Where you are makes a difference to what you see. New York photographer Lorenzo Dominguez found himself in a difficult position when his marriage failed. He, like many others, had painted himself into a corner by accepting the values of others: the usual, wife, children, house in suburbia, mortgage, corporate job, respectability, doing the right thing. Everything was right. Everything was false.
Lorenzo needed to thank his wife. She had broken up his family, leaving him desperate and grieving. Somehow he broke free of self obsession. He sensed that many others shared his plight, if not his position. Armed only with a camera, Lorenzo took to the streets. The photographs he took were focused with the love he could not express to his wife and family.
A twirl of the f-stop, a step to one side that moves the frame: the picture in the lens changes. Lorenzo went on a search for the beauty he had seen in his wife and children. He found there was not just a focus and a f-stop. There was an angle of beauty.
Because his photography was part of his healing process, Lorenzo learnt to see photography as a metaphor. If what you see causes you pain, you can move, adopt another viewpoint, another perspective. Happiness is mobility, flexibility. There is a perspective for everyone where what they see brings contentment and fulfillment. They just have to keep moving until they find it. There is a point of view we can all seek out. From it we can view the beauty inherent in all things. No need to resent the ugliness and sterility we see around us. Move!
Juxtaposition brings enlightenment
Citing Cartier-Bresson as an exemplar, Lorenzo strove to do more than just record. He sought to tell stories. Everyone and everything has a story, and if we are too busy to hear it we have lost a great deal of joy, and delayed the getting of wisdom that living can bring us. An image can be isolated, and enable us to see its shape and form, texture and colour, like a fruit you can smell and taste. But juxtaposed with another, in context, the movement, the drama inherent in all life can be discerned. The present tense of still life becomes amplified with the past and future, being and becoming. Movement in context brings us potentiality, imagined history. A two dimensional static image becomes imbued with a third and fourth dimension.
Look and see
Devastated by the loss of his family, Lorenzo learned to look outward, to see himself in perspective. As a photographer operates a camera, Lorenzo bought the same skills to his life. He saw, he focused. How many people walk without seeing, head down, preoccupied. How few see the sky, or even the gargoyles on tops of buildings. Lorenzo had two children, and they taught him how to look.
Lorenzo formulated 25 lessons. Based on his adventures roaming the city taking photographs, they are techniques and tips about taking better photographs. They are also techniques and tips for leading a better life. The book is a compendium of what Lorenzo has learned. His book is not perfect. Occasionally verbose, intermittently the insight can be commonplace. The book succeeds though because it is uniformly genuine. Based firmly on his life experience, Lorenzo is personal and unaffected throughout. He avoids playing the sage, though his book is generous with quotations and references from writers and sages he admires.
A photographer deals in light. Like a river, light is always changing. Like a river, a person is always changing. Just like a river, when we cease to change, we start to stagnate. Lorenzo’s book is an autobiography. It begins with the drama of his marriage breakup, continues with his ‘therapy’ of photography and the wisdom he derived from this practice, and ends with the story of his early life. Unavoidably, the first section is more engaging, because tragedy is more involving. What Lorenzo calls lessons are wisdom he has distilled from his own life, and the reception this part is given by readers depends very much on their willingness to learn, and their willingness to match experience with Lorenzo.
The book I read ended with a selection of 37 photographs (though the text referred to photos in context eg “to the right” etc.) These are predominantly of people waiting in the streets of New York. Each picture tells a story, and the viewer can have a lot of fun decoding and telling each story. There are stories about illusions, fantasies, loneliness, poverty, celebration. The comparison with Cartier-Bresson is apt, however extraordinary that claim may seem.
The book goes a long way towards explaining why two people can photograph the same scene and end up with two very different photographs.
25 Lessons I’ve Learned About Photography/Life is available from Amazon’s Kindle store. It is a best seller. http://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Learned-about-Photography-Life-ebook/dp/B00318D6Y0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289740900&sr=1-1
©2010 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Image used by permission of Lorenzo Dominguez. Please inform post author of any violation.