Tag Archive: photography


Beauty 3

Inside the bell - the beauty of age.

Still looking at beauty and where we find it.  I love the colours of rust, the textures and stories that I can conjure from them.  This is an image from inside the bell at Qinglong Temple in Xi’an.

Each temple and city in China traditionally had a bell and drum tower.  The bell was rung in the morning, the drum at dusk.  A lovely way to mark the beginning and end of the day.  Most of these are now just ornamental, their purpose being taken over by watches and clocks.

Can we find beauty in the disused, outdated and time-worn?  I think so. The beauty is in the colours of the past, the textures of the disuse and the stories they could tell if we listen carefully enough.

Out to pasture

Most photographers love photographing the faces and hands of the elderly – and I guess for pretty much the same reasons.  Those faces and hands can tell so many stories and those stories can enrich our lives so much.  History is written for us to see in the eyes, wrinkles, knotted fingers.   Babies and littlies are sweet, but their faces, as yet, tell us little.

I can find beauty, even in death, if it is surrounded by life.  A well-lived life, with work  done, goals achieved and loves fulfilled, is not sad in death, but beautiful.  The death of an old tree in a  forest surrounded by young trees, speaks of the wheel of time, the ever-renewing face of life.

QingLong Temple bell

Beauty can be found in the old and forgotten.  It can be found in rust and cracked paint. It can be found in death.

Advertisements

Beauty

 

I’ve been wandering around museums and mausoleums lately and have been struck by the drive for beauty that seems to be innate.  Even back in Neolithic times, when, we imagine, life was more difficult, more primitive, more survival oriented than today, women still carved bone into hair decorations.

Our need for beauty that we create extends to everyday implements. If we need to identify our belongings, to me a simple mark would have been enough and efficient.  But instead from the beginning of thought we have created beauty with our markings.

 

Houses have been decorated as well – it seems that to create beauty for ourselves is an incredibly strong motivation.  This goes beyond identity, beyond practicality and into the realms of the spirit.  But most decorations aren’t based on a religion or pleasing the gods, but deeper into our own spirituality.  We create beauty to make our lives more meaingful, to add something beyond what is necessary to survive.

From adorning ourselves to adorning the world around us, from art to music, photography to sculpture, painting to collage, needlework to architecture, from gardens to natural scenery – we have a drive for finding and holding beauty.

Beauty is within us and is reflected by our external creation, by our search for it.

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

C. S. Lewis

These eggs were still warm from the hen when I took the image. Their soft blue colour shells held the warmth and when I held them in my had, warmed me as well.

Their fragility made me walk carefully, taking care not to slip in the waterlogged grass, fearful of dropping them.  Yet the hen can sit on them for around 4 weeks without breaking them, letting the chicks grow until they reach the right level of maturity and need to peck their way out.

External forces can damage them, but the internal pressures don’t cause the shell to crack until the need for protection is finished. This process seems to me to be reflected in my life.  The only time there is a real problem is an unwillingness to take the next step to growth and leave this warm, slightly snug shell behind.

This image is from the “Ordinary Joys” series, and there is nothing much more ordinary than an egg.  Breakfast eggs, egg sandwiches for lunch, eggs in cakes and biscuits, souffle for dinner… such an ordinary thing.  And yet, holding it, warm and textured, takes me to many places.  Birth, genesis, change, growth and on and on.

New Dawns

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for thinking about the past year, reflecting on the achievements and milestones reached. In a minute or two, 2011 will begin and a time to look forward to what may occur.  Each new dawn brings with it a new beginning, and the new year brings a “greater” new beginning.

What do I hope for this year?  That my family remains healthy and happy. That I can continue my growth as a person and a photographer. What things I will resolve to accomplish this year?  My general New Year’s resolutions involve looking for perfection.  🙂  And for some strange reason, these resolutions are always broken before the 2nd of January!!  This year I resolve not to strive for perfection, but for excellence.

I have been listening to and reading Dr Brené Brown on living with imperfection and vulnerability, and much of her words strike a resonance within me. Her ‘wholehearted’ approach to life and creativity I have found to be inspiring.  Her discussions on vulnerability (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UoMXF73j0c&feature=channel ) are challenging.

Creativity comes from vulnerability, and being creative creates more vulnerability. Her view is that without vulnerability we protect ourselves from pain, shame, fear, anger and hurt but in losing those emotions we also lose joy, passion, love and creativity. We cannot choose which emotions we no longer want to feel, and so by trying to limit pain, we in effect, limit our ability to feel all emotions and therefore to live fully.

So this year, my goal is to allow myself to be vulnerable.  Not an easy ask for someone who survived on closing off the bad, refusing to see when things weren’t working, managing by digging deeper, trying harder and waiting for the day it would all just magically get better.  This is a ‘fear-full’ step, and already I am looking for ways to protect myself…  which sort of defeats the purpose!!

But with my vulnerability exposed, I am hoping that the images I create will reflect a clearer, less distant, less protective response to the world. If I am open to the world and all my emotions, then it seems to me that the world will respond more openly as well.

New dawns, new dreams, new beginnings.

 

 

Perfection?

Art is never defect free. Things that are remarkable never meet the spec, because that would make them standardised, not worth talking  about. Seth Godin

 

I spend so much time trying to create perfect images, perfect articles and am never satisfied with what I have done.  I am delaying sending work to a professor for assessment because I have difficulty in choosing the right images.  The Seth Godin quote pushes me to think about perfection and standardisation.  Yes, I need an understanding of ‘craft’ to make art.  But I also need to know how to break rules, changes the standard and add a whacking great dose of emotion and feeling into my work to turn it into art.

