Photographs for sinners

July 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve been reading a book called Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, by Peter Turchi. There’s a chapter where he talks about early maps in which the cartographers filled in unexplored territories with images of sea monsters or devils or various mythical beings. Turchi says, “Far from being viewed as worthless, such maps were prized; for a very long time, decorative or fanciful maps were at least as numerous as what we might call ‘practical maps.'”  He goes on to quote historian Alfred W. Crosby, who said that fanciful maps were “more like an expressionist portrait than an identification photo. [They were] for sinners, not navigators.” In other words, maps for people for whom the imagination was important, not for people who needed to carry a load of olive oil to Venice. All of which made me think about the difference between photographs that are made for the purpose of recording data of some sort—pictures of oil spills or guerilla attacks or Uncle Buster’s birthday party—and pictures like the ones I make that are more landmarks of the imagination than landmarks of fact. You are not required to be a sinner in order to enjoy them, but I do hope they stir your imagination.

The sandbar between Great Chebeague and Little Chebeague Islands, Maine, taken with an Olympus E-PL1 and a Lensbaby Composer


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