My Uncle Tom is a patron of the arts. He has made a point throughout his adult life to step into many galleries in many places. Sometimes he would purchase work, but most of the time he was just taking mental notes of what art is appealing and where. So while he may not paint or photograph or sculpt, I think he actively creates photographs, paintings and sculptures with his imagination; piecing together the world around him in his own, personal masterpiece.
One day, he directed me towards a spot in Salem that has stood out to him over the years. It was an alleyway downtown, maybe 20 feet deep, with stairs and a use-absent door at its end. I brought by K.B. Canham 4×5 view camera there one day with only three sheets of film left in my film holders.
Having only three frames to shoot, I wanted to take three photos of the alley and have them work together, but be compelling on their own. Three photos with the same mood, but telling three different stories. This first photo sets the scene for the other two; a gritty, film noir alley.
In person, this part of the alley really wasn’t much to look at, but I knew if I messed with exposure and development I could bring out a character that wasn’t there in person. That is one of the main reasons I find working in film so appealing is the control you have over your subject’s appearance if you know what you’re doing before you trip the shutter. Lifeless things can be brought to life.
When I saw these weeds while I was standing, I didn’t think anything about them, but when I got down on their level, they started to relate to each other. They looked like two criminals in a lineup, with the lines in the brick being the height markers. I thought about how criminals are usually a product of their place in society, almost predestined to become what they are. At first glance, the weeds seemed to be intruding on the alley, but really the cement and civilization were what were out of place.
During a time in my short photo life where the camera had felt heavy in my hands, this three-frame exercise brought me to a new way of viewing even simple things. It was a big step in my evolution as a photographer and artist, but I probably would never have came there if it wasn’t for the direction of someone who had been taking mental snapshots of the world around them.
Nearly everyone is a photographer. Most people just use their eyes and minds instead of lenses and film or processors, but in this collaboration both were realized.