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!
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
Just to say that I want to become a master photographer is difficult. It feels almost disingenuous because how does one really know if one has all that it may take?
Steven Pressfield, in his book "The War of Art", along with Robert McKee, who wrote its introduction, speak about the powerful roles 'resistance' and its companion 'fear' play in our efforts to live creative lives. And, while resistance and fear are very much a part of the everyday human condition, the question becomes to what extent they affect creativity, which to me is the primary pathway to mastery.
McKee agrees with Pressfield that it is in the day-by-day, step-by-step actions of preparing, ordering, and being patient, while facing fears and failures, that will lead the talented toward mastery.
Making the bold assumption that I do have ‘what it takes’, what is it that keeps me from demonstrating signs of this eventual mastery?
Here are my questions of self.
Resistance: What prevents me from fully opening an authentic channel to mastery?
Fear: Why do I fear becoming over involved in a work that shows signs of high merit because I question my ability to maintain the creative energy required and thus, potentially fail?
Day-by Day: Why do I often work in intense spurts rather than a steady day-by-day approach?
Step-by-Step: Why is my workflow inconsistent?
Preparation: Why do I tend to often work haphazardly?
Order: Why is my work environment not well ordered?
Patience: Why is it that when a project's workflow seems to be dead-ending I rush to finish rather than find a way toward qualifying?
As I write this blog I am looking at two photographs I recently made. One is what could describe as a competent work but I have no desire or passion to ever make another like it again. The second photograph is one that inspires me in extraordinary ways every time I look at it. In other words, I feel I could make photographs like this day-by-day, step-by-step in preparing, ordering, and enjoying the patience required. When I see this photograph my resistances and fears melt away.
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."
There is so much in the larger universal context that is ‘thinly’ separated by something like a membrane. This mysterious line of separation involves almost everything from the smallest cell structure to multiple universes touching each other without inter-awareness. And, can it also be what separates the master photographer within from a current way of approaching artful work? And, if it is so thin, why is it so difficult to employ? Is it because this thin membrane is opaque in nature not allowing shapes, shadows, or lines of consequence to be clearly seen, understood, or trusted...thus feared.
Is it fear and resistance that prevent me from living through this thin place where mastery may reside and is it worth the effort to engage? Most assuredly yes! I do have an intuitive sense that when one lives out the authentic self, braving its true vocation, and communicating well with the essence of who we are and relating honestly with the outer world; aliveness in mind, spirit, and body become more and more our way of living and acting. I wonder if this 'thin place' is to be made known in the feelings and understanding that come while comparing photographs that encourage with those that deplete the resolve to become a master. The thin place step-by-step, day-by-day, day-by-day, day-by-day!
Prose and Photography
The freedom to express, communicate, learn, and be in a relationship with our surroundings is so very critical for the well-being of our human nature and condition. To be and feel isolated from letting others know a bit about who we are and what we seem to be learning is but a step or two away from living out a sense of oblivion. This may be especially true even when we have trouble knowing or communicating with ourselves.
Why do photographers and other artists create? Out of a long list of whys, I would place (whether self-acknowledged or not) communication as number one. When setting internal goals or naming insights the likelihood of actualizing a result is severely limited if one keeps it all to oneself. As the number of people with whom the information is shared increases, the chances of follow-through with a good result also increases.
The question of who is our audience is a vital key for how we approach our artistic work. It may well be that a work is for only one person; the self. As with this blog perhaps I am writing more to myself than to anyone else. However, it is my hope that these thoughts have enough merit to at least be a prompter for additional thinking and revision for you the reader.
After a three-year pause in writing and photographing a book on pause; I became more aware that though I am a photographer; I find that photographs are not always able to communicate all of what I have to share. In this new project, Pause: Embracing the Hesitations in Life (Blurb Bookstore http://www.blurb.com/b/4954188-pause), I wrote as if I were being asked what story a particular photograph, related to these hesitations, was trying to tell. In this way an effort was made to be a storyteller of personal insights...in other words, to communicate.
When I do place prose with my photographs, my orientation is to have both mediums weighted equally for impact. It is important to encourage alignments among the writer/photographer, reader/viewer and the word/photograph. After writing the prose and feeling a sense of integrity with those words, it did take a while to feel as comfortable with the photographs.
May I invite you to choose one of your more meaningful photographs and write 1-3 paragraphs that enhance your communication with self and others?
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.
Rivers align with the flow and journey of life:
The Narrows - options are limited and the pace quickens.
Whirlpools - the feeling of being drawn into something, but not as a clear choice.
Eddies - momentarily being caught in a what feels like a never-ending cycle.
Passage - the natural pathway. (riverbed)
Rapids - again, fast moving with broken surface...exhilaration mixed with fear
Falls - deep dissent into a new stream.
Cataract - over a precipice.
Back-flow - return to source.
Current - going with or going against.
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?
Is photography simply a means of talking to ourselves and allowing others to listen in?
ENLARGING A MOMENT
Regarding those captured photographs when one uses a camera for the first time; I wonder if is not done in the hope of keeping that 'visual moment' alive and retrievable. In other words is it actually an effort to ‘enlarge’ a momentary experience of high interest beyond a present time?
I suspect that many of these first captures are of family or friends overtly expressing themselves. This was true for me as I was making my first photograph featuring two younger sisters playing with (you guessed it) an active litter of puppies! You know I still have that photograph, now decades old, and remember everything I saw and felt in that captured moment. Why? It was simply a moment that had a flurry of happiness needing to be retrievable. Though 'enlarging that moment' was not consciously in my mind when I released the shutter, I do believe it was the main reason.
Okay...that was then, how about now? How does the motivation of enlarging the moment affect my ongoing body of work? Here are the questions:
First, what is it about a subject that draws my momentary interest? If it doesn't then why in the world would I want to enlarge that story (or lack thereof) any further?
Does the subject actually have any distinguishing features that change or vary moment to moment? However, it is good to know that when a changing pattern of light is at play then any subject, animate or inanimate, has, at least, the possibility of momentary significance.
Then again, do I really want to make this a moment that is retrievable for me or anyone even though the photograph can be made to be technically competent? Most importantly, is there a quality that prompts a significant energetic response from a potential viewer including the photographer?
And, as I consider my past, current, and future body of work, which I desire to name as photographic fine art, could the concept of 'moment enlargement' be used as at least one test to distinguish a photograph of merit?
So now the question becomes; how courageous can I be using this concept to cull a much too large set of photograph files? Or, at least not putting new 'bland' moments in the file!
One thing for sure...I am keeping the sisters and puppies pic!