Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Moving Tripod

Walker Evans
Atlanta, GA, 1936

Walker Evans Anodized Red Alloy Beadlock Wheel, Walker Evans Racing, Riverside, CA

I couldn't find the picture I was looking for. It's of Walker Evans's car, and I think it was from the thirties when he went on a road trip to photograph architecture with Lincoln Kirstein. (I have probably garbled the facts here, since this is from memory.) But that snapshot of Evans's car always stuck with me. (I've substituted the beautiful Evans picture above.) It's just a homely picture of an old-timey car on a dusty lot.

Ziess Planars, carbon fiber tripods, strobes and soft boxes--none of them are as important a tool to photographers as the car. It's unacknowledged, I think, and it's not just the road-trip photos of Frank, Friedlander, et al. It's true of almost any photograph that depends on a location, which covers a lot of ground, so to speak. Photographers like Gursky, Burtynsky, and Crewdson must rely heavily on their cars (or tractor-trailers, for that matter) for their pictures. Mobility is key. And the car is like a moving tripod, perfect for positioning the camera exactly where it needs to be. A lot of the history of American photography is inconceivable without the automobile. One obvious irony is the image of a nature photographer bumping along in his jalopy, burps of carbons dioxide and monoxide puffing from his tailpipe.

(Photo of Tom Stoppard's book case, made by T. Anthony, via The New York Times.)

This is of special interest to me because I don't drive, and I'm acutely conscious of how it affects my work, all of which is conducted along the routes of my everyday life, home to work, basically. You could say my work is about imagination, even introspection to the degree that it is a little about how the mind works. That would make the book my second most important tool.

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