There’s a recurring theme in The Nature of Photographs. You advocate developing a closer relationship with all of our senses—paying more attention to how they work and training ourselves to better monitor what they’re trying to tell us. Your best pictures are examples of just that. A photograph can do many things at once. I can be exploring culture or I can be making decisions about what street to photograph to give a taste of this town or this age. At the same time, I can explore the medium formally, explore how the structure of a picture may give a taste of an age, how perception works, and how a photograph plays with it. I can also explore what you were saying, that sometimes the most mundane subject matter is the most telling because what gives the picture charge isn’t the cultural charge of the content as much as the awareness of the senses and the awareness of perception giving it a kind of visual resonance. It’s like those days or moments when maybe your mind gets a little quieter and space becomes more tangible, textures and colors become more vivid.
Do you think the brain switches between different states of optical perception, like a camera? Yes, it’s one of the things I learned from the process of photography. Let me give an example. I think it’s absolutely typical that you could leave your house and have a certain walk to a café every day and not really pay attention to what’s around you, but if you put a camera on your shoulder, all of a sudden you do. What can I learn from that? To address it in a different way, when I was photographing the Yankees I would see these people who were performing mind-boggling feats of attention. I’ve been going to baseball games since I was six, but from the stands there’s no way to experience what a major-league fastball looks like from the batter’s perspective. At spring training in Fort Lauderdale, I was able to stand essentially where the umpire was and watch these pitches being thrown. That anyone can even hit a fastball is an amazing feat of attention and coordination. But if you talk to them, they’ll say that when they’re really in the flow of it, they’re watching the rotation of the stitches on the ball. Yet these same people who are able to perform this so well would at four in the afternoon go to a bar called Trader Jack’s and try to pick up young girls and forget the state of mind that they had achieved that even allowed them to see the ball. They weren’t carrying the lesson of that into the rest of their lives. I wonder why we don’t go through our lives paying closer attention, and what would accrue from doing that.