Saturday, January 5, 2008

Depicting a "Concept"

Nature photographers usually concern themselves with capturing what's in front of them, be that an ocean panorama, a trumpeting swan, or a bee gathering nectar from a tiny flower. The image is its own message--though one can use the picture to illustrate a particular idea, like beauty or conversation or industriousness, the application comes after the photo is made. And there will be as many "interpretations" of an image as there are viewers.

But how does one set about photographing a concept? One can take a picture of people who are loving one another, but can one take a photograph of love itself?

Once in the past I had an assignment to create an image of prayer. Not people praying, not actual prayers, but prayer itself--the actual communication of ideas with the Divine.

Realizing the impossibility of that specific task, the art director and I discussed images that might be able to symbolize prayer. What would people recognize and associate with the act of praying? We decided that we'd work from this passage from Psalm 141:

Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising;
my raised hands are my evening prayers.
(The Message traslation)

So we gathered some incense, looked for a suitable incense pot, set up the lights, and started "playing with fire" and smoke.

We made a number of images with which we were happy--they had the right atmosphere to suggest a sacred activity.
Which one would you choose? Or would you do something completely different?