Archive for October, 2010


Decisions

In camera decisions and production decisions.  Both contribute to creating a good image.  The in camera decisions frequently have to be ‘snap’ decisions (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).  Quick assessment of light, composition, balance, highlights, focus etc.  The best photographers seem to do these automatically.  No thought really required.  This apparent ease comes from years of work, years of making mistakes, years of learning what works.  No shortcut through that path. For a beginner, I can only sigh as I examine wonderful images. Looking at the whole and then the components.  One day, one day…

When I take my photos back to the computer, that is when I, as a beginner, can more clearly see what I did or didn’t do well.  This reflective time is where I can learn more about my actions and decisions.  And, for the moment, it is where I can make some changes to improve on my mistakes in the field.

I shoot in RAW to give myself the best chance to improve the results.  The more information I have (or my computer has) the more chance I have of rescuing an image, of changing a decision.  I can change white balance, improve colours, remove extraneous bits and pieces.  I can do many things to make my image somewhat better.  There are also many mistakes I can do nothing about.  Those are destined for the trash bin, after I have learned what I can from them. My mistakes are as important as my good images.  Knowing what I have done right is important, working out what I messed up is equally important.  One mistake less next time.

Then, after fixing what I can fix, there is presentation.  How to present the image and the vision I had when I created it and refined it through my work and decisions, so that others can share this vision, or create their own visions from it?  How to see with the eyes of others?  How will my vision be seen by a stranger, with a different worldview?  Here I need to step away from myself, and see the image as unrelated to me.  Is that possible?

Not really, but I think I can gain a little distance from myself, through time away from the image or through refocusing myself on other things then moving back.  Books, photographs, other art work – seeing other visions through my eyes, then returning with my mind filled with those visions to re-evaluate mine.  These help me look at my work, the decisions I make now more dispassionately, more critically.  Moving away from the self is important to be able to see the self more clearly.

Then the most fearful part of all – putting this part of the self out for others to see.  How will it be received?  How will others judge me?  Will they see my vision, will I spark some recognition?  Will it be ignored?  Not worth looking at?  How do I see myself if others criticise or ignore?  Fear of exposure, of criticism, of being ignored, seen as valueless….  So much wrapped up in a few thousand dots on a page.

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Balance

I’m reading Micheal Freeman’s “The Photographer’s Mind”, a follow on to ‘The Photographer’s Eye”.  Oh boy, what a challenge to me as a photographer!

But on a deeper level;, when he talks about balance in an image we can apply this more widely.   “Balance invokes the idea of harmony, equilibrium, and weight.”

When we are ‘balanced’ we are in harmony with ourselves.  We have emotional, mental and physical equilibrium.  When we are out of balance, we lose this harmony. When we ignore our physical needs – nutrition, sleep, exercise – our bodies become unbalanced.  If we ignore our emotional needs we become angry and dissatisfied with the world, ourselves, our partners.  When we ignore our mental needs we follow blindly ‘leaders’ or gurus who tell us how to think, how to react. We lose  our ability to analyse, our ability to make intelligent decisions.

Balance does not mean that we have to blindly follow what came before.  We can still experiment and create.  But in the end, as Freeman says we still need “a satisfying equilibrium”.  My equilibrium need not be yours.

This week I have been out of equilibrium.  I strongly supported the right of Chinese people to stage protests – for any and every cause.  This is the right of any free peoples.  BUT… the current protests have concerned me because I believe they are instigated by the government to draw attention away from internal problems, internal conflicts.  To me they are staged protests, designed to create media coverage, and to take media coverage away from something far more important.  I am concerned because it seems to me me that people are tools to be manipulated and used.  This ‘usage’ of people seems to me to be heinous.

I am frustrated, angry and unable to do anything.  This makes me question my role and position here. Am I supporting something I DO NOT believe in, merely by being here?  Can I make changes by challenging my students and friends to analyse?? I don’t know.  I am out of equilibrium.  I have no balance.

Paths of Possibility

The path up is the path down. The way forward is the way back. The universe inside is outside but the universe outside is inside. Robert Anton Wilson.

I have just returned from holidays in Guangxi, in the southern part of China.  We did not stick to the main tourist destinations for a couple of reasons. Firstly, during these “Golden Week” celebrations, popular places are overwhelmed with people.  Queueing for more than an hour to get into a park, and then walking in a pushing, jostling crocodile of people is not my idea of enjoyment.

Secondly, a holiday, for me, needs to regenerate my soul, and I need beauty and space.  The place we chose – a tiny village, north-west of Nanning – had a few day trippers, but no other ‘stayers’.  We lived in a village house, with a farmer and his family.  With only one restaurant in the village, it was more fun to take over the little lean-to kitchen and use the open fire to cook our own meals.

The village is surrounded by karst mountains, freshened by a pure mountain stream and made mysterious by a group of caves.  We hiked and swam, worked in the fields with the farmers, climbed steep, rocky mountains to an even smaller village.

The mountains and fields had paths winding through them, disappearing into the unknown and I was struck, looking at these paths, steps worn into the rocks by generations of villagers, by how they were the paths of connection, the paths of the future, and the paths of the past.

The paths of possibility are open in our lives.  We cannot see the destinations they take us, but they will take us somewhere.  Sometimes they lead to a track, then a gravel road and on to a single lane highway and finally to the superhighway.  Other times they lead us deeper into the mountains, deeper into solitude and reflection.  They become less easy to follow, fewer people have walked these paths, and we ourselves rarely venture along them.

The beauty of the remote paths of possibility is that they take us away from the busy world, the tourists, the humdrum.  They can take us to destinations few have been.  The more remote and less worn these paths, the more they challenge us. Steep, rocky, difficult, dangerous even.

But climbing them brings the most beautiful vistas, introduces us to people we would never otherwise encounter and the satisfaction in reaching that destination is deep.

For many, the ‘paths of possibility’ are an escape, a way to a new life.  They can leave the hard life of a peasant far behind to work in a city or attend university.  For me, they take me away from that same hustle and create a world of peace and beauty; a journey of reflection, extension and challenge.