Looking Back, Reaching Forward

I’ve been taking a dive into the world of JMW Turner in recent weeks. I still have not managed to see the new film although hopefully I’ll get to see that soon.

I’ve seen Todd Henry of ‘Accidental Creative’ fame discuss a model that describes the phases of creative growth – discovery, imitation, divergence and crisis. The phases are just what you would expect: A growing awareness of an interest in an area; copying of the masters; making work that is their own; and finally a recognition that to move forward the old techniques will need to be abandoned.

There are clear echoes of this pattern of growth in Turner’s work. A major inspiration for Turner was Claude Lorrain, born Claude Gellee, 1600-1682, and sufficiently famous to be known just as ‘Claude’. John Constable described Claude as ‘the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw’. The book ‘Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude’ explores the relationship between the work of Turner and that of Claude from a century or more earlier and provides many examples of Turner’s recreations of Claude’s images.

There is a distinct evolution in Turner’s style with time. His early work closely resembles the paintings by Claude but slowly he drifts away from the precision embodied by Claude to something much looser. Eventually of course Turner’s work becomes very loose indeed, perhaps the result in his passing into the crisis phase?, which gave us work that was in turn to inspire generations of artists to come including the Impressionists and the case is made in ‘Turner, Monet, Twombly’ that the reach of Turner extended to Cy Twombly.

In this dive into the work of Turner I was struck by some of the comments on his use of color and in particular incorporation of ‘new’ colors into his work that gave it a sense of vibrancy bordering on gaudiness. As an earlier adopter of new paints that set him apart from his contemporaries I couldn’t help but wonder whether Turner over did it a bit with these paints in the same way that early adopters of HDR technology did initially (and still do in some cases!).

I do find it amusing that for someone like me who has largely ignored history I’m finally coming around to the recognition that there is much to be learned from those that have gone before us. Spending time looking back at the work of the masters can indeed help to propel us forward. Or as Mary Oliver put it in ‘A Poetry Handbook‘:

‘To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.’

G.G.A.S.*: Canon 100-400 mkII

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*Galloping Gear Acquisition Syndrome

I am generally happy to remain ignorant of the latest bells and whistles that the camera manufacturers have added in order to sell another piece of gear that no-one really needs. However, of late my head has bean turned by lots of new doodads. The latest in this parade of head turners is the updated version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens. I had the original ‘dust pump’ version of this lens which I eventually retired because it never saw much action and following it’s use I ended up spending a while cleaning the sensor on the body that it was used on. Having said that, there was a certain novelty factor to the way that the lens extended to change focal length. For the weight and number of times I used the lens I decided to leave it on my desk at home and make do with my very much lighter 70-200mm lens.

There are times however when the extra reach can allow you to make the photograph that you have in mind. The image above is a case in point. I’d tried with my 70-200, it really wasn’t working, click on the image below to see what I mean. Nixon_150115_6450

While getting closer was certainly an option I had an opportunity to use the new 100-400 lens and made the image below using the same settings as I had with my 70-200mm. Nixon_150115_6462

Immediately noticeable on the LCD screen on the camera was that the image made using the 100-400 was sharper than that made with the 70-200 even though all the camera settings and lens settings were the same. This in inevitably led me to wonder what if I dumped the 70-200 and replaced it with the 100-400 lens. That way I’d have a nice sharp lens capable of the extra reach when I need it. My only concern is the weight – a chunky albs. We’ll see how I get on!

Friday Inspiration: Camille Seaman

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It never ceases to amaze me how small our world now is. That we can easily get on a plane and travel to almost anywhere, even some of the most remote places in the world, is something that continues to fascinate me. Many of my photographer friends have been to the polar regions of the world, particularly Antarctica, and the discussion between them is when they are going to go back.

Being in the presence of ‘big ice’ has yet to capture my imagination in a way that pulls me to the ends of the earth. Until the time that it does I’m happy to enjoy the work of photographers such as Camille Seaman who have spent time in these places.

