Whew! Lots of great images from February’s newsletter challenge posted in the oopoomoo Creatives’ Facebook group. We’ve compiled our faves here in this blog post. Ha! It seems the ladies smoked the guys on this assignment! Remember to sign up for our Newsletter if you wish to get the monthly challenge delivered to your inbox.
Our students may not believe it, but sometimes Darwin and I torture – ahem! – teach each other through guided assignments. Relatively recently we experimented with small, mentored projects. Here’s how it worked: one of us picked a topic to shoot – that person was the mentee – and the other developed a series of linked assignments within an overall goal for the project – that person was the mentor. We took the projects seriously with concrete deadlines – that was the torture part – and managed to complete the projects between and sometimes during other work events. We then swapped roles. My project was about trees, of course!
When you know most of your partner’s strengths and weaknesses, you learn to be diplomatic in your critiques for the sake of your personal relationship and, in our case, our business relationship as well. But you also benefit from the deep interest you take in your partner’s creative development. It’s something we strive to bring to our work through oopoomoo as well. Here’s Darwin’s instructions to me to fit my art in “snippets of time” between working with students at a workshop.
I decided to fit my project, which was all about capturing the essence or soul of tree personalities in nature, into a scrapbook. I put the assignments and the images in the book. The project was a combination of drawings, musings, assignments and photographs.
What was the point, you may be wondering? Fun! Creativity! Just ’cause! Even though I have a larger, multi-year project underway called Pressed Landscapes, these ‘mini-mentorships’ were about shaking off the shackles of working as a commercial artist and just shooting some little idea that appealed to me, engaging in something that was stimulating and fun. As a mentor, I honed my skills at listening to my student’s interests and gently guiding him through blind spots. As a student, I reminded myself to be open to constructive feedback, ignoring the urge to defend a shot, and instead take a step away from the work to see it for how it really came across. It was good to be on both sides of the desk.
Watch for Darwin’s post about his small project mentorship this Friday!
Lately, we’ve noticed photographers posting and writing about a need for more inspiration to fire up their photography. Do you suffer from the deadly blahs sometimes? Is everything around you dusty and dry to the senses? Do you long for a deep, cool drink of refreshing creativity?
One of the reasons we have the Inspirations category on our blog is to build up a store of high-end work that stimulates our (and hopefully our readers’) creativity. It’s the collective well of creativity that we all reach into for a germ of inspiration when we’re just plain ‘ol out of fresh ideas.
And it doesn’t always have to be about photography either. In fact, we highly encourage our students to develop wide-ranging and voracious appetites in several artistic arenas. From the auditory delights of your fave tunes to the sensual pleasures of fine food, it’s all grist for your sometimes grinding creative mill. One of the inspirations we are stoked about recently (and hope to share more about on the blog in the future) is a Calgary-birthed magazine for visual creatives called Uppercase. Not only is it painstakingly edited and thoughtfully put together, but it’s a rarity in today’s magazine world because it’s gloriously ad-free. That’s right, no garish splashy ads lining the columns of an article you thought was informational but turned out to be advertorial. No trashy, simplistic headlines screaming at you that your life will be so much better if you only purchase Product Amazing. Just aaaah! a clean, refreshing drink of creativity to recharge your visual tastebuds! Check out Uppercase. Consider a subscription if you like it. As photographers getting sick from the equivalent of ‘fast food photography’, we need some visual nourishment to sustain us and encourage artistic growth.
Where do you turn to quench your creative thirst? Share your secret (non-photography; let’s be creative here) sources and ideas!
If you gave someone a scalpel, does that qualify that person as a surgeon? If you handed the keys to a Maserati to your best friend, would she become a race car driver? Then why does the mere act of pressing the shutter button on a camera make one a photographer?
I think there IS a difference between Someone With A Camera (SWAC) and a photographer. Or in today’s world, a SWAP (Someone With A Phone) or even a SWAT (Someone With A Tablet). Ok, I have to admit I still find it a bit strange to see a SWAT taking a picture. That giant screen held aloft, a giant barrier between the person and the very thing he came to see… talk about stepping out of the moment! Gives a whole new twist on the phrase ‘reality tv’. But I digress.
