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!
Alright, maybe it was not the smartest thing to start the FAT Project right before Christmas. Surprisingly, it was not the temptation of chocolate, turkey and candy that made the time difficult; it was the upset to schedule. We got used to following a fairly set schedule. We exercised at a consistent time and our meals were all planned out. One of us fetched the groceries and cooked for a few days and the other was on Kitchen Patrol. We managed to mostly pull this off, and felt better and lost inches in the right spots. But then came the train wreck called “the Holidays” and we were magnificently off-schedule and off-diet. We only messed up a few days here and there, but every time we traveled, it was really tough to stay to the diet and our vigorous exercise regime.
You really find out how hard it is to find something appetizing and healthy when you travel. Most healthy food has to be prepared somehow. The stuff that doesn’t need to be chopped, cooked or even refrigerated tends to be less healthy (e.g. processed). That’s because the more processed a food is, and the less it resembles its original form, the more unhealthy it probably is. Along with good ‘ole salt, more chemicals are used to extend its shelf-life and more lab-created, synthetic materials substitute the fresh flavours found in natural foods. When you return to a basic food palette, most processed food you used to enjoy tastes like salted cardboard.
Along with a busy time of visiting and travel, we have been working in the office on the new and exciting things we hope to do this year for oopoomoo. The feedback to our new business has been wonderfully positive with lots of ideas from the oopoomoo community – that’s you! But it’s surprising how almost incompatible a full work-day is with a healthy lifestyle (we are sure many of you can relate). You have to be very organized. As self-employed workers with a new business, we work more than eight hours a day. Finding the time to fetch ‘fresh’ food from the grocery store (how old produce is by the time it gets here and how much nutrition is lost during travel is probably another issue) and then wash, chop, combine, cook and serve—three times a day—is like a part time job! This isn’t even factoring in the exercise program which takes a minimum of at least one and half hours per day! And did we mention that we still need to walk the dog three times over the course of a day as well? Whew, when to sleep?
Remember how in our original post we decided to live 80/20? 80% ‘good behaviour’ (active lifestyle, moderate portions, healthy foods) and 20% for our fave treats and eating out. After the struggle of staying on a rigid 100% hard core diet/exercise schedule with only minor interruptions, we’ve decided that the 80/20 lifestyle is a more sustainable program. If we go hardcore we’ll likely just do the yo-yo weight ups and down that is common with any diet. We hope that by building in an allowance now for changes in schedule and travel, we can still slowly lose weight but still be flexible enough to ‘roll with the lunches’ so to speak and maintain this for the long term.
Darwin has lost 7lbs and is holding steady (even after sneaking the occasional peanut butter sandwich when Sam wasn’t looking)!
Sam has lost 6lbs and is still sloooooooowwwwllllyyy losing more (but she has gotten more muscle and so weight only tells part of the story — she can now bench press Darwin’s Canon 1ds Mark III no problem!).
We both feel great physically overall and we actually don’t miss fries, or potato chips or other junk food. It just does not taste good to us any more (but beer still does!) Some things probably won’t change.
(How are all you hard core P90X people doing??)
The following contains images that are not for the faint of heart! It also does not have much in the way of photo tips and suggestions, so if you are in a rush, you may want to avoid this post wherein Darwin and Samantha bare all (ok, almost all–this is a PG site after all) on their road to health, happiness and a better world.