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April 23rd, 2017

The Science Of Shadows And Light

I went to the March for Science in Washington D.C. More about that later. But I’m back home now, and the first thing I did naturally was offload my digital photos onto the network drive. I’ll put them into Lightroom in a bit and post a new photo gallery later. The rally was taxing enough on my sixty-three year old body that I had to bail out before the march actually happened, and retreat to my hotel room. But I got a bunch of good shots at the rally on the Washington Monument grounds so I’m happy.

Later, after my legs recovered a bit and I got some energy back, I took a dinnertime walk around D.C. and snapped off a few shots with the mini Hasselblad (Sony) of what was left of the march ephemera after all the crowds were gone and the streets were nearly empty and it was still drizzly because I’m a weird old fuck and I was in a gloomy mood just then. If you’ve seen my art photography here you know what was coming. And I wasn’t sure even as I was taking those shots whether or not I wanted to include them in a gallery of shots of the March for Science. What comes out of me at those times when I’m doing it for the pure art of it is pretty dark. I can see that photographic eye in everything I do and I don’t really like it. But it’s worse when I’m not working on a theme or an event. Then it’s the pure inner photographic eye that comes out. I was pretty sure none of that belonged in a gallery with the science march.

As I wandered, I found a street sign…one of those historical markers D.C. has been putting around town. This one told me the studio of Mathew Brady was nearby  on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that it was relatively unchanged from when he lived there. So I tried to find it just to nod in fellowship to whatever memories might still be lingering there…

Mathew B. Brady was one of the first American photographers, best known for his scenes of the Civil War. He studied under inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, who pioneered the daguerreotype technique in America. -Wikipedia

But of course it had no marking plaque or even a street number over the door so I’m still not sure I saw the right one. But something had drawn me there. Obviously since I’m at the March for Science, I count myself as a person of science. But I am also an artist, and those two sides of me were excruciatingly difficult to reconcile when I was a teenager, until I read Jacob Bronowski’s little book, Science and Human Values.  I try to be rational about things, but there are moments when I feel moved by a spirit I have no name for. That was one of them.

I am not a camera, the camera is me. What comes out of it is me. But also what was actually there. The reality within and without. The cold grey drizzle. The nearly but not quite empty streets. What I saw. How it made me feel. In no other art are both those things quite that literally true. The photographic image is fixed by light entering the camera and it exists in a fixed time and place, but the what the photographer sees is within and timeless. Brady was the first to show us what war looks like via the camera’s unflinching deterministic eye. But it was also a mirror held up to ourselves. This too is human. In retrospect it was a perfect sort of serendipity being drawn to Brady’s studio that evening because probably no other art owes as much to science as photography. Chemistry, optics, the physics of light. The camera shows us what was there, and in the process tells us what it is to be human. Whether or not we want to know it.

 

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