Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Images: Conservatism or Simplification?

As I occasionally do, this week I selected a few recently-made images to share. As I looked through picture files, I was surprised by the formality of the compositions. The images follow traditional rules: lines are often straight and direct the eye, forms geometric, spaces neatly delineated.

Oaxaca, Oaxaca: The red striped shirt and white hat popped out against a rectangle of shadow. This man was sitting alongside one of the buttresses of the La Catedral de Oaxaca. Directly above him was a large swath of pale green paint that had been used to cover political graffiti, which has become ubiquitous in the city over the past few years. I had one shot. The guy jumped up and walked away as soon as I had made this exposure.

It is sometimes the case as people get older that we become more conservative. We like structure, are less interested in novelty, and as the energies of our minds, bodies and health wane we take comfort in the routine and the predictable.

Skylight in old house, Juchitán, Oaxaca: I was attracted by the quality of light and the geometric shapes, especially the tiny triangle of light framed between handrail and balusters. I stayed two days in this house, which belongs to a friend of mine, but I didn't really see this stairway until the morning I left, when I noticed the shapes made by sunlight shining from a side window.

Looking at these images I began to think that in my photography perhaps I have become more rigid or conservative. These do not look much like the photos I took in my younger days, which many times were more immediate, off-balance and less composed.

Valladolid, Yucatán: I visited the Palacio Municipal, city hall, on the main square, and upon entering a gallery on the second floor was struck by the view of the church outside. The church has been beautifully lighted. I had taken some pictures of it outdoors, but when I found the frame of this balcony window I made my best image.

In most areas I am definitely not more conservative. Given the way things are in the world today, I cannot accept that the old social, political and technological approaches that have gotten us into a lot of these messes are the best way to creatively deal with the complex situations we find ourselves in.

However, as I get older I do find myself appreciating routine more and novelty less. Perhaps creating more structure in my photography is a way for me to feel secure by controlling what I share with others about my environment.

Hacienda San Antonio Xpakay: I fell in love with the landscape of this hacienda, owned by my friend Jonathan, when I first saw it a few years ago. The ancient and gigantic Pich, or Elephant Ear Tree, is a landmark, and the first visual sign, approaching on the long and winding access road, that the old casona is near. Visiting last weekend I was struck by this view of the Pich, seen through the hacienda gates, other trees and red bougainvillea. If I were a landscape painter, I would spend a lot of time on the hacienda with my sketchbook, canvas, brushes and paints.

After spending time working on this post, I have come to the conclusion that more than anything else, I am simplifying, eliminating the superfluous, making my life more straightforward. Is this conservative? I guess so, in a manner of speaking.

Another sign of the change is that I am not nearly as interested in travel as I once was. Often I am happy to stay at home and enjoy reading, creative projects, the garden, and getting together with friends and neighbors, often without leaving a few-blocks radius of the house for quite some time. I leave home less often, but when I do go I enjoy it more.

I and another friend stayed Friday and Saturday nights at the hacienda, a bit over an hour's drive from Mérida. The old house is large, and although comfortable, mostly unrestored and without electricity. Wandering in a side room I discovered this badminton raquet and a small religious print, hung casually on nails, not for effect but to keep them off of the unfinished floor. I like the haphazard arrangement against the nail holes and peeling colors of the wall.

One thing I enjoy about San Antonio Xpakay is that I have visited many times and feel right at home there. A couple of times (including the recent visit) Jonathan has not been at home when I arrive. He leaves the door open and food on the table. It is an uncomplicated place. It is easy to feel at ease there and enjoy the present moment.

It's possible I'm getting more conservative as I age, but what I am doing primarily is simplifying. I hope that this is a result of having learned a few things about priorities. I like to think that I am making wiser choices that enable me to enjoy more while needing, expending and consuming less.


  1. I think that many of us re-prioritize things in our lives as we get older...simplifying by eliminating things we don't need, be it stressors or stuff or people...not caring what others think and doing things we wouldn't have done in our younger years because of "omg! what will the neighbours think?"...doing the things that bring us joy because we've learned that life is far too short to life it without joy.

    I wouldn't call it conservative, though. I'd call it "figuring out what's actually important".

  2. Barb: Maybe I said it in too many words, but that's just about it.

  3. I agree with Barb. Just older and wiser.

  4. Marc,

    I like the way your image making causes self-reflection, both of which you share.



  5. Hi Marc,

    As much as I value novelty for the growth it produces, it takes longer and longer to recover from it. I search out peace and comfort more and more. I recognize the simplification you are speaking of.

    To me, however, this is not being conservative which like a negative label, just adapting to a new stage of life.

    Great pictures, and interesting self-inquiry.


  6. Paul: Well, older at any rate. If we pay attention we always learn something from our errors, and hopefully grow from that.

    ~eric: It's actually the first time I have used photos to reflect this way. I started out selecting these very pictures but with the idea of writing a really different post. It evolved (and was edited many times) to become what it did. Interesting process, at least.

    June: Thank you for your comments. I have found that the simplification has become easier and the steps clearer since I moved to Mérida. I wonder if you have had the same experience since settling in Banamichi.

  7. Hi Marc:
    Yes, it is easier in Banamichi. Somehow the pace of life and the cultural emphasis on family supports a simpler, yet more fulfilling lifestyle. What I find I most enjoy releasing in Mexico is the sense of urgency and stress about almost everything in the States. Also, the non-stop news reports, advertisements for stuff I don't need, and being too busy to spend time with friends.
    The simple life is easy and good in Banamichi!
    Thanks for asking....

  8. I have always heard that people grow more conservative as they get older (and have tried to guard against this, maybe not always successfully). But I never thought of it in relation to our aesthetic sense. A challenging idea.


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