Dropped and lost gloves as found – The Dirty Dozen
I blame Irving Penn. I saw his photographs of cigarette butts in a show in the 1990s. The stunning platinum/palladium prints, the tonal range, the softness and texture, yet sheer scale of these small found and collected cigarette butts blown up many, many times in size, left me with a new awareness and perception of what you can photograph and what works as both great subject matter and great art. In short Penn’s cigarette butts blew my mind.
While my reaction to the Penn photographs was one of awe, they were also liberating. Somehow they gave me permission to think about different things to photograph. In photographic terms, what Irving Penn did for me with his cigarette butts was make me consider new subjects and more importantly, they reminded me to look down, scanning the ground, as I have since spent countless hours doing, while walking the streets with my camera thinking in 24 x 36 mm virtual rectangles.
What I think about today, when I look at these same Penn’s photographs is how much of a lost opportunity the cigarette butts represent. I think the context of these butts would have been interesting. Where were they found? Was there a puddle, were there other objects nearby? Were there twigs, dirt, dried leaves? There is a context that is missing. I recognize that the perfectionist studio photographer does not venture into the natural world, but craves lights, tripods and so forth to be comfortable. In no way does this obsessive nature diminish the work, it just means that the story isn’t finished. The game is underway, but all is not revealed.
As a result of my obsession with these Penn photographs, I have been looking down a lot when I walk. Sometimes this has been very rewarding. In particular, I have found that ‘the lost glove’ has found a special place in my photographic vocabulary. For the past 15 years, I have been setting aside negs of lost gloves with the idea that maybe one day there would be enough good ones that I could do something with them.
I now have my dirty dozen, as I call them. Some are weathered, dirty and often wet, while some look like they were dropped only minutes ago. One is even covered in barnacles, spotted when I was walking along the beach after a storm. I have thought often of what Penn would do with these gloves, but then I decided they probably wouldn’t work for him, as what makes them good is the shape, the context, the environment, the setting in which they were found. None of my gloves have been moved, touched or enhanced by flash, lighting or other tools. Nor have the photographs been manipulated digitally. What you see is what I saw when I walked around with my head down and saw yet another single glove that had lost its owner and was now destined to end its life decaying or being scooped up by a road sweeper, or the flick of a broom.
There is a sadness that comes with every lost glove. To me it is the perfect metaphor for loneliness. Once there were two, now only one remains. In recent times, the lost glove is a harsh reminder of what so many people have gone through during the past many months of COVID isolation. It is the lost, the forgotten who suffer most.