photographic fugue

In Film, Inspiration

I’ve been experimenting with multiple exposures for over a year now, and I’ve finally gotten to that place with the technique where automaticity is possible. Photos from our annual visit to the county fair show evidence that I’ve been able to achieve my desired photographic fugue. There is enough muscle memory behind my technique that I can let an inner, instinctual part of me guide my hands to make images. I don’t have to think through the settings in the moment, and can let myself feel the moment through my camera instead.

I love photographing a carnival for its intensity, the almost-too-much aspect of it, which can still overwhelm me as I remember it doing to my children when they were tiny and the sights and sounds were new to them. If I let myself get lost in it, I can access a kind of hyper-reality, where all of my sensory stimuli go a bit haywire. I feel like I can taste the noise, hear the aromas, and touch the color.

But truly feeling the image means I’m bringing more to it than only what’s in front of my eyes – there’s a way for my backstory in that moment to surface as well. Like most parent-photographers I’m not ever at the fair for the sole purpose of making photos. My family is in tow so I’m playing sherpa; I’m the bank – doling out tickets and cash; I’m senior diplomat when, as is often the case, my charges have mutually exclusive objectives; I’m the family historian, documenting my two at this event to which we return each year, with my same, yet ever-different children, in full knowledge that my privileged days as witness to them here have an imminent expiration date. How many more years will I be part of their pilgrimage? Truth is, with my older child I’ve been on borrowed time for a while now. And this year, in addition to all of the above, I had the crippling mind swirl of the interminable packing list for our days-away family vacation flying through my head as I tried to stop time for a few split seconds here or there to freeze my visions and memories in a frame. That’s a whole lot of static to bring to an already busy scene, and it’s a complex challenge to try to organize all of that visual data and emotion into any kind of readable image. But the fair only comes once a year . . . so I either push myself to make photos or I live with regret not having made them for the next twelve months. I hate regret.

I’ve long been fascinated by the magic box, Tardis-like nature of concession booths: the world they reveal through and within; the social interactions between stand workers and fairgoers, and by all of their surface decoration. I’ve made so many photos of them over the years. Most are in a documentary style. This time around I overlaid bits of the surface, signage and interior of concessions at wonky angles – I honestly have little to no recollection of doing this, and this photo confused the heck out of me when I first saw it. I didn’t even know how I made it, but as I’ve sat with it for a while, I realize that more than anything this multiple exposure collage is an apt illustration of my inner frenzy in that moment manifest on film.

I did make some traditional photos of my two, but in a strange way, this one, with it’s slightly surreal and improbably aligned array of lights feels truer. Modifying their present countenances with these glowing colors somehow allows me a way to see glimpses of their younger versions superimposed upon their present selves . . . and maybe there’s a future-seeing crystal ball effect at play as well.

There was a real sense of desperation in the making this next photo. I dearly wanted to hold onto this gorgeous primary array – the red and yellow lights against the blue hour sky – and I had a terrible time sorting out interesting framing. But the kids were on a ride, and I was rushed. Had I hesitated too long the sky color would shift or the kids would be done and ready to move on. I stopped thinking and exposed one frame few times – a few times as the ride plunged and then of the lights that had originally held my eye. It felt like a Hail Mary, and yet this image captures my feeling in the moment so well. There’s controlled chaos all around me, but I’ve frozen it for a heartbeat while I get lost in that glorious color combination – everything quiet and still . .. . and then my moment has past. The world starts up with a whoosh of wind from the plummeting ride, and the sound of riders’ screams – and I’m out of my head – back into hyper-reality.

Keep your eyes wide open,


  1. Wow. Your words are pure magic, as are the resulting images. I love your work. xo

    • Thank you, Lucy! I labored over this piece a bit more than usual, and I often feel the more I work at a piece, the less sense it makes. I truly appreciate you letting me know a discernible message emerged the inner chaos around these photos.

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