I just came in out of the rain. Stella and Jack are still playing out there. I wonder how long I had a camera in my hands today. I shot with the OM-D and the E-5. I didn’t touch the Pentax. That’s kind of neat. It used to be about shooting with the best camera I owned. Now it’s about using the one that will accomplish what I want. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a world of difference.
I’m not a fan of changing lenses, but I did it three time on the OM-D today. Generally, however, not wanting to change lenses has led me to give up on shots, to just not bother. Now, I have three lenses always ready to go, and which one I want to use determines which camera I choose.
The poetry thing: picking up Favorite Poems Old and New and reading through it one poem at a time, one each day: who knew how effective it would be in getting me shooting again? I’m not repeating the Poetic Inspirations 365 in that there are no deadlines or postings or expectations. Most importantly, I’m not setting up shots to illustrate verse. I’m simply letting my mind work, coming up with associations from the words on the page.
The other day, I read “My Inside-Self” by Rachel Lindsey. Of course, my first thought was a selfie. Eeegads! I didn’t want to do that. But then, I let things simmer for a few moments and ended up with image after image of roses and impatiens I cut specifically to photograph. The speaker of the poem is comparing how she looks (kind of round and sensible, perhaps frumpy) to how she feels (lithe and elegant and fancy). It struck me that roses are showy flowers, but impatiens are more run-of-mill, so I put the two of the them together. Playing into the that, too, were the words of St. Therese of Lisieux: “The splendour of the rose and whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realised that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay.”
Well, my roses and impatiens ended up providing me with a great deal of fodder for photographs and even spurred me on to digging out the twinkle lights and taking the trouble to set up a shoot. I loved being nudged this way, because tiny steps consistently taken often add up to more than big, splashy efforts.
I recently learned about photographer Josef Sudek in Tom Ang’s Photography: the Definitive Visual History. Ang wrote of him:
Sudek found his truest expression in images lovingly teased out of his home—essentially a large garden shed—using the watery light typical of Prague to capture fruit, glassware, and raindrops on the window. He also documented the streets of Prague and the reconstruction of its great cathedral, St. Vitus. His books are full of luminous and quiet studies, half-hinted at melancholy, and deserted spaces. “I love the life of objects,” he explained, “When children go to bed, the objects come to life.”
The images by Sudek in Ang’s book are gorgeous, many rather ethereal, but what I found most appealing was Sudek’s way of finding beauty and nuance in a small space. I’ve become something of a recluse and am not looking to create images of magnificent, soaring spaces, but my little world has been feeling rather photographically small as of late. In an effort to expand my imagination and see what’s possible, I ordered a copy of The Window of My Studio. As expected, the images are beautiful and the little bit of text, in an introduction by Anna Fárová, is just right. Here are a few pieces:
Sudek observed his two window-niches for at least fourteen years. They became a steady source or [sic] reassurance for him during the German occupation and the Second World War, when time seemed to stand still, and also during the difficult 1950s under the Communist regime. They were fixed frames for images painted on glass. …
From 1967 onwards, Sudek and I began to talk increasingly about “mystery,” about something uncommon, hard to communicate, something recondite and non-descriptive in photography, about its magic quality, its going beyond objective reality, about its other kinds of content, about what, according to him, was “around the corner.” Sudek spoke about the window of his studio, which he had contemplated almost fifteen years. During that time it was often no longer an ordinary window, but had become a mystical stained-glass window in the humble church of his own home, a place to concentrate, meditate, and dream. The glass of the window, the world before it and behind it, externalizing and internalizing, the dividing line between two worlds, marked by time, by the seasons, by day and night, permeable and impermeable, affected by the light of inside and outside, was transformed sometimes into an utterly abstract surface, a picture charged with prolonged emotion and attentive observation.
For better or for worse, the windows in my studio—indeed, in my whole house—are designed to be energy efficient, which means that I get none of that lovely condensation that was an essential component in Sudek’s beautiful photos. What if, though—I wondered—I was able to somehow create my own Sudek studio window? It just so happens that the windows we recently took out of the living room during its renovation are languishing beneath the deck. The cool thing about those old Pellas, with a manufacture date of 1975 stamped on them, is that one of the double panes can easily be removed and is framed in lightweight, low-profile metal, which makes it rather easy to transport. Two big skewers, custom manufactured long ago for my uncle, did a perfectly adequate job of holding the window upright out in the garden. All that was needed from there was a spray-bottle of water and my camera. So, I think I’ll add an album for through-the-glass shots and name it “Behind Broad Sheet*.”
*Broad sheet was an early incarnation of glass panel that tended to be riddled with imperfections due to the manufacturing process, which included blowing and flattening. While my pane of glass was certainly not made that way, I am hoping for imperfections in the images shot through the glass.
One of the things I learned (and found fascinating) from Tom Ang’s Photography: The Definitive Visual History is that the question of literalism vs. art/ambiguity/what-have-you existed pretty much from the time Niépce fixed the first photographic image. Was he capturing reality? Well, no. The buildings and street that showed up on that piece of paper were not objectively representative of the subject. One cannot walk down the street on the paper or enter the buildings that are depicted there. Further, what Niépce captured was one view of that scene, which was completely dependent upon where he was situated, how the camera obscura was set up, and when he made the exposure (for example, the sun would have been in a different place, changing the light in the image, if the exposure had been made, say, 15 minutes later).
