I continue to think about and torture my friends by asking them about making Art and making photographs specifically. What is it for? Who is it for?
There are so many ways that we can use our time why make art if it’s not putting food on the table? Why make art if there’s no waiting audience for it?
The answer that I keep coming back to is that for me, and I suspect many others, creating things is an internal drive. I just have to do it. The world gets out of balance without the ability to create things. Nice if there’s and audience for what we’re making but it’s not the reason for making it.
Where things get a bit wobbly is when you have expectations for what you are creating. Whether it’s the standard that you set for yourself for quality? Whether it’s the ‘likes’ on Instagram or the number of pieces sold. Focusing on these things as measures of how good the work is will inhibit your progress as an artist.
Instead it’s much better to focus on the process of creating. Thinking about how many days did I get out to photograph this week, this month, this year or how many photographs did I ‘finish’ – take through the edit process and print? Seems to me a much better way to measure our creative output.
The answer for me is the same as if someone was looking and was listening. It’s about staying true to your values and having integrity.
About making the things that you want to make because those are the things that you need to make.
There’s freedom and opportunity in such a space. No constraints resulting from the expectations of others. No ties or obligations to what’s gone before preventing you from striking out in a new direction.
Certainly something to think about as we get going this week.
How about you? What you you do if no one was watching or so say if no one was listening?
It’s starting to feel as though Winter is finally receeding in my neck of the woods. I still have snow in the garden but it’s less and less every day. How about you?
I feel as though I ought to have been out to photograph while we had all the snow and certainly now that the weather is getting better I should be getting out but I’m not. It’s all too easy to stay in bed for an extra hour or to have dinner with the family rather than making the extra effort to get out with the camera. Getting back into the routine of taking time one morning a week to get out with the camera when I’m at home is taking some doing. I’m trying though.
I’ve had my eye on this little stream for a while now with the idea that I would photograph it when there was more water in it. With the recent snow melt the water flow has gone from a trickle to a torrent in a very short space of time. Increasingly I felt that if I didn’t photograph it now I would have a long wait and so I got out with the camera at the end of last week and had a fun hour or two poking around.
Originally I had thought that I would like the reds in the weeds at the top of the image but when I got the image into lightroom didn’t really love it (the color version is below) and so made the switch to black and white. This is still a work in progress, the first stopping point before I reevaluate and decide where to take it next.
As always, thoughts and comments more than welcome.
After talking about what’s behind the creation of work and understanding where it fits into the universe of other creative works I started to think about how I look at images. It’s one thing to be told the secret and another to be able to unlock the secret yourself.
I’m sure that there are ways to look at images in a meaningful systematic way, I find that I’m systematic, I do the same things over and over again, but perhaps not meaningful. In essence I’m running through a mental check list, a process that happens quickly:
What’s this a photograph of? What is the photograph about?
Have a seen something similar before? Where? By Whom?
How was this created? What was the pov? What lens was used?
Any other creative effect? Filters? Shutter speed? Depth of field? Focus?
How has space been used in this image? Foreground, middle and distance?
What about balance? Where is the visual mass, how does this draw the eye?
What about light? How does it contribute to the information in, or impact of, the image?
When I’ve eventually exhausted the initial run through I then turn to what has been churning away in the background:
What does this make me feel? What are my thoughts? What associations does this image bring to mind.
How about you? Do you have a way that you look at images? What works for you? I’d love to hear about it.
I’m not sure whether Michael Zide would consider the image above to be his most iconic but it was the image that first caught my attention when I was leafing through a Maine Media Workshops catalog a while ago and then the one that I rediscovered last week. There are a number of things that I like about this image but I think the thing that struck me the most was the combination of ice and the ocean – I really got a sense of the cold when I looked at this image. It was also fun to realize that it was taken at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my favorite places to photograph, and perhaps Michael’s too since he lived there for over 10 years.
Getting basic techniques down and being able to replicate photographs that others have made is all well and good. But how do you advance beyond that to make photographs that are unique, that express your unique vision.
Many people use the struggles and creative processes of writers to help guide the photography path. Skeptical? Take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ and change his mention of writing for photography and you’ll see what I mean.
My development as a photographer has paralleled the way I learned to play the guitar. I spent many hours learning how to play songs and even more time how to play blues riffs. At first this was following along with instructional books and CDs, as an aside David Hamburger and Dave Rubin produced some phenomenal instructional books and CDs, and then later working out riffs for myself from the CDs that I had. This let me build up a series of phrases that I could be dropped into either my own songs or the songs of others, in many ways like learning elements of photographic technique that will later be pieced together to make an image.
For both writing and learning to play the guitar there comes a point where progression comes from studying the work of others. Either reading more in the case of writing or listening more when it comes to learning an instrument. The same is true for photography. We’re surrounded by images but I suspect that few of us take the time to really look at them, to really see. When was the last time you went to an exhibition of photography or painting? When was the last time that you pulled one of your coffee table photography books down and spent 10 minutes looking at a single image?
If you’re like me, more engineer than artist, perhaps part of the reason is that you don’t have the language to describe what your seeing and you could argue if we could use words we’d be writers. The very act however of simply describing the image in front of you is enormously useful first step in becoming comfortable with describing photographs and identifying elements within them that you could use in your own photography. The more time you spend looking at other photographs the more photographs you’ll see when you have your camera in hand.
So how to start? Start with a very basic description: What is it a photograph of? Color or black & white? Shape of the frame? Where was it taken? When was it taken? How was it taken? Then go beyond the basics: Why was it taken? How does it make you feel?
I’d be interested in your feedback and comments if you run through this exercise with the image above.
I recently came across the photography of Douglas Ethridge. The first image of his that caught my attention was one from the same series as the example I posted above, featured in an interview with him in F-Stop Magazine. There’s more to Douglas than just these images of water, his black and white work is equally stunning. Check out all of his portfolio’s here and my favorite black and white set, Waypoints, here.
Finally check out the video of Douglas discussing his work below.
I think one of the challenges that we all have as photographers is showing the everyday in new and interesting ways. Michael Eudenbach is one photographer who seems to make doing this easy, making photographs that I always enjoy looking at. His photograph of the bow of Endeavour, shown above is a particular favorite. Michael has a talent for finding a unique way of representing the scene in front of him, resulting in photographs that make you feel as though you’re part of the action. You can find more of Michael’s photographs here. Check out the video below that shows one way that Michael uses to find unique viewpoints. For personal feedback on your images you can find Michael on PhotoSynesi