Last week I was taking some product photographs, and I was struck by the relationship between that process and the process of making something. It’s not a new idea for me, but it’s been some time since I experienced it so vividly.
I take clear, attractive photographs of my own products, but I’m not a photographer either by training or by instinct. My framing is always lacking in finesse; I have no understanding of technique or the finer mechanics of cameras and lighting. All the same, when I’m photographing my own work, something happens in the act of looking at it through that remove. I see it with different eyes than the ones I use when I’m making it. It often happens that I don’t know what to name a design until I’m looking at it through the camera. I need that final step to make it gel into itself, in a way. The thing that happened last week is a less frequent occurrence, but an even more useful one. The piece I was photographing looked right when I made it. The colors were right, it balanced properly, the flow of it looked attractive to me. But when I looked at it through the camera, and took a couple of pictures, it was plainly wrong. The lines of it were wrong. It wasn’t hanging differently, it was in the same position it had been when I finished it and looked at it and judged it to be good. But the eye of the camera saw it cleanly, and there was something wrong with it. I took it apart and redid it, and the second time it came out right.
I don’t know if that’s something to do with my inexpertise with a camera – it might be that my maker’s soul doesn’t enter into the process with the camera, so what I see with it is more empirical than what I see when I’m making something. Or it might be that the remove of the camera itself – an object between me and what I made – is distance enough to let me finish making something. It doesn’t really matter, but I know that the camera is a check, an editor that I need. It’s my partner in the story of what I make.