 

The fear of being laughed at, of seeming inexperienced or unprofessional come in from the other side to push me to follow the rules, to meet the standards set by others for what is ‘good’.  If I stopped allowing those little voices, or the voice from the ‘lizard brain’ that Godin talks about in ‘Linchpin’ to control me, what would happen?

 

If I spent less time tweaking settings on the camera, playing with Photoshop  and generally trying to create the perfect image, would there be more images?  Would I have more time to be outside with my camera and using it instead of worrying, smoothing out one more bit of skin, adding or subtracting a titch of exposure?

 

Would I create a whole bunch of useless images?  Too right I would.  But I do that anyway, even with all the fiddling around. Godin reminds us that Picasso created over 1000 paintings, but how many of these do we know?  The paintings we know from any major artist are far fewer than the ones they commenced and tossed out or painted over.  Thrown out not because they weren’t ‘perfect’ but because the emotion and vision weren’t there.

 

By searching for perfection, I achieve less, I have fewer images and those that exist meet ‘the standard’.  How many of them have the ‘wow’ factor?  How many of them just CANNOT be created by anyone else who followed the same rules I followed?

 

I’m giving up on ‘perfect’ and going with basic knowledge plus emotion.

Connections

These young men are connecting with their ancestors.  It is Qingming Jie – a time to remember the ancestors and send them more provisions for their afterlife.  If you cannot be at home to sweep the tombs of your ancestors, then you head for a crossroads and burn money, pictures or models of cars, houses or food to send to the spirit world.

This need for connection to the past is interesting. Part odf it is hope that the ancestors will protect their family, part of it is respect for those gone on.

We can connect this to our customs of leaving flowers on graves or participating in Armistice/Memorial/Remembrance Day traditions.  Looking backward to remember the past, protect the future.

Photography is another way of remembering the past – and protecting the future.  Our connections with the things we create images of brings forward all of the personal experiences to express our feelings or our vision of what we are taking.  The photographs of lifestyles, lansdscapres, wildlife, people, war, beatuy … all preserve the moment and can serve to protect the future of them.

Galen Rowell, in his book “Galen Rowell’s Vision; The Art of Adventure Photography”  talks about an experience of photographing the Seven Simians – a family Dixieland band from the then USSR.  Later this band hijacked a plane to fly to the west.  Half of the band were killed in the ensuing gun battle.  His photo of the children in this band gained additional poignancy after their deaths.  They are now preserved, and a symbol of the desperate journey for freedom that people will take.

“Time always changes the meaning of a photograph” he argues.  Time creates additional connections, changes the way we see images.  Old images now are valued for their gateway, not to the person, but to the time – the clothes, the hairstyles and the activities. The photographer’s expression and vision may be lost because they no longer have a resonance with our times and thinking, and yet, the record of life they made, the pain, pleasure, beauty and horror are all still there.  Connections to the past, and if we use them well, connections to the future.

Reflecting on reflections

The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction.
Plato

The one was taken from a boat inside a cave.  The arrows of light pointing in both directions drew me, as did the reflections.  I love reflections  – in mirrors, cars, water, windows.  They provide opportunities for interesting photographs.  The object doubled, distorted or seen from a different perspective creates new ways of looking at it.

There are times when it is hard to see where the reflection ends and the ‘real’ object begins.

This is the reflection of stalactites and mites above, but to me looks like a new cavern has opened up for me to explore.

The reflections give us opportunities to explore alternate realities, parallel universes perhaps.  Then the question becomes – what is real?  Which one is the reflection?  Are the images within us as real as the images external to us?  Are our visions more real than reality? Do our internal visions reflect a deeper and more real view of the world?

Defining ‘good’.

One photo out of focus is a mistake, ten photo out of focus are an experimentation, one hundred photo out of focus are a style.  ~Author Unknown

A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone.  I don’t think this can be true for photography.  Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty.  We won’t take an interest in it.

~John Loengard, “Pictures Under Discussion”

This photo probably should be tossed out.  It’s blurred, and technically far from good.  But something about it made me keep it.  I like the sense of movement and purpose the horses have.  I like the sense of ruggedness that goes with this country.

Good photos are supposed to meet certain definitions – clarity of at least enough of the image to begin with.  Technical expertise and planning.  With this photo – I was probably aiming at all of those good things.  But, the movement, maybe I panned a little as well, and whatever other problems that happened created something I hadn’t planned and yet it still speaks to me.  So – if an image speaks to you – is that a more powerful and perhaps more truthful definition of good?  If I am the only person the image speaks to, is it still good?

So many of my photos do not speak to me.  So frequently, when I see an image that I had great hopes for, I have a little swear under my breath.  I have to throw out something that doesn’t work, and I really wanted it to.  My planning and checking still didn’t make it work.  There is still something wrong with my understanding of exposure or focus or …  Or what I thought I saw, what I planned to create just isn’t there.  This is when photographs become like dreams – powerful and real during the dream, but in the waking state, they have no power and the idea is jumbled and unclear.

This frustration pushes me to learn more about photography, and I think my rate for ‘reasonable’ images is slowly increasing.  I comfort myself knowing that even those photographers whose work I admire and follow have a large ‘rubbish’ bin as well.

I keep many images that I hope will improve with ‘maturing’ in my back-up drives, but often when I review these treasures, they have soured even further and I toss them out as well.  My discernment grows with the more images I take and the more I read and work on improving, and I find it harder to please myself.  I am more critical of my work and my mistakes.

Not every image that looks bad is bad;  not every decision I made in my life that looked wrong, is; what looked good on the surface could often be empty.

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.

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.