This one but not that one: Perception, Editing, and Meaning

by Mary Lang

Mt. Hood and circuit board, Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club

I am amazed by the ubiquity of photography and cameras in the world today. Whenever a celebrity speaks or performs, the television images always show everyone in the crowd holding up their cell phones, taking pictures or video. Do people really think they can take a photo that way? Hundreds of thousands of pictures, maybe not great shots, but pictures nonetheless, are made every day. On Instagram, there are thousands of really great pictures posted every day – some from established artists and photo journalists, but most from ordinary people recording the memorable moments of their lives. Everyone does it.

Taking pictures is different than mounting a show of photographs, even though both share the raising of a camera to the eye and a click of a shutter as the starting point. When my fellow Kingston artists talk about showing drawings, or work in progress, as a photographer, I always balk, since my journey to get to the 10 or 15 photographs that I am willing to show means making and printing hundreds of bad photographs. Who wants to see or share those? But, in my experience, bad photographs are the stepping stones to good ones, and so I have to make that journey, again and again.

At some point, there are the good ones, the ones you are willing, and maybe even excited to show and share with the world. Even then, however, not every good photo belongs in a particular show. I thought I would share some of the ones that didn’t make it into Wonderland, and the reasons why.

Model railroads are about artifice, and construction, and if you wander around, and get invited “back stage”, into the inner worlds of the railroaders, you see that very clearly. I could so easily have done a show about obsession, or artifice, but I decided not to.

A different view of the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad club
Above – Construction, Model Railroad Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego

When putting together a show, each image should resonate with the others. The way the space feels, repeating elements of paths and roads, the palette of beige and brown and green tied the photographs in Wonderland together. Sometimes when you lay your prints out to do an edit, to figure out the show, you can almost viscerally feel which ones don’t belong. Which often means you have to eliminate some really beautiful photographs that you are in love with, like this one:

Low tide, the beach at Parkville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Or this one:

SMC dawn
Shambhala Mountain Center at dawn

Instead, I felt this one, October snow at Shambhala Mountain Center, with its meandering pathways, random structures and uncertainty about size and scale, belonged in Wonderland. (It is also the most recent piece in the show. It was taken two days before the dawn image, basically at the same place, but it is qualitatively different.)

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 12.25.14 PM

Which made the meaning of the whole collection of photographs more clear.

Wonderland: Landscape Photographs by Mary Lang is on view in the Main Gallery through May 28, 2017. There will be a Q&A with Mary Lang on Thursday, May 25th from 6-8pm. For more information on this exhibition and Lang’s work visit:

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