Just Wait…..

imageBrookfield, Connecticut © Steven Willard

I pass this field almost every day on my way to and from work. There is something about the contrast between the tight regular rows of the corn field and the wide open featureless soccer field that I find appealing. But the real draw to me is the implication of time. Bear with me here; neither the corn nor the soccer field are ready. The corn is not ready for picking, and the field is not lined and ready for play. Now, this is relevant to me as a photographer because so much about photography is a matter of timing and often waiting. Sometimes it is a matter of what day it is, sometimes it comes down to a split second, but timing is critical.

It happens that my preference for action photographs leans towards the “missed shot”. Most sports photographers strive for the perfectly timed shot, when the outfielder is caught with his body reaching to it’s maximum, the ball just trapped in the glove. But the image I like even better is the frame just before the ball arrives, when you don’t now whether the catch will be made or not, or the image taken just after the play that leaves you guessing what just happened. I enjoy the “just missed” shot.

In Joel Sternfeld’s classic book, “American Prospect” there is an image of a country road, seen from a slight elevation. In the foreground is a parked Sheriff’s sedan, with the driver’s door open, the leg of the driver just visible. Up the road is a pickup truck stopped in the wrong lane with it’s driver’s door also open.  The cause of the halt in traffic is an elephant lying on it’s side blocking one lane of traffic. There is a larger truck, stopped, which appears to have been transporting the elephant, but there is no trailer visible. It isn’t a beautiful photograph, more reportage than anything else. What makes it a strong image is the fact that for all the detail captured, there is a complete lack of information about what has happened and what is going to happen. It leaves one wondering, “What the hell’s going on here”?

In a few days this field will be lined and ready for play. There will be players running up and down the field making passes that will either work or not. There will be shots at the goal that may score or may be blocked, but for now I am content with the anticipation. There will be opportunities to capture that peak in the action when the goalie is stretched out, parallel to the ground with arms extended in an attempt to block a shot. I’ll prefer the image taken just before the ball gets there. It will be impossible to tell if the goalie is successful in blocking the ball or not, leaving that question unanswered. There will be spectators here then, cheering on the players; watching the action, not wanting to miss anything; waiting. The goalie will pace back and forth, waiting for the action to come to his end of the field. I’ll be waiting for the corn to ripen.

Pentax K5IIs with 35mm f2.8 macro lens. Multi-image pano stitched in Photoshop CS4.





2 comments on “Just Wait…..

  1. I agree that the action suspended right before completion is in fact the exactly right moment. The moment just after, however — in photography at least — seems to me to miss the boat. Wallace Stevens can wonder if he prefers the blackbird’s whistling, or just after, because the initial sound is what lingers in his consciousness. A still photograph is mute and must rely on the viewer to bring the necessary context to evoke an emotional response, which by the way, your photo achieves, no problem. A perplexing or inexplicable tableau, on the other hand, just leaves the viewer, me at least, unsatisfied and feeling somehow shortchanged. That is not to say I don’t enjoy having my curiosity aroused or my funnybone tickled. OK. Enough said. Love the photo and the essay.


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