Is this a picture of a garbage can? I suppose it is, if you need it to be a picture of something. Or maybe it’s a picture of phone lines? An Alley? To me, it doesn’t really matter. To may people, photography is about subject. See a nice tree? Center it and snap. Want a photo of your friend? Put their face in the middle, tell them to smile, and snap. Visiting Machu Picchu? Stand in front of it, make a peace sign or strike a yoga pose, and have your friend take the pic. (make an image search for “me at Machu Picchu” and you’ll find dozens of these)
There is nothing wrong with this. Often the subject is enough to carry an image. Proving you were at some famous place with a selfie is a time honored tradition from the earliest days of photography.
For me, whether I am photographing Machu Picchu or a garbage can in a Tucson alley, it is all about the edges. I am working within a rectangular frame. The way the lines of the photo exit that frame and interact with it are what make it more than just any photograph.
Remember when you were a little kid, and you would make drawings that were just little vignettes in the middle of the page? You didn’t care about the edges, just the thing you were drawing. Then one day, someone, maybe a teacher, told you to fill the whole page. Draw the sky in, draw the ground, the horizon. Remember how you suddenly felt like a “real” artist? Maybe you don’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing with photography. As long as you are only focused on the subject of your image, it will never pass from documentation to art. When Ansel Adams photographed the national parks, he didn’t just find a place where he could see Half Dome at Yosemite, center it, and click. He considered time of day, lighting, and yes, the edges of his photograph. Not just the edges of the frame, either. Any place where two things meet. In my image above, I moved slightly to the right so the prickly pear behind the garbage can wouldn’t quite touch it. I paid attention to how the palm tree interacted with the garbage can too, as it had the possibility of becoming a confusing element. I moved around until all the elements felt right. Maybe you think I was successful, maybe not. It’s certainly not the best image I’ve ever captured, but I like it. I like the way the can relates to the edges of the photo left and below. I like the way the phone and power lines intersect with the frame. I like the little detail of the prickly pear.
Often I try to find a metaphor to use in my posts, some connection between what I am talking about or photographing, and a bit of personal experience or philosophy. I’m having a tough time doing that today. I’ve been having difficulties with my rewrite of my novel as well, and I haven’t taken my camera out to play in a long time. The center of my life is good. It’s the edges that feel off. The connections between things aren’t working. I’ve had some unhappiness recently, and to get past it, I focused on the center, the basics of my life. I need to step back, look at the details, maybe shift my focus a bit off center and find that imbalanced balance of elements that feels right.