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Curious Frame - Issue #17 - Photography & Poetry

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #17 - Photography & Poetry
By Leanne Staples • Issue #17 • View online
I was born curious. It is such an important part of who I am that I’m not always even aware of it. It is second nature for me. I am always questioning everything. Questioning everything including question authority. And even question questions. Maybe I should’ve been a philosopher! Or not.
Frame is the method that I frame not only my creative endeavors, but also they way that I see the world. Hence the title of this newsletter. The funny thing is that the name is continually growing on me. (Thank you Josh!)
My curiosity leads me down many paths in life. When I was 12 years of age, I started writing and photography. They were and still are methods for me to make sense of the world and what I do in life.
Photography, writing and art are such an integral part of my life that at times they spill over into each other. I have no idea what I would do without them. Let’s not go there. That’s probably the subject of an upcoming issue!
If I am an artist, it says more about what I do and how I spend my time, than a title. I create therefore I am. The verb is more important than the noun, as nouns have a way of confining, of defining.
But like Houdini, artists spend their time fleeing the labels and being confined in a box. The problem has less to do with what others think. But once you can adapt to being part of a canned definition creativity ends. Signaling a time to do something new.
Thank you for following me on this journey of discovering the meaning of photography and it’s influence on us both as viewers and shooters. I always look forward to your comments and dialogue.
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Readers comments:
Curious Frame exists for you, the readers. While there are many different methods of sharing photos in the online ether, actually being able to dialog about what it all means is either nonexistent or not easily found. 
Let’s dialogue! Your opinions are valued. No advanced degrees or education required. Comments below are from Issue 16 - Does Originality Matter?
All you need to do to join the dialogue is hit reply. You can even reply about earlier issues as well.
One reader wrote:
I think that our unconscious holds a lot of information about everything we see and when we are photographing in a certain way that information is applied in the way and way of seeing a photo. I believe that many of my photos contain data acquired from other photographers that I admire, but that does not take away the merit of my photo being original, on the contrary!
And other wrote:
I really do love reading your thoughts that you put down onto paper. You really do write very well… :)
Compliments are cool too! And they are very much appreciated. Thank you!
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Photography & Poetry
Graffiti Wall, St Mark's Place, New York City circa 1980.
Graffiti Wall, St Mark's Place, New York City circa 1980.
I focus on what’s in front of me. All I care about is whether or not the thing is compelling. Daido Moriyama
Photography, like poetry, has the ability to create language that defies or goes beyond the limits of language. Nuance is the essential ingredient in both. It leaves room for the viewer or the reader to fill in the gaps.
All photography that is made for purposes other than the purely technical or scientific involves a level of creativity and can be considered art. Sometimes photos just need to marinate for a period of time before we see them as art.
I took the above photo about 40 years ago. I don’t remember taking it or seeing the results printed. I didn’t go out thinking that I’ll make art. I also didn’t go out thinking that I’m a photographer and I need to capture this.
Sometimes time is the thing that allows us to see an image for what it will mean to us. Now when I see it, I am quite happy with it. I wish I had taken many more. I certainly didn’t know that one day it would be a sign of a past that is now lost.
It’s not really nostalgia. Rather, at the moment we don’t know how much things will change with the passage of time. And, it is quite possibly much better that we don’t know beforehand.
Daido Moriyama, Daido hysteric no.6 1994, 1994 Vintage gelatin silver print 10 9/10 × 13 9/10 in 27.7 × 35.4 cm Unique
Daido Moriyama, Daido hysteric no.6 1994, 1994 Vintage gelatin silver print 10 9/10 × 13 9/10 in 27.7 × 35.4 cm Unique
Daido Moriyama calls his street photography snapshots. I’m certain that many a street photographer would be unhappy if others called their work snapshots. It’s as if a photo is somehow worth less in the eyes of others including the art world by being given the label snapshot.
Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing. Henri Cartier-Bresson
If you read the most recent issue of the Shoot New York City newsletter, the above quote by Cartier-Bresson is fresh in your mind. And perhaps you are thinking what am I learning when taking a street photography workshop if not how to make a photo?
Which brings us back to the photography is a language idea which was discussed in Issue 2 of this newsletter and keeps reappearing. When you learn the language of photography you no longer need to be consciously thinking about it.
A is for Aperture could be the beginning of the photography alphabet. Learning the first steps of using a camera are helpful in getting beyond the basic. It is the A B Cs.
A is for Aperture could be the beginning of the photography alphabet. Learning the first steps of using a camera are helpful in getting beyond the basic. It is the A B Cs.
For better or for worse, the destiny of a photographer is bound up with the destinies of a machine. Dorothea Lange
I’ve been taking/making photos for so long that the language is no longer obvious. I mean to say that I no longer know what I know or how I learned it other than the sheer practice of doing it over and over again.
The grammar is so thoroughly embedded that it becomes as natural as walking. I don’t think to myself that I need to place one foot in front of the other! I just do it. Which isn’t to say that I don’t make mistakes. The entire process is always about learning.
