Most of my photography in Newfoundland was done within a few meters of the sea. I rediscovered there some of the rock and water themes I’ve pursued closer to home, though with important differences. For example, rocks are more likely shaped by the surf, and are as often wet as dry. New waterfalls are born every time a wave rides over a rock in the tidal zone. But the most interesting difference was the presence of living subjects at the rock/water interface, and of these, my favorite was seaweed.
Unfortunately, I only had a few minutes to spend with the kelp I discovered after scrambling down the cliff at the B&B (The Cliffhouse in southern Avalon–highly recommended). Attached to a boulder that was probably covered at high tide, the strands were exposed, but were carried back and forth by the surging forward and streaming back of each passing wave. The smooth, wet surfaces were gloriously reflective, so much so that I had to confine myself to a patch in shadow. I immediately fell in love with the motion effects at a slow shutter speed (1/4 to 1/2 second). I set up the camera and repeated the same shot, varying the timing with respect to the waves. I was there for eight minutes, time for only a couple dozen chances.
These are good examples of photographs with a strong uncontrolled, random component. I find great pleasure in discovering afterwards the shapes and compositions that have been captured. But I had to arrange the kelp myself (assuming that were possible), I’d be at a loss. Of course, photographing a plant lying on the sand also involves chance arrangement, if there’s no re-arranging. But the chance then is all in the past: at the time of capture, you know what you’re going to get.
I surmise that one aspect of the appeal of these photographs—if they have any—is that the viewer can share the same pleasure of discovering transient forms created by a patently random process. Why should this be? Is it just our ingrained search for order and meaning amid chaos?
I wonder if there’s a similar motivation for other artists who rely on elements that are uncontrolled or poorly controlled, as in Richard Serra’s Splash Pieces or Pollock’s drips. Do you deliberately try to lose control of some aspects of your art?