Fractures by Anil Rao
Certain foods have no nutritional value whatsoever, but we love them nonetheless simply for the way they taste. (My mother-in-law's carrot cake frosting comes to mind.) I probably shouldn't press the analogy too hard, but certain abstract photography strikes me the same way. This entire portfolio by Anil Rao may not be grounded in the deepest of philosophical springs, but it is such a delight to the eye!
Rao happened upon an interesting rock wall unceremoniously poised above the highway. What started as a glance while driving by evolved into a photographic project when he realized this simple rock wall had such a plethora of amazing earth-tone colors that provided a fascinating punctuation to the textures and cracks in the rocks. In this short section of rock outcrop, he was able to create 15 unique compositions each with its own subtle variations in the color palette, each with its own substantial variations in abstract composition.
What fascinates me so much about this project is this intersection between productivity and a very small physical space. What brings extra poignancy to this project is that this rock outcrop is on State Road 140 near the Merced River on the drive into Yosemite. While most photographers would focus their energy on the grand landscape of that wonderful park, Rao was able to create this body of work from one small area along the side of the road that most people probably speed by without even noticing. To me, this is the essence of creative seeing.
I must confess that as a workshop instructor my patience often fails me when photographers whine that they can't find anything to photograph. This says nothing about the fabulous world in which we live, but confesses a great deal about the lack of imagination in the photographer. One of the reasons I particularly enjoy publishing work like this from Anil Rao is that it demonstrates so clearly the fallacy that one needs some spectacular subject in order to make interesting photographs. Just think how many places there must be in the world where a small portfolio can be produced in 100 feet of earthscape interpreted by a creative vision!
It's also worth noting that Rao's project consisted of 15 prints. To produce 80 of these in a book would likely have been overkill. To produce only one of them as a "greatest hit" would likely have left too much potential unrealized. Fifteen prints makes a nice project of this work, with enough variation to be interesting and substantial, but not so much that it becomes repetitive or boring. There is a sweet spot where the amount of work intersects with just the right amount of a viewer's attention span. I've become particularly enamored with small projects (5 to 20 images) that are easily digestible in a single sitting. Viewer fatigue is a real concern in larger projects, but in these projects of smaller scale, we can satisfy an audience and leave them satiated, and perhaps even looking forward to our next creative expression.
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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