Reflections on Water Reflections

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days photographing details around the public docks in New Bedford MA.  There’s a commercial fishing fleet there and the boats are brightly painted. For those so inclined, this provides unusually good conditions for observing the mercurial nature of reflecting water.

Abstract photography can mean a lot of different things. These days there’s more things to cook up with photographs than there are with potatoes. Abstractions can be entirely manufactured in Photoshop–which is fine. But let’s face it–you can end up taking the photo out of the graph in the process.

Being a traditionalist, I’m biased toward abstract images that you have to go out and find.  Maybe it’s the hunter-gatherer in me, or maybe it’s because it’s a bit like dumpster diving. In truth, it’s probably more related to the dismay I feel after draining away the day in front of a computer.

The New Bedford Docks were crawling with abstractions. They were ubiquitous: water…boats, and peeling paint.  The job was simple. I had to capture them with my camera, while trying to ignore the inquisitive looks of the fishermen.

The first photographer to achieve any degree of notoriety for abstractions was Aaron Siskind. A half century ago, he found lots of meaning in scrufty paint, parts of signs and other random stuff. If you enjoy black and white photography without a frame of reference, Google him and you might be impressed.

There’s a lot of debates in camera clubs these days about what constitutes an “abstraction”. Purists argue that the viewer should remain completely clueless as to what they’re looking at. I’m no hardliner when it comes to this. If you figure out that it’s a picture of reflecting water, then so be it. One of my photographer friends thinks I should be calling some of my pictures “semi-abstractions”. I’m fine with that too, as long as it doesn’t mean it’s something like decaf coffee.

When it comes to abstractions, water is in a class of its own.

The photograph above was recruited from the reflections formed by a pair of boats. I’m not a musician but I like improvisation. As far as I can tell, this is about as close as it comes to improvising with a camera.  You watch the water carefully and shoot on impulse. When it feels right, that’s the time. You’re playing visual jazz, as it were.  Photographing reflections requires getting into the flow of changing events. That’s another thing I like about it. It seems like good practice for life in general.

The image above is entitled Reverie, and I’ve also made a sister image which I entitled Daydream:

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