January 07 – The Plaza

01-07 The Plaza post

“The photographer is a manipulator of light.”

~Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

– – –

A photograph of somebody else’s artwork. Is it really even appropriate for a photographer to take such an image and claim it for themselves? It’s an interesting dilemma because the photographer is still engaged in making decisions about the light, the framing, the angle of the shot. All of these variables – and many, many others – influence the emotional impact of the photograph. I tend to tread lightly with topics like this, but I make efforts to exploit my own skills to capture the subject as dramatically or uniquely as possible.

The fountains and statuary of The Country Club Plaza – known by most folks simply as The Plaza – have been photographed by countless thousands of people throughout the years. It’s just on the Missouri side in the Kansas City Metro area, near downtown. It boasts upscale shopping and fine dining, beautiful lights around Christmas, and horse-drawn carriage rides. A couple of city blocks away, though, and you’ll see some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city. This is the case all over the country, though, isn’t it? The Plaza is the kind of place where the local police will pick up the panhandlers, drive them over a few blocks, and drop them back off where, presumably, they belong. I’ve see it happen with my own eyes. And I get it. I just don’t like it, is all.

I remember my first high school photography class, using this old metal hunk of a manual Canon film camera my father bought me. A friend of mine from school – you know, who actually had a driver’s license – drove us out to The Plaza. I remember thinking I’d get some great shots. I hadn’t even considered how truly unoriginal the idea was, but hell, it was all new to me. I have to remind myself of the same thing today. “Sure,” I’ll tell myself. “The Grand Canyon’s been photographed a thousand times before. But not by me.”

We have to have our own experiences, now, don’t we?

I still have the negatives from that trip to The Plaza – most of them under-exposed – sitting in an old three-ring binder with many other of my early failed attempts at the whole ‘photography’ thing. I read about a New York photographer who set their camera up on a tripod in their apartment and pointed it straight out the window to the street scene below. He took one photograph every day for a year. Not the most ambitious project, but it’s something. I think we’ve all seen videos of people who do this with self-portraits, to document how much they have (or haven’t) changed in one years’ time. But this photographer did it in 1918, and nobody had every done anything like it before. The modern photographic method hadn’t even reached the century mark; there were lots of things that hadn’t been done with the camera yet. So this photographer’s year-long project made the history books, and the photographs are preserved in some archive or another, probably at the Eastman House in New York.

I’m sure there are plenty of things that have yet to be done with photography, too. It just always seems like it’s all been done before, but that’s just the lie we tell ourselves so we can talk ourselves out of trying. It’s really just a matter of figuring it out. So I guess I’d better get back to it.

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