About Photographs  
Amos Satterlee
April 16, 2001

I took up digital photography because I got tired of pouring poisons down the sink. I had a good idea of what I was giving up, particularly in the lack of resolution of digital images compared to films and papers, and there are times when I yearn for the clarity of detail of chemical stocks. Still, I prefer the switch. Pre-eminent is the ability to work with color, something I wasn't set up to do in the darkroom.

At first, digital seemed so much faster. As time wore on, though, I found I was spending as much time messing with images on the computer as I had in the darkroom. The computer allows for a more choices in a given time, but as is so often the case, a plethora of choices rarely provides better choices. In many cases, I ended up going down pointless avenues which I would have ruled out otherwise.

I went through the phase of layering, collaging, and montaging images, again just because I could. Little came out of the experiments other than the wasted effort making images that had little else than a high gee-whiz quotient. I now find myself using the computer in the way I used to use the darkroom to crop, clean, and manipulate a single image. Occasionally I will distort and combine, but always with the goal of producing an apparently seamless image.

I print out most of my images. I use an inkjet printer on glossy paper. The prints are not at all like what came out of the darkroom. Because they don't have the same level of resolution, they have a lack of distinction. I try to work with this and use it to advantage. There is a certain blurriness and aggregation of color that favors large forms and relationships over sharp detail and minute inflections. It is a different technique, and has a different touch and feel that can be as compelling as the other. It's a matter of pushing a technology for what it's worth, rather than trying to imitate something else.

My picture taking is a process of serendipity. I'm not very good at staging settings. I end up intellectualizing the image and loosing freshness. When I take a picture, I usually have a concept of what I want to see, and if I can't get it in two or three takes, I move on. I bring an emotional desire to the image. I rarely have a strong visualization of what I want. Most of my images are taken with automatic settings with a little bit of adjustment for exposure or white balance. I enjoy the surprises I get from the circuitry. When it works, the surprises enhance the breadth of what I wanted.


I am guided by apparently contradictory ideas. I believe that there is a picture to be had, no matter where or when I am, if I am able to release myself into the scene. I also believe that there are certain things that can't be photographed. Pictures can be taken, but they don't make any sense.

Real images ought to make sense.

I don't pretend to be deeply versed in theories of aesthetics. I have spent a life in and around art. I've studied art history, I've read some of the basic treatises, particularly of modern aesthetics, and I have had my fair share of art arguments. In the end, I have an undoctrinaire set of thoughts and beliefs.

It's all got to be there for an image to make sense meaning, content, communication, the artist saying it's art, the critic saying it's art, narrative, representation, abstraction, expression, observation, feeling, thought, objectness, rational and irrational all. The closest I can get to a theory of my images is this: the good ones are attractors that show the chaos in the seemingly random. At the best, they are emergent moments.

I like to think that my images are an observation of reality, and of what reality ought to be. Because they are photographs, they are representational. When I'm done with them, they have been tweaked and moved so that the real is no longer there. What is there is what should have been, and what should be. They are moments in a narrative that runs deep around us all.

And I try to capture what is not there. It is ultimately an effort in frustration. There is so much around us that we can't perceive, yet I try to capture it. We are limited by the slim slice of electromagnetic spectrum that is our perceptions. My images, being visual things, focus on an even slimmer slice of that spectrum. Still, I persist, attempting to produce something that jars a pattern of reason and reaction and gives insight into what else there is.

 © 2001
 by Amos Satterlee