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.