The Hidden Empire by Charles A. Hedgcock
One of my pet peeves in life is people who complain they are bored. I simply cannot relate to living in this marvelous, mysterious, magnificent world and being bored. The photographic corollary is the photographer who complains that they don't have anything to photograph. Whenever I hear this, I want to pull out LensWork #28 and show them this portfolio by Charles Hedgcock. If he can make such an interesting body of work by photographing bugs, I think no one has any excuse to claim there is nothing to photograph.
One of the most intriguing aspects of monochromatic photography (more commonly known as "black and white photography") is a certain aesthetic regarding tonalities and their relationships to one another. Part of the reason I think this portfolio by Hedgcock succeeds as artwork instead of mere entomology is his marvelous renditions of monochromatic tones. The sheen on this beetle's back is so reminiscent of those marvelous still lifes by Edward Weston of his famous peppers and shells. In fact, I think I recall that somewhere I referred to Hedgcock is the "Edward Weston of bugs."
This is all about light and surfaces. Notice that in that last sentence there is nothing that defines or limits the choice of subject. These tones can be created in a pristine mountain landscape like the aerial images from Bradford Washburn (LensWork #50); lots of my images from the Made of Steel series show these tones in the sheen of metallic tools; Carl Chiarenza explored these tones in his abstracts in LensWork #79; Bill Young's portfolio of sand dunes in LensWork #90 was all about these tonal relationships — I could go on, but you get the point. The subject changes, but the chord of these visual tones is something that perpetually delights.
I use the word chord specifically because of its musical connotation. Certain chord progressions are themes in music that recur in choral music, jazz, rock, country, and probably every other style of music I could think of. These chord progressions exist because they connect so deeply with our physical being as well as because they are so deeply ingrained in our cultural heritage. The same can be said of certain visual elements in our photographic vocabulary. Hedgcock recognized this and his entire portfolio resonates with these same tones. I suppose just as musicians can recognize certain chord progressions regardless of the music, we photographers can recognize certain tonal scales regardless of the subject. It's part of what elevates a photograph of a bug to something that's worth looking at for the sheer joy of its marvelous photographic tonalities.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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