US and California Flags
I spent much of Saturday printing this image in the Laney darkroom. (This is a negative scan; I haven’t scanned or photographed the resulting prints.) I had a fairly pleasant time of it, despite still being in recovery from the BBC plague. One of those days when my instincts lead in the right direction and the negative isn’t outside my modest printing skills. I also got some positive feedback from some of the old hands there, which is always nice.
The essential draw of the photograph, which I am somewhat ambivalent about, is its resemblance to a calla lily.
On the one hand, one of the things I love most about photography in general and about infrared photography in particular is its ability to subtly transform the familiar — to reveal the known world in surprising ways.
This is an example of that, and I believe a rather successful one; there are few objects which are more strongly locked in to their customary symbolic use than a flag; the vast majority of representations of flags fall into either nationalistic/patriotic uses or into very blunt subversions of those uses.
But here, motion distorts the flags’ shapes, and infrared light obscures their markings. Together, they allow the flags to briefly become something else.
I like that — a lot — but I worry a bit about the fact that the typical response to the image is, (a), “What is that,” and, (b), “Cool, it looks like a calla lily.” Not that I dislike the resemblance, but I’m always a bit nervous when I stray into the territory of “picture puzzles” and “fuzzygrams.” I don’t think the purpose of a photograph should be to befuddle or confuse (note: this is not a general rule for judging photography, just a personal preference for my own work).
I value the fact that this photograph documents the temporary transformation of a flag into a flower; however, that value is as dependent on the ability of the viewer to perceive what it “really is,” as it is upon their ability to perceive the way it is being transformed. And of course to say that it depends upon the viewer’s perception is also to say it depends on my ability to connect to the viewer…