Have you ever heard the story about Picasso meeting a fellow train passenger who criticized Picasso’s work, telling him that a painting should look like the subject? The passenger takes out a picture of his wife and says, “Like this.” Picasso replies, “This is your wife?” The passenger answers, “Yes,” and Picasso shoots back, “She looks rather small and flat to me.”
Most of what we think we know about a particular photographic image is not intrinsic to the image itself. I might know the circumstances surrounding Paul Strand’s iconic image of the blind woman, but what if I were to place the picture on the kitchen table for one of my kids to discover? What would my 11-year-old son make of it if he had no context to go with it? Would he have any ideas about its provenance, who this woman was, why she was chosen by whoever took her picture, if the photo was candid or staged, if she was truly blind?
Ambiguity is inherent in every photographic image. We just don’t recognize it, because we bring too much experience, expectation, and ego to the table.
Flickr, Facebook, and Instagram are filled with images accompanied by words, words, and words. Everyone wants to explain. But why? Why are we so determined to control what others think?
I thought about naming this post "Cheating," but then I realized that it's my game, I make up the rules, so there's really no such thing as cheating.
This image was taken back in June. The damsel fly was quite cooperative, sitting for long periods in one spot, giving me ample time to move in close with my 50mm lens and extender. My eight-year-old daughter would be happy to never look at a closeup of this insect's face again, but I find beauty there, and the design in the green leaves leaves me swooning.
Well, it hasn’t taken me long to learn that the task I set myself, shooting with the theme of Unintended Beauty in mind, is harder than I imagined it would be. When I came up with the notion (all of maybe 24 hours ago), I had nebulous ideas about decaying flowers and oily machinery and rubbish of one sort or another.
Perhaps I should have worked harder at defining what I was trying to do.
On the other hand, I like to leave myself open to serendipity. As it stands now, I’m leaning towards images of old flowers and leaves, with a few rocks and some dirt thrown in.
I’m going to let that be OK, and see where I get led. Such a mindset fits nicely, I think, with the Instagram post that impressed me earlier.
I'm embarking upon a learning experience. Success is not required.
I’m glad I did. In his introduction, Hoffman wrote, “Tiny objects of art, these slides have an unintended beauty of their own. On one, the marginalia dazzle with the color and movement of a Jackson Pollack drip painting. Another is reminiscent of a Robert Rauschenberg combine painting. They have an aesthetic both baroque and pop.”
The phrase “unintended beauty” caught my attention and ignited my imagination. What if, I thought, I let that phrase guide me in creating photographic images?
After a long, drawn-out living room renovation down to the studs (which needs just a little, tippy-tap, almost-there, more work), my family and I are the proud owners of a used pool table that sports beautiful Tournament Blue felt. We’ve owned this lovely nine-footer for four weeks now, and it has seen plenty of play.
I chalk up my cue at least three or four times a day, but generally not to compete against my husband or one of my kids. I like to just have a go at those solids and stripes on my own. Not only do I avoid feeling pressured to win, I feel free to take my time and experiment, assess, and analyze.
I’m taking the same approach with my photography. I can’t remember the last time I posted to Instagram, and the only reason I put any images up on Flickr is to feel like I’m doing something with some of them.
I seldom look at any other photos posted there, and I dread receiving comments on my work, no matter how enthusiastic.
I’ve played the comment-to-get-comments and favorite-to-get-favorite games. Now, I just want to explore and learn, experiment, assess, and analyze—at my own pace.
More than a month has passed since I finished my 365-day, Story of the Light project. I shan’t be embarking upon a new daily endeavor anytime soon. I’m enjoying the breathing room too much to give it up.
Looking at the folders on my computer, I see that there have been only four days since May 22nd in which I have not picked up one of my cameras. In fact, I’ve been shooting quite a bit since then, putting my Olympus E-5, my Olympus OM-D E-M1, and my Pentax K-1 through their paces. I’m learning to appreciate the strengths of each, and I’m loving the luxury of being able to choose the best machine for the job.
Most of all, though, I’m reveling in being able to download a day’s worth of images and then walk away. I do not miss the pressure of picking the day’s best shot, processing it, and getting it posted. Now, every few days, I review a folder or two, deleting the photos that really aren’t worth keeping and editing those I’d like to share.
Most days, my cameras sit idle, and I feel bad for them. My Olympus E-5 was a Christmas gift from husband, and the two of us (the E-5 and me) have had some good times together. But I get busy, and my expectations get too high. Suddenly, no image I create is worthy of being seen by anyone but me.
Today is the day I say Piffle! Today is the day I pick up my camera again and record the light in my life. As simple as that: one camera, one lens, gratitude and acceptance.
"But reason, instead, is opened wide to reality, it takes it all in, noting its connections and its implications." —Monsignor J. Francis Stafford in the introduction to The Religious Sense by Monsignor Luigi Giussani
My life works a little bit at a time: a hundred or so steps added to the total on my Fitbit; one downloaded image polished and posted; a load of laundry folded and put away before carrying a basket of dirty clothes down to the washer; another page turned in one of the books I'm reading. Although it sometimes seems like my efforts amount to barely anything, I know that a pebble thrown into a lake creates ripples far larger than itself.
This image marks the beginning of a breakthrough in my work, even though I did not realize it at the time. This one image poked the tiny hole that caused fissures in a lifetime carefully built upon the expectations of others.