Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Wolfe in the fold: Chico State professor photographs his life


Byron Wolfe is not only an associate professor of photography at Chico State University, he is also a collaborator on two books, about the American West and Yosemite, that document the extraordinary project of shooting contemporary images from the exact vantage point, season, and time of day of classic phonographs half a century or a century old.

But even in these majestic works it's clear that Wolfe is also attracted to some of the flotsam and jetsam left along the trail: a candy wrapper or a piece of plastic from a child's toy. They are part of history as well, and that got him to thinking. He asked his students to take a daily picture of ordinary life. And he decided to do the same thing himself.

"Every day between my thirty-fifth and thirty-six birthdays," he writes, "I tried to make at least one complete new and compelling photograph. The idea was to create a narrative that was attentive to place, change, and the meandering pace and flow of life." Now, half a decade later, the pictures have been collected in "Everyday: A Yearlong Photo Diary" ($29.95 in hardcover from Chronicle Books). His two young sons appear often, but, "because the pictures were mostly about the world that my wife and I inhabited, we were rarely visible in them."

Many of the pictures, displayed chronologically, have short captions; others stand by themselves. A couple of times Wolfe's camera failed; at other times he gives us a small gallery to represent the day, such as images of five of his father's trees bending under the weight of the snow two days before Christmas. There are pictures of spilled milk, chicken eggs, children sleeping, burnt toast and blood. With small children in the house, and a dad who is not the best gardener, there's likely to be blood.

Some of the images are far from prosaic, like the world contained in a drop of water on Wolfe's Weeping Santa Rosa Plum tree. There's the image of a TV showing the President announcing the war with Iraq on March 19, 2003. The face of the president is blocked by the silhouette of a young boy gazing at the news.

"Everyday" is the stuff of life.

No comments: