Painting With a Camera: The photography of Peter Daitch
By CHARMAGNE ECKERT/Photos by Peter Daitch
There is a cluster of trees at the bottom of exit 70 off northbound Interstate 95. Hundreds, even thousands of drivers pass by every day, in every season; on their way back from work, focused on the afternoon’s meetings, or pushing through the yellow light in a rush to pick up a child after school. They are ordinary trees – maple, oak, beech – but one fall day, lit just so in the afternoon sun, they presented themselves to photographer Peter Daitch in such a way that he was compelled to pull off the road and reach for his camera.
The resulting image is one of Daitch’s Garden series titled simply, FC 2-10/14. Swaths of crimson swirl down from the top of the frame to mingle with moss greens, browns and pale ivory. Wavy streaks of violet-blue slip through from the background, creating a portal into another realm, the possibility of something beyond. There is color, texture, depth, and visual excitement on a scale more commonly associated with abstract paintings than with photographs. This photo, along with the others found in his Images in Motion collection, is an illustration of Daitch’s ability to capture the unique essence of a subject or scene and to convey it to the viewer in the form of a striking piece of art.
The sense of motion that dominates much of Daitch’s abstract work is the direct, literal result of his shooting technique. Moving his lens almost as a painter might employ a brush to achieve the textures and forms he desires, Daitch combines motion and a sense of in-frame composition on the spot – limiting later adjustment of the digital images primarily to cropping and color enhancement. “Some people think that I manipulate the whole thing on the computer, but there is actually very little done at that point. When I see something I want to shoot, I will decide how to move the camera to create the effect appropriate for that scene. Sometimes I will move it straight, or cross back over, or in a wavy motion. In the case of a landscape of trees with lots of verticals, I probably won’t use a horizontal motion since the sense of the composition is vertical. I’ll use lots of different techniques; sometimes it’s a half a second exposure, sometimes it might be two seconds, and I will shoot a variety of combinations of exposures and motions,” Daitch explains.
Upon a familiarity with Daitch’s process and a hint at what the literal subject matter might have been, it is not difficult to identify the dance of colors captured in FC 2-10/14 as the fire-red leaves of the trees at the base of an off-ramp of I-95, set against a brilliant sky with the dark grasses of autumn reaching up into the frame. That this image is taken from the commonplace is part of what inspires Daitch. He begins with what is close at hand – the simple things that we too often pass by in our rush of daily activities – a riverbank, light filtering through autumn foliage, the sharp ridge of a snowdrift, the tulips in his garden. Something about the composition, the lighting – or perhaps simply the feeling the scene evokes – speaks to him. From that point he determines how to move his camera to best capture his impression of the particular subject. “It’s just looking around and appreciating what’s in your back yard. Just being there. I started with what is literally right here in my neighborhood and then I began to explore. We were in Colorado and I shot the mountains. It really doesn’t even matter what the subject is. I was up on the mountain and a storm was coming through and it was just putting in the effort to try and capture something. Being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of the opportunity. It helps me to really appreciate the natural beauty that is around us all the time. I drive around and I’m always seeing something [to shoot]. Probably most people just drive by – whereas, if you slow down and look around – it’s beautiful.”
Daitch’s interest in photography began as a youth growing up near Boston. Though he doesn’t recall a particular inspiration for first picking up a camera, he figures that it probably started, even then, with motion. “Thinking about it, as kids we used to build skateboard ramps at our houses and that’s probably what got me started taking pictures. We’d all get the skateboard magazines and would do what we saw in the pictures – and then try to capture the poses.” As Daitch began to explore photography further, he continued to gravitate intuitively towards motion. “Late high school I started shooting. I was going into Boston and going to these ballet studios. It was all black and white [film], and I loved the big old buildings with giant windows and great lighting and shadows and then of course you add the people. Dancers are different, [they] aren’t posing, they are creating their own beauty without you asking them to do anything.” Even then he was fascinated, not only by the soaring architecture of the repurposed industrial structures, but also by the challenge of capturing the motion of the dancers’ bodies and the forms they represented in space. That what Daitch recalls as his first serious photographic studies revolved around the visual rhythm of dancers is not surprising. The way in which he describes the method he uses to evoke the innate essence of his subject matter is more reminiscent of the way in which a choreographer might work than what one typically associates with still photographic images. In many regards, Daitch’s camera dances though space around the topic he is capturing.
Daitch holds a BFA in photography from the University of Bridgeport where his innate sense of aesthetics was enhanced by serious study of composition and photographic technique. Following university his photographic interests became secondary to another passion, boating, and after attaining his captain’s license, his focus shifted for a time to the nautical world. Though he was not actively pursuing his photography, the influence of his time on the oceans, is evident in his work. There is a quality of the vastness of the sea, the bustle of busy ports, the contrasting colors of northern and Caribbean climes. And reflected in his current work as well, is the suggestion of the way in which land, sea and sky might merge into abstractions of color, rhythm, and form.
Beyond the less tangible influences of his time at sea captured in his abstract work, many of Daitch’s traditional photos are evocative waterscapes where boats materialize out of the mist and the turquoise waters of the tropics beckon beneath pristine skies. Water, Sky, Land, Metal, are among his more literal collections, but even here, where the objects are essentially identifiable, there is a sense of the energy of motion that lies within. In these series the viewer will frequently find the imprints of motion; the designs carved in white sand by waves, windswept clouds in a sunset sky, water cascading over boulders. Or, a composition might contain an object that implies movement such as the steep slope of an urban steel fire escape, an antique piece of farm equipment – now resting, rusted in a field – or a bright red bicycle leaning hopefully against a lamppost in the snow.
It is fitting that Daitch is an avid snowboarder, surfer and skateboarder and he finds within those physical activities a medium for self expression that provides what is for him a fuller representation of who he is than is available to him at rest. As an artist, his photography allows a similar synthesis of motion and expression for his intellectual impressions that goes beyond the limits of words and dialogue. “I don’t feel I’m a great communicator, and this is how I present myself. I present by doing. If I’m skating or sailing or surfing – that’s me. With my photography, I [can show] what goes on in my head – it’s a way for me to share it,” he says.
On the homepage of Daitch’s web site is the Henry David Thoreau quote, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” Daitch has become increasingly aware of a need to take time to see what is right in front of him and to find the unique beauty and excitement within those commonplace things we so often rush past. It is perhaps, a need to be more present in the moment, to slow down, to allow ourselves to experience. For Daitch, there is no better way to share his vision of the beauty he finds within the ordinary moments of the world we live in, than through the images he captures with the motion of his camera lens.
For further information about Peter Daitch’s Photography and upcoming exhibitions, visit: www.peterdaitchphotography.com