Introduction by Sam Abell

When I imagined photography what I saw were photographs. If I imagined the process of photography at all it was pleasantly. But the reality of fieldwork woke me from that reverie. Seeking the picture is the complex process that dominates documentary photography, and in the seeking there is often a story. The story varies. At its best it is magical; at its worst it is bitterly frustrating - you see the picture, but can't get to it.

That was the situation of the most important picture of my first magazine assignment in Newfoundland. The traditional maritime way of life was coming to an end and the government was relocation many of the small isolated outports. There were tales of entire fishing villages tugged by barges along the coast in summer, but I never saw any dwellings being moved despite an all out effort. So I reluctantly gave up on this picture possibility.

Months later I was flying to Little Bay Islands.. It was a scheduled, full flight in a plane outfitted with skis. As we approached the island I saw two distinct lines of men pulling a house across the ice. I immediately saw the picture I had been seeking: It was a concentrated composition of men, the house and the ice - nothing else. I had to have it.

I bolted into the cockpit and shouted for the pilots to help me. They were startled but heard me out. Over the roar of the engines I yelled that we needed to go back and fly over the ice - or could they land and let me out? The pilots shrugged and, to the amazement of the other passengers, began turning the heavy plane around. They flew back and made a slow circle of the scene. But too much time had passed. The strong lines of men had broken up. And we were still too high. Back at my seat I pressed my camera against the weathered glass and took a photograph anyway. For thirty years I never looked at it. It was too painful.

But now I find it curiously interesting in its inclusiveness. It reminds me of the beginning of a lifetime of seeking the picture.

Enter Sam Abell's Photo Gallery

Video Interview
with Sam Abell

Produced by David Snider
and Leah Bendavid-Val

To view these interview clips, you must have
the free RealVideo or Quicktime plugins.

Sam Abell talks about Seeking the Picture

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"It was the picture I couldn't get to."

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