Evidence from a gambling arrest via the National Library of Austraila / New South Wales Police Dept.

I’ve been thinking about this question largely because my camera stayed in my backpack on the seat of my truck for a month and I stared at it. I have picked it up taken it out of the backpack but left the lens cap on. My dog (Micco) bit the shutter release so I had to order a new one and superglue it to the no longer dog bit shutter release. But I have not used it, while letting myself become obsessed with fences, hay, dung beetles and pastures. Which begs the question…

Does photography really matter?

I remember Alec Soth asked this same question years ago when he carried his class to an exhibit by Joachim Schmid. Schmid’s work is made from found photographs, not ones he makes himself. Soth said its unfair an anonymous police photographer can be so good. I don’t know Soth, maybe one day I will meet him, I’m a big fan. I suspect Soth is speaking to us beyond what his actual words mean. Hes asking us to have that same lost feeling so we recoginize something inside us. Like the artists that remain childlike for maximum creativity, a photographer has to be immersed in moment. The rest is less important than what we feel and see. The power not being in skill or piece of equipment, but in listening (with your eye) to the moment.

Mugshot via the National Library of Australia / New South Wales Police Dept.

Maybe that’s over-deciphering “Sothology” but I’ve found myself where he was wondering why I even bother taking photographs anymore. The Picture Australia archive was the example Soth used on his blog that unfortunately no longer exists. Here is an archived version Access the links in the captions and search “ New South Wales police department”. Studying these images I reach a conclusion. An anonymous police photographer can produce as powerful an image as any professional photographer. Vernacular photography like this is always the most powerful of imagery in my mind and always will be. And I have to wonder in 1930 when these photogrpahs were taken did anyone realize just how good they were and who would have ever thought they would be considered art and exhibited in other countries?

Mugshot from arrest at a whorehouse via the National Library of Australia / New South Wales Police Dept.
Group mugshot via the National Library of Australia / New South Wales Police Dept.
Mugshot via the National Library of Australia / New South Wales Police Dept.

My work - documentary photography is plagued with self-consciousness and doubt. Living in rural Alabama where there is no art community and the very word considered evil among evangelicals doesn’t help. This feeling infects you to the degree that nothing you do has meaning or is good enough to your own eye.

But this I forgot, until Soth and a unnamed police photographer reminded me, is what makes you better.