The Cruise Series by Roger Freeman
We've probably all heard — to death — the cliché that a good photographer can make an interesting photograph almost anywhere. There's also that old canard about photographing close to home. The problem with this kind of assertion is that it appears to be true — a troublesome fact that completely disempowers all our excuses for the lack of creative motivation. There are simply far too many examples of photographers doing interesting work in the most unlikely places — for example, this project by Roger Freeman titled The Cruise Series — for the theory to be discarded.
A more serious exploration of this idea that photographic potential exists everywhere is demonstrably provable in this simple fact: there is light and shadow in even the most mundane subjects. Because photographs are created entirely with light and shadow, wherever they are found there is the potential for a photograph. But is there the potential for an interesting photograph? Doesn't this question seem to reduce itself to definitions: what makes an interesting photograph (or an interesting series of photographs)? Some would argue that an interesting photograph is always defined by an interesting subject. If so, then the quality of light and shadow would seem to be immaterial. But as photographers, we all know that the quality of light and shadow in the photograph can either make or break the composition. Why else do we wait for the Golden hour, or spend so much time in post-processing to produce exactly the right tones in exactly the right places? Clearly, light/shadow is a key component which then begs the question about the importance of the subject.
So, if we were to rank their relative contributions to the successful photograph, which is more important — great tonalities or great subject? I won't pretend to have the answer because this is a debate that goes round and round in photographic circles — and has done so since the very early days of the medium. I would simply propose that wherever we have light and shadow there is every reason to pick up our camera and go to work, even if the subject before us might seem mundane. Roger Freeman did exactly that during a cruise voyage, where his only possible subjects were the ship, the sky, the water, and his fellow passengers. Interestingly enough, his portfolio simplifies these choices by eliminating from his photographs any vision of the water or other people on the ship. Instead, he presents us with ship and sky, structure and light, physical lines of wood and steel juxtaposed to ephemeral lines of light and shadow. The result is a very interesting mix of reality and abstract in which the balance very definitely leans in the direction of reality.
An element of this project that particularly intrigues me is this choice he's made to distill the potential of the variety of projects he could've engaged in to this particular point of view. How strange it is that there are no people in his cruise ship photographs. One would think that people would dominate the scene, but instead he's carefully photographed (or edited) his project to these light and shadow compositions. Doing so has intensified a particular point of view that would likely have been lost if he had mixed in images with people in the normal sorts of activities that take place on board. (Patience must have been his greatest ally.) His process is a perfect description of project-oriented photography in general: to select and distill from the reality of life a particular point of view that is more effectively represented through selection and elimination, the separation of visual wheat and chaff. I could go so far and say that that is the essence of the photographic process without which we are left with an experience that is too similar to real life to be effective art. I have no doubt that his experience of being on the ship is entirely different than the one we experience when viewing his photographs, but isn't that a testament to the power of his seeing?
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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