Public art and the art of the public

I took this picture on the Zeedijk promenade in Blankenberge, Belgium while enjoying some of the public art associated with De Beeldige Wandeling, an outdoor exhibit in its ninth year.

I was lining up a shot of Guy Timmerman's sculpture when I saw out of the corner of my eye two men approaching, deep in animated conversation. They were so caught up in their chat that I thought they'd make an excellent counterpoint to the sculpted figures. I waited, and all four obliged me by stepping into place. Rendering the image in black and white helped to emphasize the foreground figures and to eliminate a lot of the distracting colours in the background (it is a beach, after all).

I'm pleased with the result and it's reminded me of two things.

First, art can enhance our public spaces in many ways. It can be a pleasure to look at; it can introduce us to new artists, new techniques, new media and new ideas; and it can help spark interaction and conversation, even between strangers.

Second, I realize that I should take more seriously my wife's encouragement to add human presence to my pictures. I really enjoy shapes, forms and textures and have been happy to shoot buildings, architectural details and abstracts. I get a kick out of bringing new order to established forms and spaces. Still, there are only so many times you can shoot the same subject matter and try to say something fresh about it. For example, I found it harder to get excited about making pictures of the things we saw on our summer vacation this year. This was our second trip to Belgium in three years and, while I enjoyed the trip very much, the beautiful Belgian towns were not exotic to me anymore: cathedral, cobbled market square, guild houses. Check.

Perhaps the answer is really that obvious: I need to inject some (human) life into my photographing and photographs. And after all, people as viewers find people as subject matter endlessly fascinating. I'll make a conscious effort to include more people in my shots in the months to come and we'll see where that leads.