

As noted previously, I’m traveling. This is a repost from January, 2010. Thanks for reading.

Street Photography, D. Bruns

Can there possibly be a greater American juxtaposition: Portland, Maine to Las Vegas, Nevada? But then Las Vegas (I feel weird calling it Vegas, we’re not that close) makes for a stark comparison to most any other place.

I had to go, yes, had to go, to Las Vegas to attend to some last-minute–and unexpected–business. This was my third time in that city. The first visit, I think six or seven years ago, was particularly weird. My daughter, Allie, and I had been climbing in Joshua Tree, dirt-bagging it, tearing our knuckles on those famous cracks, getting sunburned and thriving a pitch off the deck. Good stuff. Camp fire at night. Great stuff.

Carole and Jeff (I think Tim was in Michigan, at camp) flew out and met us in Sin City. Allie and I drove out of the desert, still dirty and thrilled at the great climbing, and into the evening glow of Las Vegas. As we pulled into town she looked at me like we’d just landed on a moon of Jupiter. “Las Vegas is weird,” she said.

In 1968 Joan Didion wrote Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In an essay called “Marrying Absurd” she wrote: “Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification…” That was a long time ago. But it still rings true. Las Vegas is an event seeking participants.

This time, a few years older and knowing what to expect, it is, well, still weird. There are some places that feel right. And some that don’t. More people than not, I think, find Las Vegas right. Not me. But I revel in contrariness. Maine feels right. Every other place seems by degrees a little weird from home. Some places more than a little.

Street photography, D. Bruns, Vegas Escalator


In Creativity, Photography on March 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

While All About Me

I continue to develop film exposed a year or so ago, discovering pleasant surprises, along the way. As a writer, I know that putting a manuscript away for a while, letting it breath, is a good thing. Coming back to it weeks, months or more later, affords perspective. The same holds for photography, perhaps is true of all creative efforts. (This begs the question, obviously, of how one goes about getting that perspective while working in the immediacy of digital and its instant feedback. But that is another matter.)

So, as I said, I’m developing film I exposed months ago. This image, taken at the Old Port Festival, was made about ten months ago. I made three exposures of this scene. I remember composing it, knew there was a good shot here as I was making it. (In looking at my photographs, no matter how old, no matter how many years ago I pressed the shutter, I remember taking it. It is the only aspect of my memory I truly trust. Susan Sontag said that photography is the single creative discipline where the viewer experiences the perspective of the artist (ouch, that word–artist–makes me flinch). I understand that.)

I like this image for a number of reasons. My aesthetic leans to the complex, reflecting my opinion of the modern existence. That is to say, creative efforts, from literature to photography, are the more satisfying the truer they track (modern) experience. To this end, the panoramic format is my current tool of choice. The panoramic works like the eye, like our experience: It lets in vast amounts of information, giving the viewer the opportunity to scan a scene, of having an experience, not just seeing an image.  That is the first thing. Secondly, given the type of photography I choose to practice, I want to see something of the human experience expressed. “Above all,” said Robert Frank, “I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.” Also, I want depth of field. When the eye looks over a city street or into the window of a crowded cafe, it sees everything in focus. Yes, shallow depth of field can direct the viewer to a subject with precision. But for the photographer of the urban dynamic, the subject matter is everything and everywhere. The image should exact a toll upon the viewer-reader, not letting the eye rest easily. (Again, reflecting modern existence.)

It’s not in my nature to wax on in theory. With respect to visual aesthetics, I tend to either like a thing or not like a thing. I am shallow that way. But after many years, I am slowly beginning to understand why I like a thing, or think otherwise. There is some pleasure in knowing a thing or two truly.