It’s not that I believe photographers are superior even if I am being a bit cheeky with my descriptions here. Really, we’re all SWACs at some point. I think there are two things that make a photographer a photographer. No, it’s not at all about the gear (SWACs can have the most advanced and expensive systems), it’s not about the subject matter the person is shooting, or where she is, and it’s not about how much money she makes. A photographer is a photographer because she intends to make something expressive with her image and because of her ability to see the world around her as, in essence, light. Let’s take a closer look at the first distinction, intent.
A Photographer is a Photographer Because of Intent
What is your intent when you press the shutter? Are you recording a precious moment as your child celebrates a birthday? Is it a selfie of you and your spouse at a romantic dinner? Have you finally snapped a full-frame shot of that buck who steals from your backyard bird feeder? If your intent is to make a record, then you are not a photographer. You are engaging in the important role of preserving moments in time – you’re an historian and explorer and family preservationist. Always be proud to be a SWAC because these kinds of images produce a link between people and between generations.
A photographer is a SWAC with a different intent. A photographer is not interested in obtaining a record exactly, although documenting may be part of the intent. A photographer inserts more of himself into the expressive act of making an image. It’s not about records or objective truth; it’s about an idea, emotion or germ of a story that the photographer felt when he observed an object for what it truly looked like. This may sound confusing, so let’s move to the second factor that differentiates a photographer from a SWAC – seeing light.
A Photographer is a Photographer Because He Sees Light
Photographers work with real objects existing in real time. Even a photographer in a studio controlling the lights, directing the model and moving props, only has that one capture, that one moment plucked from the stream of time, to work with. Even a re-take on a shot taken seconds before is terra nova: in subtle ways, the model and photographer have moved on, been affected by the interaction with each other, and are different than they were a second ago. Outside of the movies, no moment in time ever repeats.
So how do photographers interpret this reality, then? By seeing an object for how it actually is rather than how she thinks or believes it is, a photographer becomes intensely present, stepping away from her conscious mind and existing at a level of pure, sensory interpretation. Andy Karr and Michael Wood in The Practice of Contemplative Photography call this moment the flash of perception. In that moment, the human tendency to name, categorize, and judge is suspended and the photographer sees not an apple, but a reddish-green mottled sphere with a waxy, reflective skin. Seeing this way is seeing light. We can only observe the world in light, and it is light that creates tones and colours and all the other secondary visual elements that make up an image such as pattern, texture, lines, shapes. A photographer is someone who sees these elements existing, shifting, morphing and evolving in real time, all times, and tries to express her subjective experience of such seeing.
The reason why I think it’s important to make this distinction is because we live in a world of unprecedented access to visual media. We are documenting every second of our day, from what we choose to wear to work, to our lunch with friends, to a selfie during a night out. We are making records of data at incredible rates which is a fascinating process to observe and ponder: where will our fascination with record-making take us?
For photographers, and for those who wish to become photographers, all you have to do is take your camera, phone or tablet, and think about why you are making an image. What is your intent? Can you see the world before you for how it actually is, and how does that make you feel? What can you and your camera say about this world of light?
A Note About the Images in this Post
As many of you know, shortly after Darwin and I arrived at Aurum Lodge for our Photographers in Residence creativity program, a wildfire erupted not far from the Banff National Park border where highways 93 and 11 meet. The Spreading Creek fire, as it’s being called, has tossed up billowing clouds of smoke, obscuring the mountains and turning the fresh mountain air into a smoky screen.
For a SWAC, this is a disaster. Recording the iconic peaks and lakes of the Canadian Rockies will be difficult in this grey soup! But for a photographer, there is no judgment. There is only this filtered light, turning the world into a murky nightmare-world of indistinct shapes and dying trees. We spent some time photographing the area, and these images are our interpretations of the light and how we felt about it.
I admit it’s a bit radical.
Many of you are going to say I’ve tripped my shutter, overexposed my hand, am lost in the darkroom of life…but I HAVE to do it.
I’m going to commit to tackling the horrendous backlog of unprocessed raw files gathering digital dust on my computer hard drives. I’m going to work my can off for the next six weeks. And what I can’t get to by June 30, 2014 when we walk out the door to start our Artists in Residence program…well, I’m gonna DELETE those raw images. Permanently. As in forever. That’s right: bye bye baby!
