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TWO SCENES, THREE PHOTOGRAPHERS, AND FOUR PHOTOGRAPHS?

“One might imagine a kind of chain reaction in which each element is affected by the nature of the others,” says Jasper Johns in The More Things Change: An Interview with Jasper Johns by Melissa Harris for Aperture. Johns wasn’t speaking directly about photography and not in the regard I took. Rather he was speaking about a painting of his inspired by a photograph. However this is what I might give the most consideration with regards to photography and the photographic process. Not my own personal photographic process, but the process of “chain reactions” of one photographer informing another, photographs of a barber shop or park bench or some other arbitrary scene taken as part of an on-going conversation between photographers who have never perhaps even met but find themselves to be links in the same chain, participants in one dialogue.

In this post I’ve included two sets of photographs for a total of four photographs. In each set I have included a photograph of my own along with a photograph taken by someone else. One of the photographs I have never shared publicly and honestly, I do not find it to be all that worthwhile but it serves well for the purposes of this post. I took it in 2012, before I had moved back to Mississippi from California and was home visiting family. It is of a business building and the business is named Surplus City USA. It is located in Clinton, MS. I took the photograph in the winter months from the side of the building, including a potholed parking lot and dilapidated receiving dock. It is the third picture to the right of this column.

Recently photographer Whitten Sabbatini (whom I interviewed for Strant VOL 003, ISS 004 but have never actually met in person) posted on his Tumblr feed a picture of the same building. His is the last picture included in this post. He took his from if not the front of the building, a cleaner more maintained vantage of the building than mine. In fact, you can see at the right edge of his frame where the left center of my frame begins. Judging by the type of cloud coverage and the foliage on the trees, Sabbatini took his during summer or spring months. His is also a bit more elusive as it does not include any indication as mine does that Surplus City USA is a hunting and fishing outfitter. Regardless, it is one of many buildings that either of us could have taken or not taken a photograph of in this mutual town of ours. It is a town that not until recently, after the interview, that I discovered Whitten and I had both lived in possibly at the same time. We even have mutual non-photographer acquaintances (one of which when reading the interview made the connection).

The second set of photographs is of a church located in Guadalupe, CA. One is mine (which I have shared publicly) and the other is by Elicia Epstein with whom I have never had any sort of meeting or exchange. I came across her’s on The American Guide. An interesting aside: I came across both Sabbatini’s photograph and Epstein’s on the same day. My version of Living Water Church is a close crop of a window decorated with a painting of Jesus with a planted tree and a window unit air conditioner. It is the first picture included in this post. Although Epstein’s version includes the same elements (the tree has been moved or was moved after the fact depending on who took the photo first) it is a more inclusive framing of the building. The yellow paint stands out as does the multiple doors, a number of adorning crosses, and the seemingly infinite reach of a very long building. Our connection outside of having taken a photograph of the same church building is not existent.

After seeing Sabbatini’s version of the Surplus City USA photograph I remembered having taken mine and revisited it. I still regard it as an outtake but nonetheless, I at least for a moment gave it new consideration. And when seeing the photograph of Living Water Church by Epstein I considered how many people other than myself and Epstein have photographed that church and how many of those photographers have been seen taking a picture of that church by bystanders and if those bystanders walked away thinking differently about that church building. Time seems irrelevant in this matter. I do not know when Sabbatini took his photograph nor do I know when Epstein took hers. I do not know which photographer preceded who and it does not matter. Somehow we’ve all been informed by the same scenes and have all been “affected by the nature of the others.”

And to further my point, it is appropriate and worth noting that this idea of photography of one photographer informing another is not mine. I’ve all but ripped it off from Geoff Dyer in his book, The Ongoing Moment. He writes, “just as a city or town is sometimes ‘twinned’ with another thousands of miles away, in another country, so photographs separated by many years, taken by different photographers with different intentions in mind, can become so closely associated that the meaning of one or both is irrevocably changed.”

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