To be in conversation about any of the arts always prompts the artist within to show up. This blog is simply to be in conversation about the art of photography.
Welcome and join in at anytime!
Master photographer Paul Strand October 16, 1890 – March 31, 1976, chose to go to France in exile because of the anti-socialist McCarthyism in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. This was due to his socialist orientations that appeared unaccepted at that time. Living in France without begin able to speak French caused him to use his photography to speak…to communicate.
For several years now, I too have been using photography as a second language. I have noticed that when I embrace this way of communicating while in the process of subject capture, the results are significantly different from those captured with other perspectives and approaches. I even feel the difference internally. The interest, energy, passion, for the work is so much stronger. The internal feelings and external results are maintainable throughout the total workflow from vision to presentation.
The main thing I have always wanted to communicate to and with others is to encourage civility and a sense of calm in this sometimes harmful and noisy world. Many times, amid offering my work in art shows people come into my booth saying, “We just came back to calm down.” This is said without any need for me to say even one spoken word.
Capture with me for a moment. What if we were to try to communicate photographically the meaning of love, hate, passion, apathy, confidence, fear, happiness or sadness? How would we capture and thus communicate the very essence of who we are as an individual? I have noticed as well that when I am overly preoccupied with other life issues, the photographs I make seem to image that preoccupation. Maybe even the subject of my preoccupation! I feel it is true that no matter what image is made by the photographer, it is a tell, it is divulging a self-truth.
When it comes to photographic approaches, technical manipulations, subject matter choices or the metaphysics of imaging or making art, I believe those aspects to be only my personal dialect of my second language.
I now answer the question, “do you speak a second language,” by saying yes. My second language is photographic art.
The next time you go about your workflow pretend whole-heartily to be unable to speak or write. Tell somebody something through your photographic language. See if you notice a difference in how you feel and see?
Currently, I am working with a wonderful group of photographers who are desiring to explore what it means to create a masterwork. Though there are many definitions of masterwork or masterpiece, we are trying to determine if one of those definitions can be applied to our own workflow in creating a photographic image. Two definitions I would like to use in this blog are:
There are times in which I experience an artist's block. Is my signature style still resonating with what I want to communicate? Do I listen too intently to what others say about my work? Am I truly creative in making a photograph, or, am I merely taking or capturing something that appeals to me at a particular moment in time?
As I was going through some earlier writings of mine, I came across this prose from 21 years ago! What interested me about this writing was the word veil. Veils tend to allow only a partial vision. We are not quite sure what is being felt, seen, heard, or touched.
When I am making a photograph I at times wonder the same thing. What am I actually seeing and how much remains hidden or unknown? How this veil or barrier can be lifted?
The following is one perspective about veils as they affect our creative work and in many cases certain aspects of our lives.
Can the veil between what is known and unknown be lifted to truly see the other?
After all, it is only a veil made by we who insist on being apart from the other side.
Perhaps it is the artist who has felt the veil's rending, if only for a moment's moment.
The artist continues the 'genesis' not through selfish design but by illustrating dreams unfolding.
There is no act more noble. It is a partnership with that of the highest order.
Feel, see, listen, dream, perform O' artist of creative passion, yours is the flower of all humanity.
Adapted from March 14, 1995
The more I use all of my senses, the better I feel about the captures I make. Listening is one of those senses that bring an additional perspective and way of seeing. It can lead to positive change within one's personhood as well.
Listen, listen closely.
Only the silence will bring forth
ribbons of aliveness the past affirms.
Our ears still hear the faintest
of cries for help.
Works of love and empathy
Survive yet another moment.
Look quickly now,
to the conforming shapes and lines
that blur in the now
of shadow and light.
Touch the harsh texture of
risk and feel the sinking flow
of anxiety that greets perseverance.
These are the hallways of transition
and the doorways to transformation.
Sense the rhythms of
community flowing through
over and around that which blocks
Let the music of civil living
guide the way.
Listen yet again, be very still and
hear the gentle and persistent hum
of energy not yet lost.
Experience the diversity of a people
and experience the common likeness!
It is the symphony of possibility,
an instrument of peace and hope.
Out of the test come
the authentic call, touching the world.
From the moments of loving empathy
come openness and acceptance, touching the heart.
One single melting
stolen moment of mid-pause
This is a contemplative pause entertaining a pathway known to me but not yet intentionally or fully explored. It is a pathway that I believe may well connect to my ‘artist within’. Or rather the essence of what I am to ‘be about’ in communicating via the photographic arts.
It is the rediscovering of haiku and haiga, early forms of Japanese poetry and art. I am finding that they are re-energizing my search for the what and how I want to communicate whatever wisdom I can share.
As I look back over my way of speaking and photographing, I see there is a pattern in both that tends to use limited words and images. Haiku and haiga use similar brevity patterns. In haiku every word is significant and integral; in haiga every line, texture and shape is integral. In addition, and as in these ancient forms, I have also tried to include the five senses of hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and seeing while keeping the essence of the subject authentic and simple to its basic form.
To test if there is a compatibility between these ancient Japanese art forms and my current way of seeing photographically, I chose several photographs and made a novice effort to write what I feel to be some form of haiku. In this effort, I found that at first blush the words came easily, perhaps too easily. Yes, they all had 17 syllables and using the common 5-7-5 formula. (I have come to find out that both of these ‘rules’ are not absolutely necessary.) Though haiku, especially when it first became a known form, was to be solely related to nature, my photographs and words were not based on nature. Again, not necessary in this modern day.
So what is the point?
I often speak about signature style and prompt other photographers to at least explore what that looks like for them. I do this knowing that their search may never reach a conclusion. Just read about other ‘master’ artists and become aware of all the ‘phases’ or styles through which they worked. The best way I know of determining if one is on track toward discovering a so-called signature style is by sensing a resonance with a perceived or experienced approach. This resonance, a tone or timbre within, feels like a very positive wake-up or aliveness that directly relates to something that has made itself present in one’s life. When I connected a few of my photographs with my own form of haiku poetry it did feel like a powerful resonance. The search for a signature style suddenly became connected to the what and how I want to communicate with the world at large rather than, what style of photography do I want to exhibit, sell and/or publish.
Perhaps the next step is to begin to de-clutter my photography files by reviewing their affinity with these ancient forms of haiku and haiga. This may be the best way to further test the ‘resonance’ I am feeling and the pathway it appears to announce.
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© Essence Photography by Don Mendenhall