On Gathering Images / by Adam Mathieu

In photography it is thought that there are hunters and gatherers. Almost every photographer I know would be displeased to be tossed into a box, but that doesn’t mean I can’t toss myself into a box on occasion.

Self-Centered #1 , 2013

Self-Centered #1, 2013

Looking back at my more successful images, I see that I do a little of each technique. At times I was the hunter who went to a field and set about my props to capture the perfect image such as in my Self-Centered series. That method worked fine and was certainly necessary to get exactly what was in my head.

However, lately I notice more of a gatherer approach in the images I am happy with. I have allowed myself to wander in new environments and actually play with the scenes. By “play,” I mean loosening up and documenting the open world. This technique is how most of my You Don’t Belong Here images came about. I walk around, camera in hand, and look for the right quiet moment – a real life punctum that exist only for me until I capture it.

Man Hole , 2018

Man Hole, 2018

In recent months I’ve done much more exploring, typically with Katelyn as my travel companion. We’ve been wanting to push ourselves to shoot more and one way to encourage that is to drive and walk around in new environments. Of course, coming from a concept-based art education, it can be difficult at times to shoot single images and not consider them in a grander scheme. There isn’t much room for concept or theory when presenting a fairly banal hole in the ground.

At times I find it tricky to let my guard down and simply “play” with the camera. I’m too busy overthinking and wanting every image to have a “wow” factor. I have to admit to myself that not every image will be stellar. In fact, most images in a session will be lackluster. I’m sure when Robert Frank was walking around making photos for The Americans he created a library of reject images that aren’t as compelling as the final product. Lee Friedlander probably had a stack of images of photographs that he enjoyed but realized didn’t cut it. Still, they persisted and kept document the world around themselves.

As a photographer, I think your job is to document at free will. You have the power to stop time – so why wouldn’t you? Each photo I make contains a scene that for some reason I decided to freeze and steal from Father Time. That’s why I enjoy traveling to new locations to gather my images. I am allowed to return to that foreign land and remember the small moments that called out to be documented.

The joy of playing and gathering images is that you become a documentarian of the open world. The misery of it is that you need to location and time to be on your side to capture something worthwhile. I could walk around all day and not see something I deem worthy of capturing. That’s part of the process because you are opening yourself to the real world. For now, I’ll just have to keep gathering.

Palm Tree Apparel , 2016

Palm Tree Apparel, 2016