“She spent her whole life trying to understand…”

In Books, Life, Literature, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on March 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

My Father

“She spent her whole life trying to understand...” caught my eye. It was a blurb in a New York Time’s obituary. The woman, recently deceased, spent her whole life trying, according to the obit, to understand the problem of poverty. An admirable pursuit, certainly. But what got me was the concept of devotion to an idea as a life-long pursuit. My mother once, many years ago, commented that I like ideas more than I like people. I don’t think it was a compliment. I’m not sure, either, if it is true–but I’m not saying it isn’t. Regardless, the notion of pursuing an idea, a life quest, has always been compelling. Trouble is, I don’t have a nagging singular curiosity. My curiosity is more broad-brush. Or is it?

I’ve been thinking, in this vein, about similarities, if any, between my photography, my reading, my writing and my thinking. Years ago, as an undergrad, I took a class in Joyce. We read Ulysses. Aside from all that suggests–the long sentences, the syntax, the difficulty, the beauty, the song, the brilliance–what I came away with was the understanding that the minutiae of life, observed and rendered by the artist, can be profound. Through the years this notion has only deepened; principally by my reading, Montaigne through Didion, and my study of photography, Cartier-Bresson through Friedlander, and its practice. I think that is why I am drawn to the streets as a photographer. (Or in the case of the image above, the pub. My father at the table, me in the mirror–a brief life moment, profound only in that sense. Or as the Zen Master might say, The world in a single atom.) These moments add up and together they suggest something more. That is why I practice the type of photography I do: I can’t afford to let anything slip by. It is ineffable, if practiced properly.

Which brings me back to the header, She spent her whole life…

I have not spent my life doing one particular thing with concentrated focus. But now, at this place, I see that I have been adding pearls to a strand, as it where. Together, perhaps they will make something beautiful, but that is a high-calling and I’m not sure my ears can pick up that frequency. Instead, I simply desire to stay aware of collecting them, the pearls. That would be good. What would be even better, what would be great, would be to stop collecting and simply stay aware.

Not for the coffee table.

In Creativity, Photography on February 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

A few weeks ago I ordered some photography books. Not for the coffee table. For the eye. They are:

Robert Doisneau, a Taschen “Icon” series book.

Bernard Plossu, So Long

and two monographs:

Edouard Boubat &

Lee Friedlander

Not a photography book, per se, but I also purchased Clive Scott’s Street Photography, From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. I have not read it yet, but it seems a bit pedantic. Stay tuned. I also reread David Hurn and Bill Jay’s fantastic book, On Being a Photographer. Every photographer should have this on the shelf.

When the books arrived, Carole remarked, “More photography books?” She commented on how big and heavy and thick they are. I said, “If I were a poet, the books I’d study would be small and slim. But I’m a photographer, not a poet.” (I’ve heard it argued, however, that all the artistic disciplines aspire to that of poetry. That seems correct.)

The one I to talk about, because it has been the most thought (eye?) provoking of the group is the Friedlander, properly the Peter Galassi MoMa’s retrospective exhibition book, 2005. Thought provoking because I never much cared for Friedlander’s work, to put it bluntly. Now, though, like so many things in life, I think I didn’t care for it because I didn’t understand it. Not that I “get” Friedlander. At least not everything. Much of his work is Hindemith to  Stravinsky, Pollock to Jasper Johns, if those references make any sense. (Ulysses to Finnegan’s Wake?) I know I don’t get the “landscape” work of the 90s. But here’s another reference that seems to make sense to me. If Cartier-Bresson is Dickens; and Robert Frank is Hemingway; then Friedlander is David Foster Wallace. If you’re not the music or literary type, what I’m trying to say is that Friedlander is an evolution of the discipline in a post-modern sense.

They say that there is nothing extraneous in a Friedlander photograph, which is saying a lot. His most successful work is thick and complex, and not easy. That is largely the late(r) stuff. It’s not as witty, and strikes me as more earnest. But what is to be said about anyone’s work over thirty or forty years? Just the consistency is inspiring.  What I started by saying, that there is nothing extraneous in his photographs, is startling to me–and freeing somehow. It’s as if the (apparent) randomness, at first glance, is to the contrary, order. What a way to look at life! Is that art? I think so.