The City As Resource

© 2012 by Dave Ortiz, from the series, Navigation Without Numbers.

Saturday found me at Soho Photo Gallery attending the monthly portfolio review committee meeting where we get to review applications for membership and exhibitions. There was also a meeting of the Associate Members that afternoon as well. This is where more junior members bring in work in order to get some valuable feedback from  more accomplished members as well as fellow associates. I like attending these events and helping out. I always try to listen to the feedback given to associates. Sometimes the comments help me in my work or help solidify some notion I may have been carrying around in the back of my mind for some length of time. On Saturday the facilitator of the group made a great comment about an associate’s “street” photographs. He said (and I am paraphrase wildly here) “You can bring to the street an idea and use the street as a resource in order to get that idea across photographically.”

That comment helped solidify in my mind what exactly I was finding unappealing about street photography and the different direction I was trying to take my street work (or StreetWork as I call  it). I find most street photography to be very reactive with no real intention or world view evident (yeah, yeah, I know Robert Frank blah, blah, blah) but in general street photography for most photographers is a collection of moments captured that are funny or surreal, or absurd.  But what I find more appealing is when a photographer has a specific idea in mind; be it about a concept like “time” (think of Paul Graham’s recent work The Present) or an emotion (think of Mashisa Fukase’s Solitude of Ravens).

My most recent foray into “street photography” is a series I am calling, Navigation Without Numbers, and it mainly deals with the idea of being  unmoored from society and feeling as if you don’t belong.  Hmm… I think the song by The Doors may sum it up pretty well:

People are strange when you’re a stranger 
Faces look ugly when you’re alone 
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted 
Streets are uneven when you’re down 

And so getting back to the comment heard in the Associate Members meeting, when I am walking the streets I am looking for scenes, things, groups that visualize this idea of being cut loose from society, of being alone and uncared for (as one would be in a Mitt Romney world). I am not reacting to situations rather I am a hunter of images (to steal a phrase from Daido Moriyama). And so I am not reacting but rather I am acting, The City is a resource to be used much as a painter uses paint or a sculptor uses clay.

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