Art Photography, Without a Camera

I don’t know exactly when I became aware of that there was such a thing as fine art photography, but I was only 9 or 10 years old when I first realized I saw things a little differently than my friends.

I was born and raised in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the country. Half of my block consisted of empty lots where houses once stood. Of the buildings that remained, half of those were vacant, and the others, including my own, had seen much better days. The 1967 riot a few years earlier had left even more houses in the area burned and abandoned.

Cass Corridor Detroit House - photograph taken by a family member
My childhood home, years after we left.

One summer day, I was aimlessly wandering down the alley behind my house, the blank cinder-block wall of the Viking Motel to my left, and an abandoned house to my right. I stopped near a telephone pole, resting my hand on its guy-wire. Just ahead, on the corner of the alley and the street, was a red brick four-story apartment building, soon to be demolished.

I looked up at the building and something about the way the sunlight fell across the old red bricks caught my eye.

Something about the texture and the pattern intrigued me. Years of sun, rain, wind, and snow had rounded the edges of the bricks. My child-brain couldn’t really fully comprehend it, of course, but I was seeing the history of that building in those bricks.

I noticed a dragonfly had landed on the guy-wire, and there was something about the combination of elements that intrigued me. The geometry of the telephone pole and guy-wire framing the worn red bricks of the old building, and the dragonfly sitting in the foreground made an image that I wished I could share. But I had no way to share it.

A Way of Seeing

It seemed I was always noticing intriguing juxtapositions, or the way the light fell on a scene. My attempts to point out these things to my friends and family were generally met with polite apathy.

I didn’t have a camera, or the money to buy one, and was rarely granted permission to use the family Polaroid. Instant film was (and still is) expensive. With no skill in sketching or drawing, I had to be satisfied with “taking pictures” in my mind. I still have a few of them, including that first one.

I’m always trying to recapture and share the feeling I had when taking that first “mental photograph.”

Hid and Seek, Polaroid Transfer Fine Art Photograph by Darryl Asher
Hid and Seek, Polaroid Transfer Photograph

This is probably why a lot of my images feature things that look old, worn, or timeless. Many of my images are produced in a way that make the prints themselves look like they have some history. I often describe some of my photographs, especially the Polaroid transfers, as “looking like they have been left out in the rain.”

I’m always experimenting with new methods to achieve my vision and I’m looking forward to sharing new work with you.

One of my favorite quotes about photography is by Dorthea Lange, who is best known for her photographs of Depression-era America.

“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”