W. o’ W.: Bob Thall, Part Two

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“Any attempt to describe a place is a complicated balancing act for a photographer. First are concerns of fairness, objectivity, and documentary completeness. If one goes too far in the direction of documentation, however, the project becomes an assemblage of new visual facts, the photographs mere illustrations in a catalog of items. Doing this type of work, one tries to create photographs that have integrity, beauty, and resonance as new objects, not just as records. Too much concern with form, though, risk losing the photograph’s connection with the real world. Furthermore, one wants to communicate personal insights. This type of photography, like all art, is most engaging as a statement of opinion, bias, and belief. On the other hand the photographer must be concerned that too much of his or her opinion does not cause the viewer to suspect that the photographs are unreliable, that the photographer has stacked the deck.

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“These contradictory concerns, even the very terms “art” and “documentary,” can drive a photographer to distraction. Over many years, I’ve learned to fight this confusion and get down to productive work by thinking of my job in a simple, reductive way. I select a place and spend as much time as possible there, even years, walking and driving and looking for photographs. Initially it’s a haphazard way to come to know an area, but slowly the place reveals itself and I begin to understand what I find most interesting and important. I then try to make pictures, straightforward and factual–looking photographs that distill and exaggerate those aspects.”

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