Photography as a Process

Photography as an art form seemsto emphasize pushing the limits of light and

composition through the framing lens of the camera. Learning to see potential in

an ordinary subject such as a landscape, close up of a flower, portrait or action scene

provides a creative challenge for me as photographer.

My eye is constantly composing and re-composing scenes as I move through the day.

An example today was driving on Highway 101, a major highway linking San

Francisco with smaller cities and towns in Northern California. I was only driving a

few miles today for an appointment and yet my eyes were seeing unusual forms and

colors that could have been engaging subjects for a photograph. There was a man

standing at the entrance of the county garbage dump taking a picture of traffic using

a tripod and wearing a funny crushed hat. Cars were speeding by perhaps only

faintly glimpsing his presence near the roadway.

As I passed by, my mind went to a recent automobile crash at that waste disposal site

entrance where a person was killed by trying to cross oncoming traffic. I wondered if

the man with the camera was recording the flow of traffic for a lawsuit involving

the crash. This man seemed to be using the photograph as a record of perhaps an

unfortunate event. That was my fantasy since I could not stop to inquire further.

Approaching photography as a process is the counterpoint that it offers to the usual

emphasis on pictures as a record or as an end product. Of course I want a picture to

turn out to be sharp and clear without being over or under exposed unless that is

what I am striving for in a composition.

The process of taking the time to compose a picture that uses the available light and

that takes the eye to a focal point in the picture is as important to me as having the

perfect picture. Sometimes I am surprised that what I thought I was "shooting"

turns out to be something different.

I was shopping in San Francisco last winter and there were about fifteen white

round outdoor cafe tables in an interesting pattern. The weather was cold so the

table were abandoned yet I was moved to stop and focus my attention on them. I

was not sure why I found the pattern of empty round white tables, without chairs,

stimulating, but they definitely captured me. I was not as excited about what a

picture of the chair pattern might be like when developed as I was to stop for a

moment andto focus on the ghostly and symmetrical nature of the white tables. I

rememberanticipating framing the scene even though I did not have my tripod

with me. The light was flat yet adequate and the chair pattern seemed to floating in


I remember that my mood lifted from the over stimulation that shopping has a way

of creating. Walking from one store to another and looking at all the things to buy

seemed to take me away from myself, nature, and anything close to having any

intrinsic value. I was relieved to be able to bring my attention to the round tables

withlow hanging willow branches suspended over them.

Being actively engaged in a process of seeing the potential composition brought a

feeling of aliveness and greater awareness of my body. There was no purchase made

of an object of clothing or gift for a friend, but the gift that this natural unplanned

event offered was worth the trip to San Francisco.

Pausing to allow my eye see the emerging pattern, and having the presence of mind

to have my camera with me, gave me another choice that helped to brake the

tendency to buy or grasp onto another object that I probably did not need. The

process of composing this unusual and yet simple picture engaged my mind

creatively and with a fresh perspective.

Process over product, although both are important,allows an opening for

something unexpected and unplanned to happen. I hope to remember this

moment the next time I am pulled towards passing by without looking more closely

because I am driving to an important appointment or as Antoine de Saint-Exupery

said many years ago in the Little Prince, concerned with "matters of consequence."1

Charles Merrill

July 22, 1998

1 Saint-Exupery, Antoine de,The Little Prince, 1943.