Context is Everything
There is so much that becomes part of the densely woven tapestry of a detailed work of visual art and is never discussed again, or at least not discussed specifically, with the viewers and/or artist being conscious of those details. I began writing in order to capture the full context in which I create my work, rather than just what I am able remember once the composition has come into being and I emerge from the intensity of creating.
What initially drew me to photography is its ability to freeze a subject within a certain context and hold it there for deep examination.
I can remove the subject from its context if I so choose, and I often have.
A photo of two kingbirds is adorable, or amusing, or a reason to make jokes about the little cuties planning to do some terrorizing later (their latinized species name is Tyrannus tyrannus for a reason).
After I had posted the above photo to social media, I began to think about the notion of context and how it informs our thoughts and opinions on any subject.
In the above photo there is a wall behind the birds, but you don't know what it is. There is something different about the photo of the same birds when I've zoomed out to show that they are against the backdrop of an old building.
And perhaps context is not only visual. Perhaps we also contribute to the context ourselves, consciously or subconsciously.
How does the context of my photo change again once you know that the building is Hampton, home to the Ridgely family of Maryland from 1748 until 1948?
And does it change again once you know that the Ridgelys, who lived in this home, owned as many as 350 enslaved Africans at once between the years 1748 and 1861?
For me it becomes even more powerful still as I look out over my desk and out the window of my studio, to gaze upon land worked by those same enslaved Africans toiling without dignity, without rest in the iron forges. I know how this mansion, the Ridgely's opulent lifestyle, was built.
In my artistic exploration I've found that the larger picture of American history works much the same way. So much of our understanding of who we are as a country and as individuals is created by context, what we see reflected back to us in information, and our physical and idealogical surroundings. It becomes not so much about the lies that are told as the truths that are left out.