The Work of a Narrative Photographer
On February 6, Bill Gubbins’s first Nashville solo photography exhibit will open at Fido. We selected some of his images and asked him for thoughts on photography and his work.
Text and Photographs by Bill Gubbins
While never a “photographer” in any conventional sense, I have furiously shot aspirational fine-art photos during sporadic periods lasting anywhere from six months to two years, and then just as furiously put the camera back to bed for as long as fifteen years. The most recent photo flurry began last August and has yielded the majority of the work shown here.
My ground zero has always been this: No matter what the subject matter, or how taken or viewed, every photograph is its own miracle; a fragment of the world, captured in a sliver of time. And though we obviously take photos for granted, the notion that one might be able to stop time and then freeze a small portion of it for future examination seemed not just impossible but actually unthinkable before photography’s invention almost 200 years ago. Looking at photographs has always been a critically important leisure-time activity for me. I get my kicks through my eyes.
The photos of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander are clear inspirations and, in their honor, I’d like to offer three points of contextualization as you look at the following work. First, these photos aren’t of something, they’re about something. Second, each photo has a narrative flow that can be “read” like a prose piece or “watched” like a play. And third, I believe any photograph tells you far more about the photographer behind the camera than it does the subject in front of it. If someone’s “soul” is captured in a photo, it’s the photographer’s, not the subject’s.
Now add that all together and you get something akin to narrative photography.
Of course, this is quite old-school in painting, where “narrative painting” has existed forever. There was even a specialized form of it back in the 1400s called “istoria” (also “historia”) whose guiding principles were paintings “crammed” with “skillfully modulated details” and “high-minded religious, mythological, and historical messages.” And, since none other than Caravaggio was a practicing istoriaist, we’re all in pretty good company.
So these photos had better be pretty good, because if they aren’t . . . the Caravaggio comparison will be mighty embarrassing.
Wolf Up! is on view at Fido February 6 through April 6. For more information, visit www.bongojava.com/fido-cafe/.