What does an artist thief, a prairie-town wine bar, and El Niño have in common? The answer is a missed deadline that whooshed by so fast I got whiplash!
As a landscape photographer, weather plays an important part in my ability to get out and shoot – or should I say, my enjoyment of getting out to shoot – and informs the content of my images. With my rejuvenated Pressed Landscapes project, I saw a gap in terms of winter coverage. Did I want seasonal imagery for this project? It was pretty surprising to discover so few wintry whites in my collection to date considering I live in Canada where it can snow every month of the year (and did in the Calgary area in 2005).
I was influenced in restarting this project by Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. Mr. Kleon’s not really advocating copyright infringement and theft of course, more so that learning to be creative involves imitation and research and practice towards making something worthy that is all your own. But that kind of sentiment is not as cool a book title. A point I took away from the book was how much being creative is truly a slog. It’s hours of your time and energy. Hours of doubt, hours of failure. Hours of doing and re-doing with no hope of seeing the other side of things. Published creatives know about this reality, about the hard work never seen behind the scene. It was really brought home to me by Austin Kleon’s daily task list. In order to succeed, he broke down major projects into hundreds of tiny, achievable chores that he had to do every day as shown on a yearly calendar. After reading his book, I got out my trusty paper and pens and made my own calendar and posted it on the wall by my computer where unchecked tasks could reproach me with impunity. And then I waited for it to snow.
“Twiggy and brown” is how the owners, Simon Hunt and Alex Bourdes of Fieldstones Esspresso and Wine Bar described the landscape this winter. Darwin and I were in Nanton, south of Calgary, on business last week and stopped by our favourite little rooftop get-away-in-the-prairie. Their comments contrasted with the lush greenery growing in pots and window sills in the café and the cool whites and soft greys of their decorating palette. We were talking about the town of Nanton, a town that has retained its small-town feel while situated surprisingly close to the land-gobbling city of Calgary. The owners love the town but, being from the UK, had to bring a lift of greenery to the place to survive the long, dry winters. (Tangent: Fieldstones is a fabulous place. Great food, wine and coffee and a friendly, beautiful space. Next time you’re antiquing in Nanton, go there for a lovely foodie break.)
Twiggy and brown indeed. I feel like an idiot setting a goal for winter photography in one of the warmest winters I remember experiencing. In the foothills around where I live and wish to shoot for my project, there has been hardly any snow. I was confident we’d get a nice wet dump of the stuff in March as usual but instead people are walking around in T-shirts and sandals. The only cold stuff outside is the ice cream melting in the hundreds of cones held by hundreds of people visiting Cochrane’s famous Mackay’s homemade ice cream store.
Has El Niño scuttled my Pressed Landscapes project? I squint my eyes at that statement, taking personally a weather challenge that has everyone else dancing in the warm winter prairie streets. It’s April now, and my deadline for completing my winter portfolio for the project has come and gone. My blank, unchecked wall calendar mocks me. As a landscape photographer, the weather is forcing me to examine the goals of my project. Why did I want seasonal coverage, anyway? How does that serve the purpose of my project – or am I just falling prey to the nice rounded feel of four-season coverage?
In any case, it’s back to the drawing board for me. Hopefully unintended effects will force me to think more deeply about my project and result in a more thoughtful, creative outcome. Spring is early this year, so I’d better get out there and shoot before I miss it.
I think with shame that it has been more than two years since I first posted my Pressed Landscape project on this website.
How could this happen? Am I not passionate enough about my project? Is it not worthy of my time and care? Should I just call it quits and get on with more meaningful things? These kinds of questions rumble through my caffeine-deprived brain when I get up to do my ‘work before work’, my photography job here at oopoomoo, before I truck off to my day job. When time and resources are scarce, you are forced to question what is worth your time. Why should a personal project with no expected monetary outcome (just expense) justify my attention?
Back when I was in school, my Mom gave me a cool present. It was a photocopy of a cartoon struggle. A long-necked bird with a pointy beak was in the process of swallowing a frog. The frog’s head was engulfed in the beak, it’s legs dangling. But damn it, that frog had reached its arms out and was trying to strangle that bird’s neck for all it was worth! The caption was: “Don’t ever give up!” And that little cartoon, which I coloured in and hung in my locker during tough school times, has stayed with me all these years.
So, perhaps we should spin this debate around. Darwin and I are photographers and educators. There’s that first part…photographers…. To be a photographer, one must photograph. In other words, there would be no oopoomoo without me and Darwin pursuing and nurturing our creative talents in ourselves just as we do for other photographers through our talks, eBooks, workshops and the oopoomoo Creatives Facebook group. It’s an imperative, not an option. So I must not give up but continue with this project which in truth means a lot to me. What photo projects dear to your own heart must you never give up on?
You’ll be reading and seeing more of Pressed Landscapes as I try once again to prioritize and get this baby off the ground. The good thing with procrastination is that sometimes you refine and improve an idea…more on that later. For now, I have to go to work!
That’s the thing with personal projects. They get done when you have time.
Despite pushing my deadline back, I’ve been chipping away at the Pressed Landscapes project all fall – here are some results. I plan to kick things up a bit over winter and maybe even finish! Luckily, the project has been very enjoyable to me. I think that’s because I’m truly in love with my subject matter. Some may not understand the attraction – after all, it’s just dirt, grass, rocks and trees. On the other hand, what is a grand landscape photo anyway? Even Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is made up of…dirt, rocks, trees. Even the buildings and crosses are from mud and wood. The sum is always greater than the discrete parts when translated through an open heart and good hands. That’s what I’m aiming for with this project.
