There is a particular thing that can happen with people and pictures, and I’ve seen it enough that I have learned that when it happens, it is always important to follow it down. Every so often someone will see a picture, and it will mean something to him, something he feels deeply. This happened last week with my cousin’s husband Andy.
I showed him a series of pictures, so many of my tried and true pictures that had been in shows and where I had already done large commissions, and then almost offhandedly, I showed him another series. I only thought of them because they came from Barn Island, which is in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, not far from Andy’s home. He went right to one picture. He said, “That’s the one I want. It gives me hope and transcendence.” So I was like, ”Well, if it does that for you, then you’ve got to have it.”
So I set out to make a large print for him. And you might like to know, that with pictures like that on the equipment I use it’s not the same as going to CVS and having some snapshots printed. It takes a lot of time. I used special watercolor paper, which meant I needed special procedures. Then I made a series of small trial images. Then when I thought I had it right, I printed a big one. I have to say that doing this is very stressful and also very fine. I have a printer the size of a piano, and it’s got many colors of ink that run through little clear tubes and the print head swishes back and forth and there is a vacuum that holds the paper to the roller and the whole thing is very high tech and when it gets running I feel like a nerdy master of the universe. And then I wait to see it printing, which is kind of thrilling but also I’m never quite sure that it’s perfectly right, so then I poke my nose up where the print comes out to watch it coming inch by inch while I wait and inspect and suffer. And then I see the whole thing and I’m still not sure I think I should try it again with slightly different settings. And so I do that. And then in this case I call my cousin (Andy’s wife) and I study and ponder and I am torn between what I feel about the picture and what I think Andy might like and then I think and think and finally decide to try what I should have tried to begin with, because I really should know this by now. And that is to trust my own instincts. And then I finally decide to print it one more time. And then I let the pictures dry, in this case with this paper it takes 24 hours, and then I visited the pictures several times in different light and then I called my cousin Liz again.
Then I had my own clarity about how the picture was supposed to be which was that it should be as true as possible to how it actually was that morning, and also balanced, very balanced. Because it turned out that the best thing about this picture was if I wanted to look at the drama of the morning sun and the shadows in the clouds I could do that.
And if I wanted to look at the subtle rosy mists and wisps of fog, I could do that too.
I mean, it could be my choice. Because this picture had pictures inside of pictures. There were sparkles on the water or the little bits of seaweed. There were fine lacy branches that blurred into the fog. And colors in the sunrise that were deeper in the water than they were in the sky. There was something everywhere.
The picture wouldn’t tell me where to look, I could decide. It was my point of view that showed me the picture, and my point of view could be different every day. No matter what was happening I could always have something to find in the picture. That was the surprise and the learning of that picture and I finally saw it, that this picture was like it is in photography or in life in general. I mean, we’re always out there choosing from all there is to see - the light and the dark, the detail and the drama. That’s when I became satisfied that the picture was finished and when I felt that it was ready for Andy.
If it wasn’t for Andy and his affinity for this picture, I never would have picked it out for a large commission, I never would have struggled with it, never would have learned these things. And I was so glad I had my cousin Liz, so that as we have done since childhood, we could go through another something together. The picture now hangs in Andy’s office. It will remain as a point of connection or meaning or beauty or hope, something he notices on some days more than others, something that Andy wanted, something that is different for Andy than it is for me, and that is just how it should be.