January 19, 2010

Don Jumping over the Hay Bale

Through the years, this has become one of my most popular and well known photographs. People have often seemed to gravitate towards it. I wonder why?

As I have often mentioned, my methodology for making good pictures seems to rely often on spontaneity and good fortune. This picture was made in Maryland some years ago. We were on our way to a predetermined location very early in the morning. I was looking out of the window of the location van when I noticed this field with hay bales on it. I immediately called out for the driver to stop the van, and asked one of the assistants to knock on the door of the farm house across the street to ask permission to take a photograph in the field.

Luckily, the farmer was in, and graciously gave his permission to photograph in the field. Without delay, I asked the stylist to quickly dress Don, one of the models, and off we went into the field. I could feel the client and the art director’s annoyance, that we had unexpectedly stopped at this location. This was not part of the itinerary, and to them was probably a waste of time and money.

We quickly went to one of the hay bales, and I asked Don to get on top of it. He did, and then I said, “Jump up, and spread your feet as if you’re leaping.” This whole process could not have taken more than five minutes. We returned to the van, and continued on our way down the road to our final location.

Most people today seem to automatically assume that this picture has been altered, that Don has somehow been superimposed into this scene, or rather it is a composite of two or more pictures. In fact, it was shot in camera, in one frame, but… like altering a photograph in post-production, I was deliberately playing with your normal perception of reality. The fact that this was done without post-production is important to me, but is it important to you?

In Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, a particular moment in time and certain characters are perceived by four different people in Alexandria, Egypt. When you read Justine’s version (the first book in the quartet), you are fairly confident that you understand the circumstances, and grasp a true sense of what is real. By the last volume, as you have reexamined the same reality from four different perspectives, you are not sure what is real, or in fact if anybody has enough perception to see anything in its entirety. We see things with bias, from our own point of view. It is hard, if not impossible, to disavow our biases. On the other hand, why would we want to? If we did, we might as well become scientists.

This picture of Don jumping over the hay bale is a reflection of my perspective on life, on reality, and its effect on people. If you were to stand right beside me and use the same camera, you would not take this same picture. It probably would look quite different. Next week, I will tell you a story that anecdotes the distinctiveness of everyone’s vision. This is what makes each person’s photographs unique. It is your take on the world, and is special only to you. This gift is not something to be taken lightly or ignored.

It is why I know more about you when I look at your pictures than I know about the subject. I can look deep into your being, know your vulnerabilities, whether you wish to acknowledge them or not. I can feel your perspective, your orientation, and your feelings. Isn’t it funny how life sometimes feels backwards? I look at your pictures and I see you in them, with a greater clarity than I see your subject.



  1. isn’t that fascinating? there was a time (now long ago) when i used to think that photography was a two-dimensional medium that couldn’t possibly do justice to any moment caught/captured/recorded in this three-dimensional world; i no longer think this, but you’ve just made the case that it’s possible for the medium to capture something that actually sometimes eludes us when it’s in front of us, while we’re experiencing it, in 3D.

    Comment by Ms. Nožisková — January 19, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

  2. That is what I love about photography … you can make magically things happen. And, yes, it’s important to me the difference between making the magic in-camera versus in post-production. One is not better than the other, but I feel differently about each method.

    I’m curious how you can understand the nature of a person by looking at his photographic work. Is this a natural talent or one that can be learned, I wonder.

    Comment by Catherine V — January 19, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  3. “This is what makes each person’s photographs unique. It is your take on the world, and is special only to you. This gift is not something to be taken lightly or ignored.”

    Oh my, you’ve said everything that I believe about photography. And also why I love it. I tell this to my clients all the time.

    Thank you so much for writing your approach & thoughts on photography – I feel like a better photographer just by reading it.

    Comment by susan yee — January 19, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

  4. I began my photography as an expression of myself. through the business, I feel like I’ve lost some of “me” and I tend to do what I expect the clients want. I respect your art and really appreciate your thoughts and insights… some of the best art always comes from a impulse… thank you for your reflection.

    Comment by Teresa — January 20, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

  5. What a powerful comment on why photography is such an individual art form, such a unique expression even though everyone could have the same equipment at the same location. I have truly enjoyed reading your perspective on your photos and photography for the last few months, thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Kat — January 23, 2010 @ 12:15 am

  6. [...] Source and Read More: rodneysmith.com [...]

    Pingback by » Don Jumping over the Hay Bale – Rodney Smith (The End Starts Here) Photo News Today: News and Pixelosophy – more than 34,000 posts — January 24, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

  7. You have such strong compositions, I love hearing about how these photos were made.

    Comment by Steve Steinhardt — January 26, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  8. [...] all gaze for a moment at this amazing picture by Rodney Smith, close your eyes and PICTURE yourself leaping over that bale… exhileration, adrenaline… [...]

    Pingback by Tiny Victory « rooting for tiny victories — February 13, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

  9. Holy Smokes, you speak as an Oracle, I am fascinated. And will never look at my own photographs the same.

    Comment by Cfitz — February 26, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

  10. love this

    Comment by Marcelle Kube — February 28, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

  11. your spontaneous pictures are speaking to me the most – they are so uncontrolled, intuitive and playful. the fact that this photo is not a composite – taken on a ‘drive by’ – does make a huge difference to me. your impulse is the key to this shot. i wonder would you have had the vision and the resulting photo without seeing the hay barrels while driving by? would you have conceptualized this image while thinking in your studio about another photo to be taken? (sure you could)
    i am mesmerized by your insightful writing. thank you for sharing so much more besides your magical photos.

    Comment by michael baumann — March 11, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  12. [...] photographer Rodney Smith’s blog, The End Starts Here: “If you were to stand right beside me and use the same camera, you would not take this same [...]

    Pingback by Unique Vision | Kat Eye Studio — October 22, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

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