S. Heiner fine art photography
"The Pretty is Dead. Long Live the Pretty". 2016
Inkjet print, approx 7"x10".
For the past few years from mid-July through the end of August, Iíve been driving almost every day to a not-so-nearby waterlily pond, where for hours, camera at the ready, I walk back and forth along the pondís edge. Itís a popular place with both tourists and locals who roll in and out like beach waves, all the while extolling the beauty of the waterlilies. Frankly, I donít see it, the beauty, though every now and then Iíll see a flower thatís really nice. Last year I saw a really, really nice one but, alas, the photo I took of it didnít look like much. For the most part, Iíve been able to tune out all the gushing over the waterlilies and attend exclusively to the business at hand; however, I heard something a few weeks ago that struck me as note-worthy. Two young girls, maybe eight or nine, came running up to the pond, each sounding, at least ostensibly, delirious with joy at her first sight of the flowers. ďTheyíre absolutely glorious!Ē one cried. ďTheyíre absolutely magnificent!Ē exclaimed the other. ďLook at how absolutely beautiful they are!Ē the first continued, ďTheyíre magnificent!Ē ďOh, oh, look at this one! Look! Itís soooo beautiful. Come over here. Look.Ē
What got my attention about this exchange was both the questionable authenticity of their exuberance and their use of the terms absolutely glorious and absolutely magnificent. Itís easy to imagine the children picking up these terms and the accompanying excitement from their parents either in the car on the way over that day or on previous garden outings. Isnít this the way it works? We grow up learning to say this and that is beautiful or glorious because weíre immersed in a community in which this kind of talk is ubiquitous. Surely, the childrensí excitement about the waterlilies sounded stilted because they hadnít yet gotten the hang of waterlily talk.
Like the path to the waterlily garden, most of the many paths on the way to finding what the children called the Ďbeautifulí or, to put it in a way to keep the philosophers at bay, the pretty, are well-worn. They are so well-worn that we often follow them with the same kind of unthinking familiarity with which we follow the path from the porch steps to the front door. Iíve been following these paths all of my photographic life, paths which sometimes have led to surprising and productive places, but I donít have one keeper out of the thousands of shots Iíve taken of the pretty for simply the prettyís sake.
But hereís the thing: when Iím out shooting, whatever Iím shooting, itís that same pretty which calls the shots, at least most of them, from guiding where I point the camera and stand to how I set the aperture. Itís the pretty which guides the post-processing, framing, and hanging exhibits. Iím all about the pretty unless the pretty is what taking the photograph is all about.