Peeling Back the (Photographic) Layers

In the last week or two, I’ve realized something about photography that I absolutely did not expect: I like taking pictures of THINGS.

I don’t even mean works of art or pieces of architecture (though I enjoy photographing those things too.)

No…I mean inconsequential objects.

Like a bottle of cleanser.
Like, say, a bottle of cleanser.
Or a glass of water.
Or my drink this morning.
Or some SUV parked on the street next to the bus stop.
Or some random SUV parked on the street next to the bus stop.
How about a pinecone?
How about a pinecone?
Or a champagne flute?
Or a champagne flute?
Or some of my daughter's dolls?
Or some of my daughter’s dolls?
Maybe you could make a case for the photographic worth of a wildflower bouquet....
And it’s odd because maybe you could make a case for the photographic worth of a wildflower bouquet….
....but can you do the same for my mom's dishwasher??
….but could you do the same for my mom’s dishwasher??

And yes, I’m actually enjoying taking pictures of both of those things!!

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So, I don’t quite know what to make of this interest in inanimate objects. Where did this come from?

Maybe it’s just an offshoot of my more general interest in photography – in light and lines, etc? I mean, that’s probably understandable; I’m looking at everything with a more nuanced visual eye these days.

But the thing is, I think it’s more than that.

*

I was talking about it a little with my mom and dad today, and I noted (laughingly) that I’ve always been weird in the way I experience the world. It comes down to the fact that I’ve always been very sensitive to aesthetic things.

And I don’t just mean visual art (though I’m sure this quality in me has a lot to due with why majoring in Art History appealed to me.) No…what I mean is, I tend to notice things like the way light filters through a glass of water. Following on that, I can be absolutely blown away by the sight of the stars in the sky. (This is why this whole supermoon thing is so interesting to me.) I’ve felt myself affected, hugely, by holiday lights and candlelight and flickering firelight. (That’s part of what was going on with me in this post, I think.)

It boils down to the fact that visual aesthetics are very, very edifying to me – and it doesn’t seem to make any difference whatever they’re “fine” or not. In fact, far from needing to be “fine,” they can be easily be something like….the dishwasher! (In the right light!) That’s what I was laughing about to my parents – because it sounds so silly to say that out loud.

But really? It’s about the tone of the light, and the way things sparkle, and the play of shadow – and a million other factors. I’m just really sensitive to my environment that way.

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I’ve always known this about myself, but I never really thought that much about it before. And now I find myself thinking about it specifically in terms of photography.

What I’m realizing is: I think I might actually enjoy photographing products.

Now, I have NO idea how to begin trying to get into that sort of work (and I’m still far too novice to make the attempt, even if I did know what avenues to take.) But it’s striking me suddenly that this (strange as it might sound) might actually be an interesting avenue of self-expression.

*

I know that sounds crazy! How can static objects – products, no less – possibly have anything to do with an exploration of self??

But what I mean by that is: I’ve always noticed, say, the way the light moves through a bottle of Evian water – to the point that it emotionally moves me a little bit. And that sounds funny, right? I don’t ever think about commenting on things like that to other people. Maybe my parents. But who else wouldn’t snicker? Not even to be mean – but just because it sounds a little silly. “Let’s all immerse ourselves in the beauty of the Evian water bottle.” Or whatever. So I tend to keep observations like that to myself.

But the truth is, I DO see things like that…and I FEEL things like that. And it occurs to me suddenly that maybe product photography would be a really effective means of exploring and sharing what I see and feel with other people. It occurs to me that this might actually be one of those areas where pictures supersede language.

Like, I could comment in words about how beautiful the light is through that bottle of water, and people may or may not be able to see beyond the silly…or I could just put a picture out there and show what I see.

That would be satisfying, I think.

*

I don’t know what I’m saying here exactly! I mean, I’m not necessarily saying that I want to develop into somebody who shoots products as my main photographic focus – because there really are many other things I’m interested in taking pictures of. Not to mention that I think, personality-wise, that taking pictures of people would suit me very well. I’m the sociable sort, I guess! And (in all seriousness) I’m deeply interested in understanding people and how they move through the world; I’m interested, if you will, in peeling back layers like that.