I’m sure some readers are gagging up their breakfast cereal right now at the thought of throwing away their unprocessed files. Sure, it’s crazy. But it’s also going to be freeing. Why? Because I’m one of those control freaks who has to do the dishes sitting on the counter before I dirty a new set making dinner. I have to organize my desk before I can get down to work. And I CAN’T STAND the idea of going out to shoot with hundreds of images just waiting for me back home. Garrgh, the clutter! It drains my energies like a battery forgotten on a cold garage floor. It keeps me from being truly free and creative. So it’s time for a radical amputation.
I know some of you might be thinking, What is her problem? Just cherry pick the faves, and leave the rest for when you have a spare moment! But there is no free hour in the future. Running a photography business means a lot of time thinking not about photography but the business of photography. When I do have a spare moment, you won’t find me anywhere near a computer. For me, it’s killer clutter that keeps me from wanting to head out to make new images (that in turn will just sit on my computer for years. Yech!)
There’s also the little fact that I need my images processed in order to use them in our educational eBooks, talks and workshops…but I digress.
Darwin and I have written a few times on the blog about getting rid of clutter in our lives. With disposable income it can be so easy to collect extra things. We think we need that extra kitchen gadget or motorized toy, but despite retailer promises, our lives are not easier or happier. We just end up with more junk. For me, unprocessed images sitting on my ‘to do’ list for years feels like piles of paper on my desk that I have to get to before I can clock out for the day. Why not just set a firm deadline to achieve a goal and toss the remainders? Why not??
My goal may not seem so ‘out there’ to minimalists. These are people who strip away all the extras in their lives, freeing themselves from the tyranny of stuff which allows them to focus their energies into more productive channels. I first heard of minimalism through a CBC radio interview with Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus the authors of Minimalism: Living a Meaningful Life. Compared to how they’ve downsized their lives, what I’m planning to do is piddly!
There’s also been a resurgence in the concept of eudaimonia which is the pursuit or experience of self-actualization, excellence or meaning as opposed to what most of us do to be happy which is gleefully seek hedonia (the pursuit or experience of pleasure, comfort and enjoyment). The little bit I’ve heard about these concepts so far, from a nod in the pop psyche book on learning music, Guitar Zero, to the abstract for Veronika Huta’s article on the subject (my definitions are from her summary — have to see if I can get my hand on the book itself) suggest I’m on the right path to put off pleasure-seeking photography right now in favour of a virtuously clean hard drive.
So, I hope I’m up for the ultimate kill the clutter challenge. I have 89+ folders containing hundreds of unprocessed raw files and about six weeks to sort through them all. What I get to by June 30, I keep. What’s left is junked.
What do you think? Care to join me and set your own little ‘kill the clutter’ goal? Why not??
In my first year of ‘real’ photography (by ‘real’ I mean trying it as an art form rather than just my point-n-shoot tourist mentality of before) I made this image of a canola field lit by late afternoon sun under an approaching storm.
This is image number eleven in my catalogue — the eleventh photo I shot and kept that first year. There are a few compositional flaws that are obvious in hindsight, like the big ‘hole’ in the sky in the upper left and the breakdown in the pattern of dark green in the bottom of the frame (leading to another ‘hole’ of darker tones in the bottom right corner — hey, at least the two holes are counterbalanced!).
But it remains one of my favourite shots because it reminds me of the fields I knew growing up…those vivid yellows under brooding summer skies are quintessential rural. Sometimes it’s good to peruse through your first early attempts at photographic expression; it reminds you of where you started and the root of your efforts now. What are some of your early images that still resonate with you today?
In the Abraham Lake area for our fall photo workshops, Darwin and I came away with an image each of the effects of the high water from the June 2013 floods. This summer the reservoir was the highest we’ve ever seen it: the retreating water left a clear warning on the shoreline vegetation. Coincidentally, last night we also went and saw the thought-provoking film, Watermark co-directed by Edward Burtynsky. I would like to believe otherwise, but I’m afraid human memory is short, and short-term solutions tend to take priority over long-term issues. Maybe films like Watermark will help keep evidence of a possible future in our present memory.
In the last two weeks, we’ve wrapped up our final photo workshops of the season held at Aurum Lodge: Creative Landscape Photography with our guest instructor, Guy Tal, and the Fire & Ice photo tour. In a little while, we’ll be sharing participants’ images from these two educational events on the blog — and we’re stoked to showcase the talent and vision of their work! But for us, now is a good time to reflect back on a busy year and digest all that we’ve learned. One thing that stands out is just how much we appreciate visiting the Canadian Rockies to photograph, and how lucky we are to live near such an incredible region. Although October and November are often not considered ‘prime’ shooting months in Canada, we find endless inspiration when we head out to the mountains at this time of year.
