Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shawn Records and the Capture of Now

I've been trying to think about how I might explain the ways that Spike Jonze's movie Where the Wild Things Are has affected me, not only on a personal level but on the level where I create and appreciate art. I didn't expect the amazing movie that I saw on the screen, and that movie, along with Spike's two previous films (which I finally caught up with after seeing WTWTA), shook up my thinking about art, writing, painting, sculpture, music, films, photography, and so on. It's not easy coming up with that kind of analysis directly derived from the effect of the film itself, and one runs the risk of explaining too much and taking the magic away from the movie. So, let's look at the periphery instead -- in what ways did WTWTA change, affect, or influence the way I look at artistic creations?

One of the things that really stood out was discovering the work of Shawn Records. For an obvious reason connected to WTWTA, I looked up Shawn's work at his website and studied the pictures to see what sort of art he created.

And I found myself liking Shawn's work.

This is after I saw WTWTA a couple of times, of course. To understand, you have to realize that for me, photography used to be all about the human figure, interesting animals, big dramatic moments, and great, stirring landscapes. Shawn's pictures are not like that; they focus primarily on the ordinary, on things we see around us; on cloudy days and wet streets and power lines. Look at this picture.

I love those trees, but if I had taken a picture of this scene, I would have tried desperately to remove the power lines from the picture, either in the original picture or in later cropping. I would have despaired otherwise -- why, there are power lines ruining my tree picture! And yet, by drawing the background of the everyday into the picture of the tree, Shawn has done...what? I'm not sure, but I only know, as I looked at the pictures on his site, that I liked them.

I would not have paid much attention to them a year before.

Look at this picture.

It's something you might see while walking along on a cloudy day. "Look at the pretty flowers," I might say before I went closer to take a picture of the red flowers on the table, their blood-red color filling the frame. Instead, Shawn has stepped and shown us the grey day and the two shots of color like eyes, like wounds, like another time breaking through the grey.

I love grey days, but I would never have thought to compose a picture like this. A year ago it would have been all about the flowers. Who needs the rest of that boring grey stuff? And yet, the misty skies, the roads winding away in the distance, the ordinary people or the lack of them; secure in loneliness; haunted by the everyday.

How did Shawn influence the way I see photographs, even the way I take my own photographs? Look at two pictures I took recently, back in December of 2009.

This one was taken on the Plaza, a shopping area in Kansas City. It is not a picture I would have even thought to take a year ago,. and yet I love this picture; they grey feel of the day and the empty tables and chairs. Now look at this:

I've always loved the ways snow lines up in patterns on wooden pallets; but of course when you have pallets, you also have trash bins and loading docks. I would have never taken a picture like this a year ago, except now I see how the entire scene works together. And instead of always focusing on the most interesting thing I can find, I see a way to step back, to take in the context, to even make the context the subject of the picture.

Look through Shawn's pictures at his website. Sometimes you find interesting juxtapositions; sometimes you see stories, with Shawn as the silent recorder of life --

-- sometimes you find whimsy --

-- sometimes you find beauty evocative of personal memories --

-- or surprising beauty out of everyday objects.

I didn't expect to like this. I didn't expect to find beauty in pictures like this. And a year ago I wouldn't have found such beauty here. Something crashed through my mind, made me see. A lot of it came from WTWTA.

Honestly, it has more to do with than just Spike's movie -- some other realizations about myself and life contributed to this. It all happened about the same time, though, and I wonder if the end result would have been the same had the events and realizations occurred in a more spaced-out timeline. Either way, WTWTA was jarring, a look into human reality (the pain of childhood) in a way for which I was not at all prepared. There are other ways WTWTA affected me; I'll see if I can't get those emotions down into words and try to relate them as well.


(Except for the two identified as mine, all pictures are by Shawn Records.)


  1. I love these photos. Especially the foggy parking lot. Well done. Do more.

  2. That's one of Shawn's pictures -- it reminds me a time when I drove through the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee on a foggy morning. I passed rest stops that looked like this. There's something to do with the quality of light which Shawn captured here that reminds of that trip. Be sure to check out more of Shawn's pictures at his website, Wendy -- there's quite a number of them that I think you'll like.