But I’m starting to think that taking pictures of products/objects might be a good complement to the people stuff.

And I really didn’t expect that! I guess I’ll have to keep practicing and see if that feeling builds or dissipates.

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10 thoughts on “Peeling Back the (Photographic) Layers

  1. I do know what you mean. And these pics are very cool. I have a very weird fascination with taking pictures of random objects around the house and the more I play with my good camera, the more I’m realizing that i can actually improve my technique better by taking more “product” shots. I have a friend who has this obsession with photographing her kids’ shoes, and honestly they’re some of the most moving shots I’ve ever seen. She does it every season, every year. It sounds strange typing it out and now that I’m actually describing it, I’m not sure she’s the one with the obsession — it’s me. She just takes the pictures, but they move me like almost to tears.

    I absolutely love to see a photograph of something rather ordinary but taken in a different way (like your mom’s dishwasher) — to me, that IS art.

    I really like the shot of the glass. And I LOVE the random SUV!

    It’s funny after I went on and on about how Gil takes pictures of things and I take pics of people, this post reminded me that this is not really true. I take VERY random pictures because I’m very moved by odd things I guess. For example, my youngest son has red hair, but it’s kind of red/blond patchy in a way that you don’t see very often. A few months ago I took him to get a haircut and as I was waiting on him to finish, I caught a glimpse of the pile of hair on the floor. It was striking — and not because it was my kid’s hair, just because it just was. The light and the pile and the color made it so visually intriguing. I snapped a shot of it with my phone (I’m certain I looked like a total nut job) but was unable to capture what I saw and was disappointed. I can still very much see it in my head.

    I might be repeating myself but have you read the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron? It gave me a lot of insight into myself. I read it a long time ago, but I remember her talking about some of what you describe — such as things being visually moving like the Christmas lights.

    I thought all of these were great. Plus I just like to look at random things in people’s day-to-day.

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  2. Oh, the other thing I was going to mention — have you looked into putting any photos on iStock? A former classmate that I saw last summer at my high school reunion was telling me that she has sold a lot of random pictures on there. It’s not a lot of money — I think they sell for maybe $1 per shot or something, but it’s something. I think she said one of her pictures of a cup of coffee had sold something like 60 copies since she put it up.

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    1. I don’t know that I’m good enough to give it a go yet, but I do definitely think the stock photo route would worth giving a shot. I haven’t looked yet at specific sites. Do you have any idea at all why your classmate went with iStock over one of the others?? I’m just curious. It’s tricky to figure out if one’s better than another (and why) when you don’t have any sort of network/mentor/etc. (Maybe I should be putting some effort into networking!)

      And thanks for the feedback!! I really appreciate it. I like those glimpses into people’s day-to-day lives too. Sometimes I think those are even the most important things….those little, seemingly inconsequential things. Like textures, or the play of light through a particular window. When I think back to being a kid, it’s those very small things that stick in my mind the most. I’d love to get more adept at capturing them photographically!

      Also: I’ve seen that Elaine Aron book a million times, through my years of working at bookstores; I can picture the cover as I sit here! But for some reason I’ve never picked it up and even leafed through it. I have no idea why. It sounds like something I’d find interesting.

      I’ll definitely give it a look now. Thanks for the recommendation!

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      1. I actually have no idea if/why she chose iStock. I may not be remembering correctly. I remember that iStock was mentioned in the conversation. However, after you asked me this I last remembered her posting a pic on her Facebook page and saying something about how excited she was that she had sold it. I just looked back and noticed that this one was NOT iStock but Shutterstock and that someone bought the rights to it for $80. She was really excited about it and said this was the most any of her pics had sold for. It was posted after we talked at the reunion. I’ll message her and see if I can find out.

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    1. Thanks!

      And I know what you mean about the “tricks.” It seems like the deeper I go into the camera’s functions, the more I realize just how much there is to master. (It’s really fun though!)

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