Yesterday was one of those rare days in the darkroom when I finished more than a single print. A second print in one day seems like a gift.
Harold Jones used to say that you should be able to make a decent print in an hour, using just a couple of sheets of paper. It seems like I could do that twenty years ago. Maybe my standards were much lower then.
At any rate, yesterday was one of those experiences of flow in the darkroom. It was a day when I felt like I was watching the prints make themselves. I just had to get out of their way.
Jeff is the father in this image. He is another work colleague. One of my favorite people that here, to be honest. He is an earthy, free-wheeling guy who would much rather poke you in the eye than take things seriously. Which makes him a lot of fun when work gets tense. He has a gift for deflating self-aggrandizement.
He is also one of a couple of fathers I know who have been through a recent divorce. In an effort to explore the experience of fatherhood, he seemed like an important person to photograph.
I met up with Jeff and his kids on a bitterly cold January weekend. It was the kind of weather that keeps you indoors for the month. I was struggling with my own son. I had serious cabin fever. It is hard to get my son off a computer even when the weather is nice. Getting him out seemed hopeless in the weather we were experiencing, and it was starting to wear on me.
Jeff didn't seem bothered, though. He had taken his kids to a boat and camper show. It was a perfect situation for a parent in the winter. His kids would run from boat to camper as their interest held out. They would scamper through and claim bedrooms for themselves, check out the bathrooms, and then move on. It was a brilliant bit of parenting. A camper might as well be a playground when your kids are young. The funny thing was, Jeff wasn't the only parent who thought of doing this. The entire convention center was filled with families. Parents watched as their kids wrought utter destruction on unsuspecting boats and RVs.
One of the lessons I learned during this project was to start thinking about composing from the back of the image, and moving forward. I think it is a side effect of Instagram that we look at images on small screens at a small scale. We forever see the subject, the person photographed for example, but have a harder time seeing the background. There's a missed opportunity when your app makes all of your images square. The environment is as much a part of a portrait as the person photographed.
I was working hard, during the afternoon I made this image, to think about re-framing a subject using graphic elements from the background of the image. I was trying to compose the important shapes of the negative space first, and the move forward, filling the scene like a director places actors on a stage. This is something that David Morano was pounding into my head the whole semester I was working with him. It felt like a huge leap.
In this image, I worked to position Jeff's daughter into the square formed by the back of the camper in the background. The head-slapping gesture she is making leaps out of the contact sheet from this roll. It was a fleeting gesture. In this image, it reads as a comment about her father. Maybe that isn't fair, but it is a liberty worth taking.
I also wanted to steal a little from Sally Mann and use the contrast of her pale skin tone to make her the center of attention. She kind of leaps out from the shadowy background of the camper. It is also an interesting juxtaposition with the general dark swarthiness of Jeff in this image. How do kids survive us as we parent them on long afternoons?