Archive for April, 2010


A shot into the psyche

The limitations of photography are in yourself, for what we see is only what we are.Ernst Haas

For the seeker of the soul, photography and all other arts become the window to the inner world.  We look at the world with our eyes, seeing the things that resonate within us.  We take photographs of what catches our psyche, and therefore catches our eyes. To explore this is to find out so much more about ourselves.

I take photographs of things that fascinate me, and in doing so, I expose my view of the world, and my inner being to others.  When I spend so much time on finding the beauty in the imperfect, the transient, the dying – does this echo my preoccupation with my own imperfections, my quest to create beauty and goodness within my transient self?

When I walk through the streets taking photographs of faces, am I looking for myself within those crowds; searching for someone that I can see myself in?  The photos of foibles – lovely shots of touches of humanity in an increasingly homogeneous world, are they signs of my search for my individuality?

Each shot I take means something to me, and places me ‘out there’ to be interpreted as others wish.  I have no control over those interpretations, and occasionally when someone interprets one of my photographs in a way that I didn’t see, didn’t intend, I cringe, wanting to shout “But that’s not what I meant!”.  Yet, that person is interpreting my work through their eyes, their experiences, and from that I can see another way of looking at the world, and I can see a little way into that person.

What does the photo above mean to me?  I see many things.  New growth – always something I am looking for.  For me, to see the end of growth is to experience death.  Light – light is so glorious.  I can stand transfixed by light and how it touches the world.  Light creates glow and warmth and joy.  These are things I want to echo in my life.  Contrast – bright and dark, new and old, the shadow and the light.  The yin-yang of the world.  I am seeking balance in my life, and examining contrasts clearly shows that I need opposites to create balance.  Quiet times need to be balanced with energy; sleep with wakefulness; work with rest … the list is endless.  And yet we often strive for an unbalanced life – calling for happiness without sorrow, growth without pain or change without loss.

The more I look at my photographs, the more I ask WHY that shot needed to be taken, the more i can see into what motivates me.  It is a fascinating journey.

New eyes, new perceptions

“In life, as in art, the beautiful moves in curves.” Edward G Bulwer-Lytton

It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it. Anais Nin

Seeing the familiar with new eyes takes much practice.  Being able to step out of our familiar perceptions of things, people, ourselves and look with new eyes at the world around and within us is a challenge. It can be an uncomfortable challenge.  We may not like the new perspective we gain on the world or ourselves.  But we also have an opportunity to see old things with new joy.

The  magnolia petals in this shot seem to hold the essence of the flower within their curves, promising protection but at the same time, hiding the beauty at the heart of the magnolia.

In photography, as in writing and in life, we need to be able to see beyond the external into the heart and the essence of what we look at.  If we do not look for the essence, we will forever be looking at the external, the familiar, believing that we know all there is to know, because we are so familiar with it.  We can learn nothing new when we look into the mirror, or the flower or around us.  But the essence is not seen in one glance.  We have to part the curves of the petals, open the curving armour around our being, see beyond the curving horizon of our world to find  new perspectives.

Each day is a challenge to look for the new perspective.  With a camera at my eye, I can look into the hearts of flowers, see the spider webs hidden beneath the bark or catch the craters on the moon.   When these images appear on my computer, they stun and delight me.  They teach me that what I see with my ‘normal’ eyes is such a small part of what there is.

Finding a camera for my soul is more difficult.

Balance

Fires of life and death

This photograph was taken from a train window as we returned home from the southern part of China.  I am often frustrated when I take photos from cars or trains, as they are so often blurry and indistinct.  But this one seemed to retain its essence for me, showing approaching dark, the speed of life and how we depend on fire.

A fire from a gas burning power station, providing light and warmth for thousands of people, at the same time burning the resources of our world and polluting the atmosphere.

How do we balance our need for warmth, light, cooked food and industry with our need for clean air, clean water and clean soil?  This is a battle that at the moment the environment in developing countries is losing.

This need for balance can be seen in our own lives and photography.  How to balance light and shade, how to manage contrasts to create the best shot, the shot that best expresses our vision?  How to create the space in our lives to spend hours or days taking photographs when we have family and work to consider?  The necessity of carving out time for our creative and expressive needs is great, and yet it is frequently the first piece of time we give up when our lives become busy.

By doing this,  we devaluing our need for creativity and expression. Are we denying an essential part of our psyche?  For it is often from our creativity that we can best see and understand the deeper parts or the hidden corners of our ‘self’.  To push these sections of self to the background, seeing them as luxuries rather than as part of our core being then denies their growth, and our greater understanding of ourselves.

In our busyness we must ensure we have the time to think, to create, to delve into our expressive self and in doing so aid our growth.

“Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”
Robert Fulghum

The vision thing

Seeing what is there

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to an artist/photographer friend’s studio.  It was fascinating to see his works.  His walls were hung with completed paintings and mounted photos,  on his work table there were works in progress.  His cat was in charge of everything!

The visit was inspiring as well.  My friend is preparing for a solo exhibition in Indonesia later this year, and the theme is orchids.  But not just orchids, the heart of the orchid, the centre, the wellspring of new generations.  His vision is to see into the beginning.

With his photographs, he shoots macros of mostly inanimate objects.  These shots are so close that bark becomes completely abstract. Pebbles becomes shapes and forms rather than identifiable.  The colours are often monotone, giving the forms more depth and mystery.

We spent the afternoon drinking tea, talking art, photography, travel, making money and creating.  Over dinner we agreed that ‘seeing’ what is happening around us is important for our inspiration.  Not just seeing with our eyes but seeing with a vision.

When I looked at this photograph of the heart of a pansy flower – a very common garden flower – there was so much beneath the surface.  The likeness to human genitalia, the source of both our species and the flower species; the strong contrasting colours between petal and petal, between petal and heart, evoking thoughts of people of different races  and unreasoning prejudices; the moisture in the depths of the flower, nourishing new life.  So much below the surface, and yet so much of it seen only in my mind.

Looking at the visions expressed by others makes me question where do we find vision for ourselves? When we look around us, how do we learn to see the patterns in life and the heart of things?  Where does our vision of what we want to express come from? How do we find it in the external world if we are photographers?

Wynn Bullock looks into the depths with photography:

“In photography, if I am able to evoke not only a feeling of the reality of the surface physical world but also a feeling of the reality of existence that lies mysteriously and invisibly beneath its surface, I feel I have succeeded. At its best, photography is a symbol that not only serves to help illuminate some of the darkness of the unknown, but it also serves to lessen the fears that too often accompany the journeys from the known to the unknown.”

Looking at the reality that lies beneath the surface is where vision meets ‘taking a snap’ to create something with a greater meaning.  Finding the reality beneath has to come from within the photographers internal reality. We need to see deeply into ourselves so we can see more deeply into what is lying before us.

If a photographer does not evolve as a person, then the photographs will also not evolve.  If there is no personal growth, then there is no photographic growth, no matter how technically skilled the photographer is.  Each step of personal growth leads to a step in being able to create a deeper vision, of being able to see the reality beneath the surface.

So, a paraphrase of Proverbs 29:18 might be useful:

“Where there is no vision, the photograph perishes.”