Sunday, March 8, 2009

Photography to Impressionists and Poetry is History

I've just read the article Poetry Don't Love History No More, by J. Dennis Robinson. His theory is that poetry and history have been happy bedfellows since the dawn of civilization but in our present society the cry for instant gratification replaced our attention span and appetite for epic verse. This is too bad, he says, because there are some fine stories in poem that you won't find yourself moved by if read in the style of a history book. I suspect the Impressionists felt similarly when the photograph was invented. They were not about to give up the epic poetry of painted visual representation because something simpler could be done. The Impressionists took on the challenge the photograph created; to do more than capture the outward appearance of things. In an attempt to capture emotion and the inner life, many artists often felt their work was incomplete, this is especially true of Monet and Renoir.
A contemporary critic Theodore Druet said of the Impressionists “Winter is here. The Impressionist paints snow. He sees that in the sunlight, the shadows on the snow are blue. Without hesitation he paints blue shadows. So the public laughs. Roars with laughter.”
Of course the photographer has a task, to see what is there, but is the patience to examine every hue and every shade of color required? She learns to frame, to wait for or search out the light, or set the lighting, but does she read light like an epic poem, taking days and weeks at a time? Does she read it in shades of blue? Does she know it that well?
I've posted a picture I took last summer from under a cherry tree, where I sat for an hour waiting for a bird to come to a branch low enough for me to capture him with a cheap point and shoot. The afternoon was still. I needed the mission of capturing an ordinary bird to get me to sit there long enough to remember I sat there. Childe Hassom wasn't part of this fast paced immediate gratification society, he took the time to paint New England Country Road, in the painting the slow movement of an old man on a country road is a reminder of the time painting takes. The half second halt of a bird in a cherry tree, the reminder that shooting a photograph takes but a second.

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