The April installment of Open Letters Monthly went live one week ago, and editor John Cotter interviewed me about photography for the issue, in addition to including some photographs and a collage. Below is one of the images and part of the first round of Q-and-A. The entire interview and be found here.
OL: You have a tendency to frame one object in your pictures by way of a second object, to comment, in effect, on the moon by way of the barn, or on the sea by way of the Jersey Ferry. You do this by not only foregrounding the first object, but by representing it only partially. I’m put in mind of the East Asian dictum about showing the power of a mountain (or, in Hiroshige’s case, a wave) by depicting in only partially. I note this in your poetry as well, or at least in Homage to Homage to Homage to Creeley, where your long footnotes frame the poems above them. To what extent do you think about this process as you work?
JW: Well, I guess I don’t think too much about anything when I’m taking photographs. Not that whatever I shoot is random, but I don’t actively consider the subject matter in a literary manner. Instead, I look for abstract lines or interesting color patterns that, to my mind, would make an interesting composition. By interesting, I mean formally compelling. For example, the partial image of the boat foregrounded against the Atlantic Ocean that you mention. I framed the bow in such a way that an abstract line forms from the far left edge of the photograph and points to the layered background, guiding the viewer’s eye along a particular path. By opening up the camera’s aperture as wide as I could, I was able to keep everything out-of-focus accept for the New Jersey boating license tag; this formal characteristic, coupled with its distinctive color and its proportion relative to other elements, attracts the viewer’s attention first. Then, as I mentioned, the eye follows an abstract line toward the bow, then toward the layered background. I love that background because there are at least seven different layers of coloration. And since those layers are out-of-focus, the viewer processes them, primarily, as a sedimented color scale, not as a land/oceanscape that represents (not that it isn’t representational; that just isn’t the primary concern).