Camille is part Shinnecock Native American Tribe and is using photography to explore her connectedness with the world, which in many ways is an extension of the things that she was taught by her paternal grandfather. Her 10 years of visits to the Arctic and Antarctic have been collected into a book ‘Melting Away‘ that is well worth spending some time with.

See Camille talking about her polar project ‘The Last Iceberg’ in the TED talk below. Also see Camille share a few few thoughts on her process as well as a longer talk that gives more detail on her background as well as her projects.

Embracing Constraints

It feels to be that I have a very delicately balanced existence.  It doesn’t take much to throw everything out of whack.  A demand for extra time in one area of my life has repercussions everywhere else, leaving me scrambling to pick up the pieces.  Of course if the kids are sick, my wife is sick or I’m sick, all of which has happened essentially continuously for the last month, chaos ensues.  All very much part of life’s rich tapestry and something to be embraced rather than to get frustrated about.  He tells himself through gritted teeth.

The ability to know what to do and when in order to be maximally effective is one of the ultimate aims of David Allen’s GTD methodology.  An updated version of the GTD book came out this week and I’m very much looking forward finishing working my way through it.  While it looks very familiar but also with enough new stuff to make it worth taking a look at.  The last full chapter deals with GTD mastery, what does it look like when you’ve got this GTD thing down?  It looks like mastery in most other fields, a freedom to add value without getting bogged down in the mundane.

While I get back to good health and back on track bear with me.  If you’ve commented here and not seen a response I apologize.  I can assure you that I read the comment and will respond soon.

 

 

Happy on the Inside

One of the projects that I set for myself this year is to create 250 ‘instagram’ images. Not necessarily to post 250 images to Instagram but to finish 250 images taken on the iPhone and processed using apps. That means ~ 60 images per quarter. It’s been an usual start to the year which was the major driver for me reaching the 100 mark last week.

Looking back over the images is see that I clearly have a preferred color palette as well subject matter. My 100 a images are an eclectic collection of mostly color abstracts and landscape images.

The image above, taken on the last day of a short trip to Portland, is a clear outlier.  Without exception the other 99 are all of subjects outside, even if they were taken from the warmth of a coffee shop the subject was outside.

I doubt that there will be more like this – never say never – but it does make me wonder why I haven’t been shooting indoors more and what it would look like if I did.

Friday Inspiration: Miss Aniela

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When I first saw the work of Natalie Dybisz aka Miss Aniela a number of years ago now I was absolutely floored. At the time I was still relatively naive with regard to the possibilities of what could be created in Photoshop and had imagined that her surreal imagery were not just a product of a fertile imagination but also prodigious camera skills. The fluency with the tools is certainly there but it a solid understanding of how to shoot so that the required elements are available for the final construction in photoshop. Take a look below to see Miss Aniela at work and to hear her talk about her process.

Leaning In

If you want your pictures to be better, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”
- Jim Richardson

“If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.”
– Jay Maisel

If part one of making things with meaning is to learn more about yourself then part two has to be all about leaning in and connecting with the world.

For me a deeper understanding of what resonates with me helps me get myself into situations that I more likely connect with.  Even then I feel that the camera can be a barrier which makes me more an observer, rather than a participant in the world.

The answer to the question of ‘how to break down that barrier’ is seemingly obvious.  Take time to experience the place and people that you’re going to photograph and build a relationship before rushing to grab a few shots.

Michael Kenna says that he takes time to talk to the land before he photographs, I suspect that this is his way of ensuring that barrier is broken down.  It’s a good practice to take time to wander around with out the camera and see what’s grabbing your attention before racing in to photograph.  Not advice I always follow myself and I can tell when I do and when I don’t.

The same goes for people too.  I can’t imagine why you would want to photograph people, to make their portraits, if you’re not genuinely interested in who they are and what’s their story.  Again, I think that you can tell when you look at the work from people who ‘stole’ the portraits and those who really took the time to engage.

Make photographs about things you care about and make me care too.