Stieglitz Nebulae (2010)

There is a danger in photography that we can lose, or at least lose track of, its essence, that thing that makes a photograph so special in the first place. You can’t really define it, but you can kill it. For example, while I was printing these images the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organized a symposium asking various academics the question, “Is Photography Over?” The answer, of course, is obvious (“It’s not over unless you keep smothering it!”) but I thought it perfectly timed on a personal level.

Alfred Stieglitz is increasingly known as the husband of Georgia O’Keefe first, a promoter of art and photography in the early part of this century second, and as a photographer third. The proper order is exactly reversed.

One of the great works by Stieglitz is his (rather large) series of cloud images he called Equivalents. When you hear it explained by curators it sometimes comes out all mystical but the idea is simple. There is a power in photography that goes beyond the mere recording of things, beyond preserving a moment in time, beyond offering a window into some other time and place. It’s possible to have a photograph with an indefinite subject–like clouds–but with a definite feeling. It’s abstraction, the right kind of abstraction, the honest kind. The analogy Stieglitz made is to music, which can convey great emotion without words or any obvious subject matter. It cuts through the higher parts of the brain and targets something deep, something unstudied and primal.

Nearly a century after Stieglitz’s work we can sincerely ask ourselves, Is photography over? If nothing else it shows the timing of my work couldn’t have been any better. We need reminding of photography’s power.

These source images for these photographs were made by orbiting space telescopes. I took the images and, one by one, hour by hour, day by day, I erased the stars–thousands and thousand of stars. I think that would have made Stieglitz smile.

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