Take a Commonplace

May 31, 2017

"Teakettle" by Eric Rennie

"Take a commonplace,” wrote Jean Cocteau, “clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet's job.” Cocteau was a poet as well as a filmmaker, but I like to think that his words might apply equally to a photographer. There are, of course, photographers who specialize in photographing the glossy surface of things. But I tend to take things as I find them, saving the cleaning and polishing for after the picture is taken, when I am working in Photoshop or one of its add-ons. 

This image presented itself to me early one winter’s morning in our kitchen, with the light streaming through venetian blinds onto the wall behind our glass-topped electric stove. The teakettle is old and dented and scratched; otherwise you would see clearly the photographer’s reflection in its shiny aluminum surface, along with a camera and tripod. Fortunately, the tools of my trade were close at hand. In another few minutes, the light would have shifted, and this image would have been lost. As it was, I hadn’t even sat down to breakfast yet, and already I had done a photographer’s job.