Friday, November 15, 2013

Posts and Chris Orwig

I post things to this blog that I personally find of value to my thinking about photography. Sometimes what I post are things that I want to think on, retain, understand. Sometimes they are things that reinforces my personal thinking on photography, or reinforces how I wish to think about photography, and sometimes they are things that I find inspiring. I have no idea whether or not anyone else finds them the same but I do hope so. Let's just say, they are things that I find important for different reasons.

I just downloaded issue number five of the Craft and Vision's quarterly magazine, Photography. As always the articles are absolutely great. Spent an hour yesterday reading a piece, Creativity, from David duChemin with a couple of friends. Today I am reading Aspire and Learn an article on creativity by Chris Orwig. I haven't finished the article yet but I came across this paragraph that I would like to share.

"Getting better at photography is more like digging down and less like climbing up. We need to stop comparing photographic growth to climbing a corporate ladder. There is no ladder in photography and there is no top rung. Becoming a better photographer requires excavation, like digging a trench. Dig deep into who you are and into what matters most, and you might just discover a fresh spring. "

In both of these articles it is emphasized that the important center of photography is inside us, from the gut, the soul. Everyone quotes Jay Maisel's " become a more interesting photographer, become a more interesting person." Joe McNally has a take off, " become a more interesting photographer, stand in front of more interesting things." Both offer wise advice. But if I may take-on or at least rephrase Joe's statement, "...stand in front of things that you are more interested in."

I know that I might seem obsessed with many of the things that I am currently enjoying photographing such as cemeteries. Maybe I am. I have always been interested in life and death probably more so since Janet's passing. But I see that theme in photographs that I took over fifty years ago so it is not necessarily a new interest. What may be new is that at my advanced age death is closer and possibly I am looking deeper for symbolism in my photography that says what I am feeling and thinking about death, my own as well as the deaths of others. It's a new adventure to look forward to and darn it I probably won't be able to take along my trusty Nikon--but then again, who know for sure. Maybe it will even surpass Google glasses. I know that I am promised to be able to put away my current vision as I was supposed to put away my childish ways of seeing and to see more clearly--isn't that what photographers really want to do?

Addendum: I have to apologize to David du Chemin. I just reread the article he did on creativity and found this:

"So how then do we get better at our ability to both come up with new ideas and execute them?

 ...I think 'become a more interested person,' also applies. Life is not about photography; photography is about life."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fredrick Sommer

I have been reading an article published in Aperture from a speech Fredrick Sommer gave at the Chicago Institute of Art. Sommer is not much easier to understand than Minor White but I find what he says very interesting. I made a note on this page to try to understand my photography from what Sommer has written and to try to understand what he has written from the point of view of my photographs.

The speech is loosely woven but I find the following particularly interesting:

“I have a feeling that as I get a bit more acquainted with the things with which I’m dealing, or happen to find myself surrounded by, I get imprinted with them. The things that we are, are environment-making towards us. We reinforce that... so it’s a question of how far you dare to venture from the thing that you think is your thing. It’s a question of taking some chances. Yet let me assure you that nobody ever goes into far country. If you find yourself going to a zoo too often, it’s because you belong in a zoo in the first place; you’re at home there. We never go to strange places… We think we’re in exotic country, but, if we are somewhat comfortable there, it’s because we took a chunk of ourselves and found something of ourselves again… I know now that we are completely incapable of ever seeing anything. Consequently, we would never photograph anything unless we have become attentive to it because we carry a great chunk of it within ourselves… we are only paying attention to those things which already have busied us, occupied us, or better still, are so much a part of us that we lean into another situation which is already ourselves.

Perhaps we walk around with a camera. We find something that we want to photograph. We have photographed something of that already; we may have already lived that kind of feeling; and what we are really doing is intensifying that feeling and carrying it further. What then are we doing? We go on an excursion; we are not looking for the new, the different, the exotic. When we talk in those terms we are only propagandizing ourselves. Growth is the only modification; it is not change. It is important to make that distinction. 

So, we are trying to reinforce our moods. We underwrite feelings in other people and in other conditions which are congenial to us. You don’t ever see anything that is not already something of you. Although, how you go about this, the techniques of this, may vary with people.

How do you do something? How do you get involved in something? The answer is that you don’t get involved with something in which you are not already involved. What appears to be a new exciting condition you recognize as such because it is alive in you already and a great part of you.”

I have a certain confidence in what I do photographically. By that I mean that to a great extent I know why I do what I do, why I photograph what I photograph and what I want out of those photographs—what Sommer is calling ‘intensification’. That confidence I have always known comes from what Sommer is writing about—that part that is in me that I find in the objects I photograph. Yes, I do a lot of totally useless photography. What I am talking about here is not camera club assignments or field trips. I am talking about the photography that I do that is for me personally—the only photography that I do that has value to me.

Sommer also goes into ‘thinking about thinking’ but that’s another topic. I am a person that thinks a lot about my life and how photography relates to who I am. The two, my life and my photography seem to me to be inseparable. Lately I have done a considerable amount of photography in cemeteries. They have a very strong hold on me right now. I have a whole pocket full of themes that I pursue while photographing in cemeteries. But all the themes are functions of how I think about cemeteries, how I have experienced cemeteries. I photographed in cemeteries long before I discovered why, or at least think I discovered why I photograph in cemeteries. I photograph people because I have an emotional connection to people. When I don’t have people to photograph I photograph metaphors for people that hold those same emotions. I know that I do that in cemeteries. So is that the part of me that Sommer is writing about? Now I need to examine my cemetery photographs in light of Sommer’s article. I need to examine all of my photography. Do I need to take more chances in order to find other pieces of me?  
“You don’t ever see anything that is not already something of you.” I find that a very interesting statement. As personal as I find my photography I have never looked at it specifically from that perspective. It would certainly explain why certain genre of photography holds little or no appeal to me.

The Visual Toolbox

Craft and Vision has recently published a no article by David duChemin titled The Visual Toolbox, 50 Lessons for Stronger Photography.  Since we are a group that is learning to ‘read’ photographs I thought I would share the opening paragraph.

If I were to begin a school of photography right now it would send the geeks screaming for the hills . . . or at least avoiding my school in droves. Every student would spend one year with one camera: a fully manual 35 mm camera like the Pentax Spotmatic, or the Canon AE-1. It would have one prime lens and a light meter. Students would be restricted to black and white film only, and they’d be restricted from using anything digital except an iPhone. There’d be no magazines, and no how-to books. Students would spend a year making photographs and talking about them, and would study the work of photographers—past and present—who had something to say and made their mark in some way. They’d study stories, painting, and some art history beyond merely the annals of photographic history. For some people it would be a long, long year.

No magazines, no how-to-books, no internet forums (okay I added that one)--…spend a year making photographs and talking about them and would study the work of photographers—past and present—who had something to say... What an idea!