Lexington, KY, 1993 / 2001, C-Print, 20 x 30 in.

Lexington, KY, 1993 / 2001
20 x 30 in.

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TODD STABLEY photographs


I shot most of these pictures from the passenger seat of a moving car in 1992-3. I let intuition guide me, reaching up to snap a picture when something caught my attention—a sudden opening across the landscape, light glancing off a barn roof, a moment when my field of vision seemed to turn on its axis and stack itself in front of me. Lined by miles of black rail fences bordering thoroughbred horse farms, the back roads of the Bluegrass immerse you into color, form, and fragments of Kentucky’s history. As the landscape rushed past the car window, responding to this beauty with my camera felt natural and inevitable.

Though these pictures share a reliance on chance and intuition with street photography in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, they are not “decisive moment” photographs in the sense Bresson describes. In the decisive moment, you monitor promising events as they unfold, snapping the shutter just as the elements cohere into the best possible photograph. There is, in Bresson’s words, a “precise organization of forms” that you target and try to capture on film. As Joel Meyerowitz, a Bresson protégé in his early years, describes it, you are a “visual athlete” making “sensational catches.”

By contrast, I’m looking for insights that aren’t possible when the camera simply materializes an ideal already pictured in the mind. The motion of the car makes chance a collaborator in these photos, a role I often underscored further by flicking my wrist or rotating the camera when snapping the shutter. Instead of zeroing in on a subject through the viewfinder, I used the camera as an extension of my body in space, making it a part of events as much as a tool for observing them. Sometimes I thought of it as a paint brush, marking on a canvas I wouldn’t see until days later. My hope was to see my improvisational encounters transformed on the photograph's two-dimensional picture plane in richer ways than I could have predicted. The end result was a stack of prints that functioned simultaneously as photographic records and found objects, requiring yet another round of aesthetic decisions, one echoing those I made in the passenger seat of a moving car.

These photographs also use time in a different way than ordinary street photographs. In the decisive moment, you freeze time, which sets up a troubling analogy between the eye and a camera with a very fast shutter speed. By allowing time to function, I’m looking for a closer model for how perception works and the role time can play in shaping it. There are fleeting moments—just before the conscious mind begins to sort things into familiar categories—when intuition gives a defining stamp to the visual, when we see with the freshest eyes. To me, these enlargements open windows onto such moments. To be able to revisit them in such detail feels magical to me. I hope some of that magic comes through for others.

Todd Stabley, August, 2003