Although the weather can be unpredictable, really that just adds to the excitement! Expect to be harried by a furious blizzard one day and warmed by winter-sun the very next.
Surprisingly, we don’t come here just for the mountains (lovely as they are). For me, the charm in this season lies in the subtleties. Muted lavenders, soft greys, sandy tans and silvery blues layer the landscape, pearlescent hues that reflect the low, liquid light of early winter and become snagged by the grasping branches of barren trees and dry grasses.
Because I love this time of year, I’m really looking forward to our new workshop, Beyond the Icon – Intimate Landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, October 21-26, 2014. We’ll be focusing on a style of photography that intrigues me: intimate landscapes may be more challenging to see as a photographer, but I think the rewards of finding them are great. It’s often in the quiet moments that we discover the most about our subject matter…and ourselves.
I park daily under a tree and, during the fall season, the car is often covered with leaves. I was convinced that there must be something I could do photographically, and last year, I started collecting them with the full intentions of making fantastic and artistic images. That never happened.
Now it’s a full year later and I still have that box of leaves. Actually, the collection is even bigger and that shoebox is now a bucket. It’s time to set the procrastination aside and make some hard commitments by talking about the upcoming experiments publicly through an oopoomoo project. At this point, I don’t know how the project will go. Maybe I’ll completely fail. Or maybe I’ll create something pretty cool that would earn a spot on my living room wall. Either or, it should be fun.
Equipped with a macro lens I don’t use enough, a light tent that was used only once, and a cheap focusing rail I just bought from eBay… I hope you’ll find this project as interesting as it sounds in my head.
What would you do with a box of leaves? I have a few ideas that I’ll reveal in the coming months. The results are yet to be defined but the pressure has officially begun.
In preparing for the IRIS photo workshop this coming September 15, where Darwin and I will be co-instructing during the Cochrane Classic Car Show ‘n Shine, I found myself thinking about street photography. To be honest, I have few images in my portfolio taken at public events. Oh, I’ve worked with talented models before on a staged shoot, or wandered after tots after being given permission by a parent, as in these shots…
But I haven’t really worked a festival, rodeo or other public event very hard. And I think the reason for that is simple: I’m scared! There are two kinds of photographers in this world — those who talk (to people) and those who don’t. Being primarily a landscape and nature shooter, I definitely fall into the second category! So, I’m really looking forward to this IRIS workshop and fundraiser (all proceeds to non-profit IRIS!) since it will no doubt get me out of my comfort zone and stretch my skill level beyond photographing inanimate objects.
I think one of the scary parts about street photography (beyond having to talk to people you don’t know) is that the rules on what is allowed and what is not are very grey. It all has to do with the tricky concept of privacy. A person attending a parade would reasonably expect to end up in a few snapshots taken by people at the event, or even land on the cover of the local paper. But would that person expect to become your new homepage?
And then there’s photographing kids…wow, talk about a situation fraught with danger. Most of us just don’t take the shot.
But some of us become what IRIS co-founder Royce Howland calls ‘sniper shooters’. We hang back, skulking at the edges of crowds, slouching under trees, waiting with long lens to steal a candid of a captivating subject without their awareness. Some photographers are very proud of their ability to ‘steal’ images from their subjects. Look at the vocabulary we use…’steal’…’stalk’…’take’. This kind of behaviour sometimes gets us photographers a bad name, and it should. Photography is all too often thought of as a hunting sport rather than a creative endeavour. While it is up to you to draw the line on what is appropriate behaviour when it comes to photographing at public events, I know we won’t be encouraging much thievery during the workshop on September 15. Instead, let’s all take a deep breath, smile and talk to people.
Maybe that’s the simple answer to the privacy conundrum: if you’ve made yourself and your interest in making an image plain to a person, and they’ve given their permission, then you’ve shown respect for their privacy and quietly made privacy a non-issue. That’s what we’ll be practicing on the 15th! Oh, and if you’re one of those photographers who, y’know, talk, please come out and help us shy shooters!