Photography and A Sense of Place

Summer of 2022

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Exhibition images of Pilar Goutas' Portrait series. MX KG IDENTIDADES by Secretaría de Cultura CDMX is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The original title for this showcase was going to be "the deep dive" as I was thinking about how photographers often concentrate their work on a specific place. The title changed because I became more interested in this idea that our “sense” of a place is literally connected to our senses - and that plays out in the photographer’s experience as well. When they’re doing this work they are connected to a place through all their senses, often going beyond the physical to include intangibles such as memory and feelings... it's about the interconnection and relationship between the artist and a place.

Evoking a sense of place goes far beyond "just the facts ma'am" and demands the artist find a way to bring the viewer into the essence of the experience. It’s never a surprise to me when I see ads featuring the "amazing shots" you can take with your new cellphone -  because strong imagery is not found in a camera. It’s found in the heart and mind of the artist who is struggling to find the right angle, the right light, figure out where to stand and what to include, and more importantly what to exclude. Additionally, stitching together a sense of place takes far more than a single image - it does take that deep dive of imagery, taken over time, that comes together to create a more nuanced and deeper understanding of a place. This practice feeds our instinctual need to explore - to know more about where we are - thereby knowing more about who we are. It's in our DNA - this need to get a sense of a place and deeply know it.

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Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach,  © The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1996

Photography has a long tradition of this practice - some photographers roam the same location their whole lives. A good example is Vivian Maier who prowled the streets of Chicago for over forty years and was so focused on the experience of shooting that she left behind tens of thousands of negatives ... and even unprocessed rolls of film.  Graciela Iturbide traveled throughout her native Mexico, giving voice to the indigenous, while Richard Misrach has studied the Southwest and Southern California through his Desert Cantos series since the late 1970s. More recently we have Tatsuo Suzuki and his Friction / Tokyo Street book with its gritty street photography documenting Tokyo life. While it's not photography - Jon Batiste's Freedom video rings with authenticity as he showcases his love for his hometown New Orleans.

The photographers in this showcase have explored their territories with goals that range from social consciousness to the erasing or easing of assumptions. Others have found that staking out a territory can be a way of grounding oneself through a connection to a physical space and place. Not all journeys are external and it’s possible to use photography to help you search for an inner sense of place and belonging - a place that can be an anchor in time. Once again thank you to Douglas Stockdale, photographer, founder and editor of PhotoBook Journal for curating another set of interesting photobooks.