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!
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.
Teaching and Creative Tension
Out of all of the careers I have experienced, life-long, the most rewarding is that of teaching. This is especially true about the time I taught, mentored, or coached the photographic arts.
I recently had the pleasure of working with a number of photographers one to one in addition to teaching two classes, one on black and white landscape and one on seeing in black and white. For those of you who have taught, you know that teaching is one of the best ways to learn and grow in one’s own work. Here are just a few of the insights gained from these experiences:
• Becoming aware that photographers are truly open, even somewhat vulnerable, to expanding their photographic voice.
• Being prompted to further explore aspects of one’s own photograph making that may have been left dormant for a while.
• Realizing how important it is to be aware of the difference between ‘taking’ and photograph and ‘making’ a photograph. There is also the felt distinction between the attitude of ‘shooting’ a subject and the ‘momentary capture’ of the subject’s essence.
• Being cognizant of cross-over learning moments that could be shared between the student and teacher. This realization is essential for mutual respect and openness in the learning environment.
This leads me to encourage us all, who have a certain measure of confidence in the photographic endeavor, to find ways of not only sharing learnings by presenting our work but experiencing formal/informal conversations with others.
One aspect of being in conversation about photography or any other art medium is the tendency to fall into critiquing whether it is desired by the other person or not. In order to keep the critiquing mutual and helpful is important to be clear about the type or level of critique needed by the photographer who is sharing their work. There is a fine line between being ‘fully’ honest and perhaps hurtful, and being honest in a more ‘limited’ way unless a more ‘detailed’ critique is requested. Teaching or mentoring when a critique is expected does require a finesse and awareness of what is supportive and helpful and what is hurtful when there is not a fully disclosed readiness on the part of the one being taught or mentored.
It is in the interplay of these teaching exchanges that makes a wonderful opportunity possible for a creative experience even when there are times in which the conversation becomes tension filled, creative tension so to speak. My encouragement is, for all who feel confident readiness, to share what you have learned with others. You are going to like it!
Naming my art work Essence Photography was and is important for me to do. It had a direct affect upon developing a signature style before I knew what having a unique style meant. The naming insists that everything I do from capture to presentation communicates the essence of form and how it receives play of light.
Perhaps the most critical moment of essence awareness is during the time of photographic capture. I like George DeWolfe’s understanding of the capture time when he says “feel, see, click”. I believe that my very best captures, even when I first photographed years ago, were those that I remembered to ‘feel’ first. To feel utilizes all of one’s senses, taste, smell, see, hear, and touch. And of course and not least of all, intuition.
For example, if one were to photograph a glass of wine, the question becomes; what is the essence of this particular setting of wine? To discover its essence, why not touch the glass, smell the aroma, taste the depth, see its color, or hear the sound of the pour before any composition/technical considerations are made?
What does it feel like…
…to hear a bottle of wine’s contents being poured into a glass?"
…to see the unique color of a particular type of wine?
…to touch and sense the shape of the wine glass?
…to first smell the wine’s aroma?
…to then taste the wine and discover in one sip its heritage?
One of the definitions of essence is the word ‘lasting’. In photographing the subject of wine one might determine which of its characteristics has the most lasting quality? What intuitive sense speaks to you about what quality brings forth a ‘significant moment’ or ‘form presence’ that will last and last and last. The more compositional work and technical steps can then be engaged.
All of this is intimately linked to relationship building with those moments and subject forms that reminds us of the phrase, “…love at first sight.” Is it not the essence of one person immediately recognizing the essence of another with an emotional affinity quite similar to how an artist might connect with a subject or object? For me, this ‘essence’ relationship allows a photograph to be seen as a work of art. Art is a love affair between the artist within and the essence of another identity.
Mastery Out of The Thin Place
Then there is this concept of 'thin place', where there is an awareness of a place the spiritual and cognitive worlds touch. Or, it may be where authenticity and in-authenticity meet. Perhaps it is within this very thin place we are able to know our authentic self. Is embracing the thin place part of mastery? An Apache proverb states, "Wisdom sits in places."
Prose and Photography
With Whom Am, I Communicating?
So many times I have heard myself say; "No, I am not a landscape or nature photographer." Instead, I seem to use words like fine art, abstract, close-up, still life, or even metaphor. I follow these responses by stating that my style is contemplative. Then why is it that I am still making photographs of trees and water bodies with a landscape format?
The closest I can come to an answer is that I find significant metaphors, as do so many other artists, connecting nature with the human condition. For me, one of the best subject for this type of photography is a river. Rivers have been and continue to be strong thematic in song and prose. They have been visualized in stories carved, scratched, or painted upon the walls prehistoric caves, illustrated in ancient manuscripts, and now digitized for the Internet.
Even the images of trees appear to speak to something inside us. Don't we feel connected in some way to how they are standing and situated with their environmental surroundings? I have heard some suggestion that a person’s character can be recognized by what kind of tree they like best! What is yours?
I do believe, like many others, the art we create tends to reveal much about ourselves; almost like looking in a mirror. Are my photographs of rivers or trees linking to an internal communication telling me of a self-understanding and flow of life? Do I then present these photographs to others as a way of telling them about who I am?