I’ve received feedback from some of you that you find the idea interesting and are keen to see how it unfolds. Well, stay tuned! When we’re back and rested, I’ll be wrapping up this and some other photo projects and interested to hear what you think.
In honour of the fact that the Badlands and Buicks photo workshop starts today (yay!), I’m posting a few prairie shots from my Pressed Landscapes project. Yes, this project is still underway!! I find shooting the prairie in this style is much more difficult because what makes the prairie so unique and lovely – its open, vast scale – also makes it hard to condense into a compressed form. So, some of the following are more pressed than others, but anyway, here goes. In honour of the photographing the prairie…
I was fortunate enough to visit eastern Alberta with some friends last week. Gro and Rosana have both attended oopoomoo workshops in the past and they are awesome people and talented shooters — I feel privileged to call them my friends!
Of course, there was a lot of discussion between shooting all day…sometimes a drop of wine in the evenings after a long day. One topic that stood out for me was a reminder about how it can be hard to go out to shoot on your own, especially for women. They may not feel confident about the location, worried about wildlife (both the four- and two-legged varieties) or feel guilty about taking the time away from family or work. I know I feel these things as well sometimes. So it can be such a boost to creativity to have a friend or two to head out with both for inspiration and validation. Although much of my work took in the fabulous wide skies of the prairie, I managed to shoot a few pressed landscapes for my project.
So, the moral is, if you feel anxious or shy about shooting on your own, find a friend! I will be looking for shooting buddies when at Aurum Lodge as an Artist in Residence (hint hint!).
All around us, from our screens to print magazines to giant billboards, there’s a constant stream of images. It’s easy to feel a little lost in terms of our own contribution. Do you ever post a favourite shot to facebook, Flickr or your website, and wonder why you’re bothering? Will anyone even see it? Will they like it?
I know at times I feel like my work is just a drop in the ocean, a tiny sound in an endless void. A voice in the wilderness. So why do we do it? Why do we doggedly share, show and reveal our images in a world already bursting with incredible visual imagery?
Not only is there a surplus of photographs but, if you think about it, we must be CRAZY to open ourselves up in this way! When we post and pin our images, we’re revealing some pretty personal information about ourselves: we’re shouting out what we like, what moves us, what we feel is special, what we think is important. We’re showing our unique artistic impulses and demonstrating our level of technical skill (or our embarrassing lack thereof in both categories). We open ourselves up to the risk of ridicule from complete strangers! Remember that dream everyone has, where you show up at school completely naked!?! On one level, throwing your work out there into a cold, uncaring world can make you feel the same shivery level of exposure.
So when we share our images, we’re either crazy or really brave — or both. I think we continue to post our images, despite the risks, because it’s the human condition to seek connection with others. We were motivated to make something — an image — and we want to share what touched us in hopes it might reach someone else’s heart. And here’s the good news. We have to keep up this crazy, brave, foolish pursuit of connection. Because images can effect change. Because images do have an impact. Because images do connect.
Darwin and I have always taught photography with a firm emphasis on creativity and the uniqueness of vision of every one of our students, regardless of their so-called ‘level’ or ‘professional’ ability. Guy Clark has an amazing song about trusting your cape… sometimes, you just have to make a leap and hope that your belief in yourself will see you through. I firmly believe that everyone’s artistic voice is needed in this world. It’s only through sharing and connection, communication and discussion, that we may be able to fumble our way toward some solutions to the problems of this day-and-age. No lone voice in the wilderness will amount to much of a song, but a beautiful chorus of heart-felt, artistic expression…now that just might change the world.
One of the reasons I decided to do the Pressed Landscapes project was because I happened on a theme in my work when I looked back. Here’s one from the archives:
I didn’t set out to photograph the world in a way that rendered it somewhat flat, as if pressed between the pages of a book. But for whatever reason, my attraction to certain subject matter, my choice of focal length and how I arranged my compositions, that is the way things turned out. Looking back, I can see this style emerge, and it was an intriguing enough idea to generate this project. And now it’s time to push on with some fresh work.
In many of our talks and workshops, Darwin and I stress the importance of thinking of creative vision rather than personal style. The reason for that is simple: personal style is what happens when you are pursuing your creative vision. You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to develop a style of shooting. Instead, your style will only emerge if you are true to what motivates YOU to click the shutter. So, take a look back through some of your images. What is your style? More importantly, are you aware of your motivations for making the images you make? What’s YOUR creative vision?
One of the most challenging aspects of the Pressed Landscape project is deciding how ‘pressed’ the landscape needs to be in order to qualify for the final eBook. By ‘pressed’ I’m not thinking of just simple telephoto focal length compression. No! My motto tends to be: why do something simple when you can make it challenging? I’m aiming for images with a unique combination of focal length compression and compositional suggestion…I want the resulting final image to look like you reached out with a giant book and WHAM! grabbed that landscape out of thin air like you would a beautiful butterfly. (Except no landscapes will be hurt in the making of this book.)
So, will this image make the eBook? Is it pressed enough? What do you think? Even if it doesn’t, I like the little surprise in the photo…Happy Halloween!