MY PENCIL OF NATURE
If I didn’t know who William Henry Fox Talbot was and I chanced to open a copy of his 1844 book titled The Pencil of Nature, I
would expect to see nothing but a book of drawings. Yet, reading the short preface tipped into a 1969 copy of the book I have in
my library, I find the following words: The plates of the present work will be executed with greatest care, entirely by optical and
chemical processes. It is not intended to have them altered in any way, and the scenes represented will contain nothing but the
genuine touches of Nature’s pencil.
The genuine touches of Nature’s pencil. What a beautiful way to describe a photograph. It’s the genuine part that captures the
magic of photography for me. Going on 50 years in photography now, I, humbly, have also faithfully and without fail, accepted
what the lens sees and gives me, never daring even to dream of tampering with the reality of the moment the shutter gives me,
whether for a negative, or today in the original, unmanipulated Raw files my camera produces on the spot. To be drawn to the
truth of the image is to be drawn to nature.
I also happen to be a photographer who loves to draw, making sketches of my images, but only after the camera has already
taken the picture. How foolish you could say. Like putting on underwear over your trousers. But I draw, after the fact, not to create
an image but to test it, to quell my impatience and curiosity about what occurred at the moment exposure, like peeking through
the corners of Christmas wrap as a kid trying to guess what gift awaits under the tree. And there is also another, more important
reason to see the image sooner than actually seeing it. It has something to do with anticipation, hope, call it desire, the possibility
that something exists before knowing it to be true.
I like to think of my work in photography as one long, never ending sentence where the necessities and temptations of
redundancy—using the same nouns, adjectives, and verbs—are kept to a minimum. Stretching five decades by now, is it
possible, I continue asking myself, to keep every picture essentially the same yet entirely different? In a book anticipated to be
launched next spring by Kehrer Verlag in Heidelberg, I will attempt to convey that continuity of images as might a composer
writing in symphonic form, endeavoring to hold thematic shifts together (for inspiration turning to Sibelius or James Joyce). To see
the image as a drawing after having taken the picture allows the work to enter a kind of purgatory, a waiting room where hope can
be experienced. What did the camera see? What really happened? Something will be there, for better or worse, an
acknowledgement that life is not just about the moment we live in but anchored to the past from which every moment comes.
©Arno Rafael Minkkinen
Fosters Pond, 2018