Brooks Jensen Arts

Every Picture Is a Compromise

Lessons from the Also-rans

Most photography websites show the photographer's very best work. Wonderful. But that's not the full story of a creative life. If we want to learn, we'd better pay attention to the images that aren't "greatest hits" and see what lessons they have to offer. Every picture is a compromise — the sum of its parts, optical, technical, visual, emotional, and even cosmic – well, maybe not cosmic, but sometimes spiritual. Success on all fronts is rare. It's ok to learn from those that are not our best.

This is a series about my also-rans, some of which I've been able to improve at bit (i.e., "best effort"), none of which I would consider my best. With each there are lessons worth sharing, so I will.

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Failures from Japan, 1990

This week (mostly for my own amusement), I'll discuss images from a trip to rural northern Japan in 1990 with David Grant Best. Back in the film days — when things could really go wrong and you wouldn't know it until long after the trip was over.

What I saw that I liked:

Same trip to Japan in 1990. These are carpenter's planes in a shop window in Onagawa, Japan.

What I learned:

As I was photographing the carpenter's planes, the owner of the shop came out to greet me. He had his grandson in his arms, so I motioned a request to make their portrait. He agreed and that image is at left.

Never forget that the photograph you make today is recording history. Fast forward to 2011, a scant 21 years after I made this photograph. Onagawa was wiped off the map in the tsunami that took 20,000 lives and destoyed seacoast towns by the hundreds. What happened to this grandfather and his grandson? I have no idea. Someday I'd like to go back to Onagawa with the photographs I made in 1990. I doubt anyone would care about the carpenter's planes I thought were so fascinating, but the portraits I made there might very well be some of the only ones left from that town that was swept out to sea.