Photography and the Fine Art of Disappearing

Still photography captures moments. I can only imagine the moments of memory Joe Coca experienced sifting back through the thousands of images in his archive, selecting just a hundred or so for his new book, The Human Thread.

The Human Thread

Working with Joe for the past forty years, I have my own memory moments, ones that weren’t captured on film:

Joe up to his ankles in the Mekong River, oblivious to what was happening to his shoes, to capture the perfect shot of the rickety but effective water wheels that irrigate the rice paddies of North Vietnam.

Waterwheels in North Vietnam. Photo from The Human Thread by Joe Coca.

Joe lying on the ground, camera poised, as a few dozen Tzotzil Maya men thunder toward him across a blazing field of flames, trumpets blaring, howler-monkey-fur hats atilt.

Ground-level view of Spider Monkeys leaping over flames. Photo from the Human Thread by Joe Coca.

Joe straddling the shaky awning of a hotel in Nebaj, Guatemala, at dawn, to capture a holy procession as the first rays of sun hit the priest on his ass. I mean the priest and an ass he was riding on.

Joe clambering up a steep, slick, seemingly endless dirt path above Chahuaytire, Peru, with his 50-pound camera on one shoulder, his 30-pound gear bag on the other, to photograph an elderly weaver for Faces of Tradition. I typically walk behind in Joe’s wake, so I see how his ever-present camera has made his wide shoulders permanently asymmetrical.

Joe at work in China.

Oh, so many memories. A fixed image on screen or printed page, no matter how dynamic or striking, doesn’t begin to tell what hard work has gone into that momentary click of the camera. You’d have to be there watching it happen. The chilling rain, the altitude sickness, the aching muscles, the sweat, the constant vigilance. But we’re not supposed to know about all that. A mark of great photography is that the photographer disappears. There’s nothing between the viewer and the final image, no filter. Just a moment of recognition of beauty, or strangeness, that you want to keep going back to.

Sunrise on Lake Titicaca, Peru. Photo from The Human Thread by Joe Coca.

Joe’s book is available now. You can get it here, at your local bookseller, ore pre-order through Barnes & Noble or Amazon. You can gaze at the moments it captures and make up your own back stories.


2 thoughts on “Photography and the Fine Art of Disappearing

  1. Susan Schaefer Davis says:

    Beautifully written, and thought-provoking, Linda. And Deborah, one thing I enjoyed working with Joe is watching what a kid-magnet he was, often surrounded by them, lack of Arabic no problem.

  2. Deborah Chandler says:

    Maybe what I have enjoyed most watching Joe work has been his sense of humor and interactions with the people and other living beings he is photographing. Everyone enjoys it, and that takes a special talent.

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