Quinton Gordon: The Authorship of a Photograph


Quinton Gordon is an award winning photographer, teacher and publisher. His work has been featured in numerous international publications, documentary projects and exhibitions in Canada, the United States and New Zealand. Quinton Gordon teaches The Truth About Photographs and other workshops for Leica Akademie North America. A complete list of upcoming workshops can be found at here.

It is late 2012, the camera is ubiquitous, and everyone is a “photographer”.

The pursuit of recognition in the cyber worlds of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter have fueled a mass obsession with instant gratification, and all to often, an unfounded glorification of the posted images and their makers.

Advancements in digital technology have opened manifold new creative possibilities, but the developments have also offered the convenient allusion that making great work is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse. Often technology seems to drive the medium as automated cameras and software algorithms replace the efforts of skilled and thoughtful photographers, who can now make hundreds, or even thousands of images in a single outing.

After twenty years of travel and assignment photography, I was at a career crossroads.  Disenchanted by the developments in my chosen profession, I felt like there was only a trace of my own signature left on my work. But, unwilling to relinquish my love of photography, I gave myself an assignment, to rediscover my identity as a photographer.

The key to this assignment was to focus on work I could dive into and make locally because accessibility would be fundamental to the process. I knew that I had to be able to work almost daily and that the process would take time. For the first year I made photographs that felt empty, as if they belonged to someone else, but eventually a direction emerged. As the work unfolded, my understanding, authenticity, and authorship of the images followed.

Object driven photography seeks only to record what a subject looks like. The rendering of that subject may be beautifully executed, or in other words, picturesque, and while this may offer a pleasurable pursuit, the photographs will have little communication value and will not add to a greater conversation. These are photographs “of” things, and our world is full of photographs “of” things, many thousands of them, we really don’t need more.

However, if you believe, as I do, in the power of the still photographic image, then the motivation for making photographs shifts away from the pursuit of the picturesque, and moves toward developing a strong visual language. When I teach workshops, including those for Leica Akademie, I encourage my students to find their own language with in the common elements of photography. This is about finding authorship, and it requires that a photographer makes the effort to look into themselves first, before they can point their lens out at the world. I’m not talking about self-portraits in the literal sense, but rather about discovering that we are the only unique part of our images, especially in a world where the technology is striving to homogenize the image making process by putting the same cameras and software in everyone’s hands. Knowing who we are and working closer to our hearts allows us to inform our work with something original and authentic.

My assignment was a search for authenticity and authorship in my own photography. Over a three-year period of making these photographs I was able to dive deeply into the process, and to let go of any consideration for how the work would be received. Photographing and editing fell into a rhythm that in time revealed more personal sensibilities in my creative vision.

Working at home was new to me as well. My professional practice had been largely based in traveling out, in photographing the other, but now I was working in my own backyard. Although I was looking at the world around me, what I was really photographing was a reflection of myself.

About two years into the project I was also rediscovering my love of books and the reminder of how powerful a carefully edited and sequenced book of still photography could be. With this in mind, I began to assemble work prints on the wall of my studio, and as new images were added others could be removed, and their relative positions adjusted until a sequence emerged.

Mile Zero: A Place Uncertain, is not a collection of images that are representative of a physical environment, they are metaphors for a place lost in the world and for my relationship to that place. As the idea to make a book from the work took a deep hold on me, and it became significant to make the book by hand.

I have always subscribed to the philosophy that the physical object of art must inherently carry forward the conceptual qualities of the work. These photographs had come from a place of raw emotion and as such, the book needed to feel raw, not overly polished and perfect. It took several incarnations and mock-ups to find the right size, format, and construction. Since I was planning to print and bind all copies of the book by hand, the edition needed to be small. Limited to just 20 copies, plus a few artist proofs, I set about printing, sewing and making each book. Making a book by hand is more work then you can imagine, but the quiet hours of labor proved to be as rewarding as being out with my camera.

Contemporary photography is at risk of loosing touch with three primary concepts that I feel are essential to making good work; time, effort, and craftsmanship. This project reconnected me to the value of time over hast, to the simple physical labor required to finish the book, and to the benefits crafting an object by hand. Of these, time is perhaps the most significant. The investment of time given to every step of the process from making the photographs to editing, sequencing and working with the results in an intimate way enriched my understanding of the photographs and ultimately of my identity as a photographer.

Good work does not come to us with ease. Good photography comes when we invest ourselves deeply in the process, take the time required, and are willing to work for it. The payoff is that photography becomes so much more fulfilling and rewarding when we stop simply filling hard drives and bring consideration to our photography and find ways to give our photographs a life, as prints, books, or multimedia presentations.

-Quinton Gordon

Mile Zero: A Place Uncertain, was released by Reciprocity Editions in 2012. Edition: 20. To purchase a copy, click here: http://luzgallery.bigcartel.com/product/mile-zero-by-quinton-gord