A number of retrospectives have been published in the past week marking the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the great concert at Yasgur’s farm that perhaps caught the 60s in full bloom. Missing from at least the retrospectives I’ve read is that the bloom withered and died four months later at Altamont, another free concert, this one in California, that was marked by severe violence including one stabbing death, two hit and run automobile deaths and one LSD inspired drowning, among other incidents.
The great music the decade is known for, and that deservedly so, I don’t think captures the profound significance of the cultural shift of those 10 years as do movies. The Oscar for best picture of 1965 went to ‘The Sound Of Music’, a heartwarming, G-rated musical in which a family of blonde haired, white Austrians escape the yoke of Nazi terror by fleeting over the Alps. In 1969, the Oscar for best picture went to the X-rated ‘Midnight Cowboy’, about a bisexual male prostitute and his crippled Jewish buddy hustling through New York City. And America has never been the same since.
On the one hand, you have folks waving the banner of freedom proclaiming that, hey, I like being a freak! I like being black! I like being Latino! I like being gay! I like being a nerd! I like being ... an artist – free to be me!! And on the other side you have people saying, no! This is America - we do things a certain way. We are one nation under God! You don’t like it this way, go somewhere else! You want to be different - you want to be black - fine, just be white as you do!
We live in a juxtaposed culture in which the pendulum is constantly swinging back-and-forth, each time further out than the time before, each time leaving half the nation despondent and angry, poised to strike back. And it’s roots may go back further but its flashpoints were the 60’s.
* * *
The artist has a choice whether in a dark room or on a computer between increasing the clarity of a photographic capture or employing a soft focus. (Or, I suppose, of doing nothing). I tend to lean towards the soft focus, and often intensely so – I think reducing clarity creates an enhanced sense of mystery and wonder. But, as I’ve said before, the choice of what our work becomes often does not fall to the artist. The photograph itself, buried in its pixels, holds the key to what the ultimate work will become. Trying to bend the work contrary to that usually does not work. In the case of today’s work, the sunlight beaming against the perfectly focused tree bark with its deep, contrasting furrows, the background fading into the shade, screamed for all the clarity available. It is a matter of timing; come back to the spot an hour later, or arrive an hour sooner, or do so a few weeks in either direction, and the position of the sun would have resulted in a very different photograph.
* * *
NOTE: This post is part of a series examining the application of digital techniques to film photography in creating photo art, done in tribute to the closing of the last regional retail photography stores.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.