It seems a popular pursuit in landscape photography is to globe trot to exotic locations mining dramatic landscapes in theatrical light. In the past, the hard work in this kind of photography was the research. Getting yourself in the right place at the right time in the right conditions was a bit of a task. Today, with GPS-tagged photos, location apps and eGuides, finding the world’s trophy locations has never been easier. Witness the ever-increasing crowds lining up for sweet light photos of Maroon Bells, Delicate Arch, the Giant’s Cuaseway or the Taj Mahal. Few locations are ‘secret’ any longer so coming up with unique photos based solely on access and good light is getting harder and harder.
As impressive as it is to see a portfolio of big dramatic landscape images from around the world, these portfolios resonate with us less and less because they are now so common place. The photographers’ portfolios that really impress us are those photographers who can consistently make the extraordinary from the ordinary. Those photographers who find gems in their living room, in the ditch on the side of the highway or in any location most of us would pass over are, in our eyes, true artists. There is a plethora of fantastic images all within eye sight of each of us right now, if only we are open to seeing. Think of Edward Weston’s famous photo Pepper 30. Who would have thought that a common vegetable we get in our grocery bag could be such an evocative subject?
I have occasionally been able to make a memorable (at least to me) photo of mundane subjects that normally I would pass over, but mostly I still rely on the obvious to present itself for me to capture as an image. (Sam, on the other hand, almost always goes for the quiet, personal image of an overlooked subject even when we are in a trophy location with big light.)
In an attempt to grow as artists and to learn to see deeper, we have given ourselves an ongoing assignment; to create ‘something from nothing’. We will pick a mundane location or subject and try and make a photo with personal vision. This is probably easier for Samantha. I know I will struggle because I have been trained for over 25 years to go for the big light!
Of course the danger of consciously forcing yourself ‘to see’ is that you may fail simply by being conscious of intention. The idea here is not to purposely create an ‘extraordinary photo of the ordinary’ that we can show off (that is just another form of trophy hunting and bragging). Rather the goal is the process of seeing. The failures (in seeing) are just as important as the successes. We will show both. I rarely show my failures so this is a big step for me
With that I share with you my first “Something from Nothing” exercise and the thought process behind it. We would love it if some of you tried this exercise along with us. Send us your description and a series of images from your own attempts and if we think the results are instructive we’ll share them here on the oopoomoo blog (firstname.lastname@example.org). Happy seeing!
Something from Nothing – The First Attempt
One day while doing the dishes I noticed the vases in the windowsill were reflecting colours on the metal of the sink. I took a half an hour off of house duties, grabbed my camera and snapped a few photos.
Like most of us, I found myself immediately attracted to the brightest colour and contrast of the scene. I started with the reflections spilling across the drain. The image below is probably the most obvious and was the ‘gimme’ image that had to be made first!
Next, I tried to move beyond the obvious and work pure colour and shape in a more abstract representation. The image below relies on the geometry inherent in the scene (circle, triangles and line) along with the coloured reflection but is a little more subtle. I used a shallow depth of field to focus attention on the foreground metal.
I wanted an even more abstract representation of the sink and drain and shot through the reflection on the edge of the sink to show a hint of the subject emerging through the coloured reflection. This is the image I like the best from the series and represents for me a marriage of pure abstraction of colour and shape with an anchor of reality. I also like how the frame is divideded into triangles of reality in monochrome and abstraction in colour.
I then tried to work the lines of the facet and taps but didn’t really get anything evocative but rather just predictable and boring. Notice I still couldn’t get away from the draw of colour!
In the end, I had one image that I liked. None of the results here are ‘extraordinary’ but the process really helped me tune my eye. Now that I look at the overall image of the kitchen I see things I missed while I was fixated on the coloured reflections. For example, in the upper left of the photo the bottom of a wine glass contrasts strongly with a silver bowl. That might make an interesting photo. Also the soap bubbles on the counter would make an a decent abstract macro image. There are dancing shadows on the tiles above the taps that would be worth a look. Personally, I think I was too fixated on the reflections to see the other visual gifts that the scene contained. This exercise makes me want to try the kitchen sink again to see if I can see a little deeper next time. I gotta go and get the dishes finished. Who knows what I might find!