Junot Diaz teaches an amazing writing class at MIT (or so I have heard and read online)) called World Building. Here is the description of his class from the syllabus:
Description: “This class concerns the design and analysis of imaginary (or constructed) worlds for narrative media such as roleplaying games, films, comics, videogames and literary texts. … The class’ primary goal is to help participants create better imaginary worlds – ultimately all our efforts should serve that higher purpose.”
I love that one of the prerequisites is seeing Star Wars and having read Lord Of The Rings. But in his listing of narrative media Mr. Diaz could have also included photography. As photographers are we not constructing worlds for our viewers? When I go out and photograph, whether it is documentary or fine art (there is an almost non existent line between the two), we are picking and choosing what we let in the viewfinder. For some projects the whole purpose is to construct a world from our reality. My current project, “A Walk In The Park” aims to do just that. If you look at some of the images (I’ll post more of them in the future) they don’t immediately say park. They are very atmospheric, surreal and some are downright somber. But the bottom line is that I am constructing a world from the visual material confronting me as I walk in the park. Part of World Building in photography deals a lot with the lighting. I never (hardly ever) make photographs for this series when it is bright and sunny. I only make images on cloudy, overcast days. In the world I am building there are no shadows and everything exists in a shallow plane. There are no vast fields and endless vistas. All of this is controlled by the technical choices you make while photographing.
Here is an interesting comparison. The image above from my Park series was made on a partly cloudy day. The sun would shine down intermittently. It seems that when I wanted the sun to go away, it would hang around and shine down upon my scene for an annoyingly long time. But finally the clouds hid the light from my camera and I took the image. While waiting I of course framed the image, selected an appropriate (for my world) depth of field and got the camera as steady as I could until the simplicity of soft light overtook the world.
Just outside the park I walked by the scene below just as the sun was assaulted by the clouds (it’s a tough neighborhood). I was interested in how the light seemed to be seeping down the ramp leaving everything else in a dark, somber shade. So I framed the image and waited for the light to fend off the clouds. Two different worlds separated by a hundred feet and the infinity of my mind. This second image will be part of my Metaphysical City series.
Just as Junot Diaz has a reading list for his class I think it would be a good idea, as an exercise, to look at some photo books and try to figure out how the photographer created her particular world. Some suggestions, Robert Frank’s, The Americans, Daido Moriyama’s Shinjuku, Alec Soth’s Sleeping By The Mississippi, Rinko Kawauchi’s Utatane and David Alan Harvey’s Based On A True Story.
Let me know what you come up with. Hmmm, as an incentive I’ll give the first 2 people who send me a short analysis (500 words or less that I can post here) a free copy of any of my self published books on blurb.