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.

Making Things With Meaning

In a world where everyone is a photographer and there are more photographs deposited into the ether every minute than there were photographs taken in the 19 th century one has to wonder whether anyone is really paying attention to todays photographs. How many of these photographs are looked at again by the photographer let alone by the social networks that they are shared with.

The photographs that stand out, those that we return to, the images that we print, are the ones where we really connected with the subject. This is often easier said than done.

All too often the camera serves as a barrier, sometimes an essential protection, but frequently the thing that inhibits connection with the subject. The more you are thinking about technical details or what else is going on around you the less available you are to connect with your subject, whether that’s a person, the landscape or whatever you choose to photograph.

The more present you are with your subject the more likely it is that you will have an experience and photograph that will endure. For me this means doing all the thinking in advance, or at least allowing the chatter to fall away so that I can be attuned and respond appropriately to opportunities that come my way. To listen carefully to the voice sometimes quiet, sometimes a roar, that encourages me to take the photograph.

I’ve come to believe that the deeper your relationship with yourself – the clearer you are about what’s important to you, who your influences are – the more likely you are to recognize what caught your attention when you walked by a potential subject. Why sometimes it’s a quiet voice inviting you to take the photograph and sometimes a roaring demand.

Friday Inspiration: Julieanne Kost

RejuvinationFlat

As I look around for ‘how to’ resources for lightroom and photoshop one of the people that I continually come back to is Julieanne Kost. Julieanne is the Principal Digital Imaging Evangelist for Adobe Systems, which means that she spends much of her time on the road speaking at conferences and teaching how to get the most out of lightroom and photoshop. I recently worked through her ‘Advance Photoshop Layers‘ course on the CreativeLive site which was excellent. She’ll be teaching during the upcoming Photoshop week on CreativeLive which will be worth checking out.

Many of the examples that Julieanne uses during her demonstrations are from her personal projects. Her book Window Seat is quite interesting and now available as a digital book. Well worth a look. It’s the photoillustrations, such as the one above, that of course really capture my attention given my interest in assembling images from parts. Check out the videos below to see more of how these are constructed:

Friday Inspiration: Brooke Shaden

Brooke Shaden

Often as a beginning photographer you will hear the admonishment, ‘get it right in camera’, this is good advice when your starting out. It provides a restriction, a box to work in, and edges to push up against. It forces you to think about what is the subject, how do you frame the subject so that everyone knows what the subject it, are there lines that you can use to lead the eye through the image and on an on. A multitude of decisions to make on the fly that with practice become second nature, an instinct and perhaps one of the reasons that it can be so hard for some to teach what they are clearly so capable of doing.

I find that I am increasingly less interested in getting it right in camera and more interested in making sure that I’ve captured enough of the scene in front of me to be able to recreate what I felt when I was there. I’ll shoot different shutter speeds to capture waves with just the right amount of blur, I’ll focus at different points in the image so that I can get good front to back depth of field and I’ll shoot a lot of frames. I’ve actually been doing this for a while and it’s taking some time for my post-processing skills to catch up with what I’d felt and imagined I would be able to create when I was stood in various places around the world blasting away.

In looking around at people who were pushing the envelope with regards to creating images Brooke Shaden’s work caught my eye early on, initially through her book ‘Inspiration in Photography: Training your mind to make great art a habit’ and through her CreativeLive Class ‘Fine Art Portraits‘.

Brooke creates worlds that ‘she wishes we could live in, where secrets float out in the open, where the impossible becomes possible’, often using herself as the model for the photograph. She is able to create these new worlds using relatively simple techniques in photoshop.

Looking at some of the behind the scenes videos on her You Tube channel made me realize how much you could do if you just understood just a few of the tools in photoshop deeply. Watch Brooke in action and hear her talk about her work and process in the videos below.

On the Road Again

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I’m traveling again this week which is unfortunate on a number of levels. I’ve been pursuing a winter tress project over the last couple of years and have been looking forward to extending that project this winter. Unfortunately we’ve had very little snow so far this winter. It looks like that is about to change in spectacular fashion when Juno passes through the area later today and tomorrow.

We’ll see what that does to my travel plans!

Visual Poetry

I wanted to thank everyone for the comments last week – it’s nice to hear that many of us are on the same path. I particularly appreciated Sabrina Henry highlighting Ray Ketcham’s blog post ‘Art is not pointing‘. The post underscores the point quite eloquently that our work is part of a conversation that has been going on for centuries and that we need to have an appreciation of the ideas and issues that have been explored if we are to be part of that conversation. Well worth a read!

As I continue to paddle around looking for connections and parallels in the work of others I’ve been thinking about other art forms particularly writing. The similarity between writing and photography has been noted by others but continues to amaze me.  For instance take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, every time he mentions writing substitute photography and you’ll have a great guide to the photographic life.

If I were to pick a genre of writing that my photography is most like it would be poetry – ‘Visual Poetry’ anyone? Chris Orwig of course wrote the book on ‘Visual Poetry‘ – it’s not only a great read but also contains lots of useful exercises.

If we pick up the what is the purpose of art question from last week and ask ‘Why Write Poetry’ and ‘Why Read Poetry’ and then looking to the interwebs for an answer there are a number of interesting interviews with poets that have useful things to say.  This interview with Jane Hirshfield in particular resonated strongly with me.  There were a couple of points where I really felt as though she was in my head.  I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts about what I’m looking for in my photographs – an image that surprises me, while it makes sense to me is hard for other people to grasp.  Hirshfield says of poetry:

‘Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.’

This is captures what I’m trying for with my images in a way that I’ve never before been able to say. There are more juicy bits in this interview such as:

‘One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world.’


‘You can’t write an image, a metaphor, a story, a phrase, without leaning a little further into the shared world, without recognizing that your supposed solitude is at every point of its perimeter touching some other’

‘…good art is a truing of vision, in the way that a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. And that anything that lessens our astigmatisms of being or makes more magnificent the eye, ear, tongue, and heart cannot help but help a person better meet the larger decisions that we, as individuals and in aggregate, ponder.’

All of this is starting to make me feel a little more comfortable with a role for my work, certainly in the creation of it, as a tool to connect more deeply with the world in general.

As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments and would be delighted to hear what you make of all this.

Friday Inspiration: Richard Tuschman

Tuschman Hopper

In casting around for photographers who have generated work that resembles that of Edward Hopper I came across the work of Richard Tuschman. In his series ‘Hopper Meditations’ Tuschman attempts to replicate some of the work of Hopper, focusing on Hopper’s interior images. The image above is based on the image following:

Hopper Hotel

I think that he succeeded in not only replicating the original but also bringing something of his own to the image too.

In looking at the gallery of images on his website I couldn’t figure out how he was making these images – were these elaborate sets similar to those that we saw Gregory Crewdson prepare? Or something else? Take a look at the images and have a guess.

Once you’ve done that check out the videos below for the answer! This article also has a nice discussion of the technical aspects of ‘Hopper Mediations’.

Richard Tuschman on Montage from Seth Thompson on Vimeo.

Richard Tuschman on Hopper Meditations from photo-eye on Vimeo.