Creating poetry with words or images happens when you can forget about the rules. To go beyond even knowingly breaking them. Though that can be a good first step.
The abstract photography of Aaron Siskind is a perfect example of poetic photography. Paris 79, 1977 ©Aaron Siskind
The abstract photography of Aaron Siskind is a perfect example of poetic photography. Paris 79, 1977 ©Aaron Siskind
If you look very intensely and slowly things will happen that you never dreamed of before. Aaron Siskind
Abstract photography is just one example of poetic photography. Aaron Siskind’s work (photo above) was often merely those things that were right in front of his field of vision. Peeling paper and paint are one method.
There are no rules in creating with the exception of those that we choose to follow. Siskind didn’t break any of the rules of composition. He merely looked a little closer at what there was around him.
The rules of composition are a kind of cheat sheet. Poetry and creativity are about going beyond that. While you may not be interested in outright abstract photography, there is still much that you can do to create poetic photography.
This photo is a pretty straight forward capture through glass with dots on it and a silhouette with holiday decorations in the background. Selective focusing was the only technical aspect of making the photo. untitled New York City, 24 December 2019
This photo is a pretty straight forward capture through glass with dots on it and a silhouette with holiday decorations in the background. Selective focusing was the only technical aspect of making the photo. untitled New York City, 24 December 2019
Freedom is playing against the camera. Vilém Flusser
In poetry there is the artistic license to ignore grammar. To break the rules as it were. In the same respect, in photography we can also break the rules.
But even before breaking the rules, it is necessary to go beyond the technical. Many photographers from the beginning of the invention of the camera have struggled with the technical versus the creative. Vilém Flusser is one of them.
Shooting from the hip or free styling is one method of getting beyond the viewfinder. a spot in the sun, Harlem, NYC, 3 October 2020.
Shooting from the hip or free styling is one method of getting beyond the viewfinder. a spot in the sun, Harlem, NYC, 3 October 2020.
Probably one of the worst things to happen to photography is that cameras have viewfinders. John Baldessari
Even though we may want to find an easy answer, there isn’t really a neat division between the technical and the creative in photography. And of course, there are no truly objective photos.
But if you shoot without looking through the viewfinder, perhaps you are one step removed from creating a photo without becoming prey to the technology. Perhaps that is what Baldessari is referring to.
It is possible to become overly concerned with the technical aspects of photography to the detriment of creativity and discovering your personal style. Following strict photography conventions have rarely worked for me.
Robert Doisneau's photos are a perfect example of poetic street photography. Les beaux jeudis (Beautiful Thursdays) 1957.
Robert Doisneau's photos are a perfect example of poetic street photography. Les beaux jeudis (Beautiful Thursdays) 1957.
The thing about art is that it usually looks easier than it is. And poetry always sounds like such a lofty ideal to attain. But Doisneau’s photo above, is something that we can take. I should say that we can take a similar photo.
Lomography’s motto is “Don’t think. Just Shoot!” And perhaps this is one good method of creating poetic photography.
poetry is something that cannot be defined without oversimplifying it. It would be like attempting to define the color yellow, love, the fall of leaves in autumn. Jorge Luis Borges
As well, I invite you to have a slower look at any poetic photography and take the time to have a good look at it and imagine the story in it. Not necessarily the story from the viewpoint of the photographer. But your story.
And if you would like, you can submit one photo that you find poetic with your story about it. I will add some of them to upcoming issues to share with everyone. Don’t worry about it, whether you are just commenting or submitting a photo, I do not reveal your identity.
John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966–1968. Acrylic and photo-emulsion on canvas, 59 x 45in. © 2004 John Baldessari.
John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966–1968. Acrylic and photo-emulsion on canvas, 59 x 45in. © 2004 John Baldessari.
I leave you with the above photo by John Baldessari which could be considered a poetic photo which includes his text.
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Photography is - Part Eleven
LES Morning, New York City, December 2019.
LES Morning, New York City, December 2019.
The action doesn’t stop.
But a photo desires to freeze time in a way that it can be remembered.
If we didn’t pause to look and shoot, life would still move on.
A photograph exists as a memory of a time that no longer exists.
My photos are a record that I was here.
It is what I do with my time.
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Reading list:
  • Carroll, Henry. *Photographers on Photography: How The Masters See, Think & Shoot*, Laurence 
  • Flusser, Vilém. Toward a Philosophy of Photography, Reaktion Books Ltd., 1983.
  • Moriyama, Daido. *How I Take Photographs*, Laurence King Publishing, 2019.
Further viewing:
If you’re wanting to see some photos that are very poetic, the work of Josef Koudelka is a great example. This video is from a vlog by Ted Forbes in his series The Art of Photography. I highly recommend Forbes’ videos. This video was made in 2014. So I was surprised to learn that Koudelka is still alive.
Josef Koudelka
Also, you can see a new video collaboration that I made with the very talented artist, Joshua Evan. My contribution is the written and spoken words. The conception and filmmaking is his work and I am so happy with it. It’s titled A Circular Image.
JOSHUA EVAN - VIDEO ART & EXPERIMENTAL FILMS
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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