Thursday, July 24, 2014

Revolting ideas in photography

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
Helen Keller

The camera places itself between subject matter and the photographer.
Yes well, that would seem obvious, but what is not noticed somehow is how intrusive the computer program is that supplies 'trouble-free' picture making.
Today I experimented with shooting manually, just like in the 'old days' and the first thing I noticed is that I could choose not to have sharp focus; I could determine depth of field by feel rather than by machine; I had my personal control back, my self expression.

We are all looking for machines to do our work for us, our thinking, and do not notice what we are missing in the process and how much the camera programs channel our thinking. When we take a photograph we accept that the camera is part of the transaction, but how much does the planning of the manufacturer to make their product attractive to as wide a range of buyers as possible actually change the essential photographic experience? Plenty!

The answer of course is to avoid program modes and shoot with aperture and shutter speed and iso combinations that we think ( with our minds), and to turn off the auto-focus and focus manually. So, what about the exposure meter? Could that be turned off too? How far down this road of simplification need one go to get out from under 'big brother's' helpful hand that is blocking our view and understanding of our subject?

There are so many menu 'aids', and indeed they are helpful and more or less guarantee us a 'good' photo, but inasmuch as they also rob us of direct experience they are like an automated brush and paint program for painters and a 3-D cutting machine for sculptors; they place emphasis on end product and less on the process of making. And that is a pity because the essence of making things is the involvement of the maker with his materials. Just think about those early photographs from a hundred years ago; those photographers could not avoid direct participation with camera and subject matter: their knowledge and sensitivity was essential in order to take and develop their images. And it shows.

When working in other materials and processes I begin to develop an idea and move as quickly as possible to working directly with the materials. That hands-on process can teach me much more than my conceptual mind alone can imagine. I do not welcome someone's pre-packaged program that leads me in 'three easy steps to watercolour painting',so with a camera why would I uncritically accept a set of menu and modes that do much the same thing?

So, goodbye perfect photos and hello the great unknown.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The grasses of Summer.

It is mid summer now and the landscape is drying out to the bleached appearance we associate with dry, warm, sunny weeks. Even as we water our gardens and orchard every day we look beyond to the forest and rocky, dry-moss covered outcrops and drink this precious summertime in. Soon enough the seasons will change and cloud and rain will return. This is the season of grasses going, going, gone to seed in all their variety.

The other day I walked a new piece of Saltspring Island and marvelled at the sheer variety of seedy tops in this conservancy owned ex-golf-course piece of land. The fact that many of these waving grasses are imported golf course varieties that we do not usually get to see un-clipped and manicured does not detract from my appreciation of their beauty. Down the fairway glades between lake and forest I walk and photograph, seeking to capture the feel of this place.
It is such a delicate moment in the mind when I meet new landscape, I resist rushing to judgement, categorizing and marching on unchanged. Because this is the opportunity that may not present itself again, a fresh look, a fresh opportunity to receive.

I was saying to a visitor from Korea last week that landscape and seascape, clouds, the stir of leaves in the breeze, are like personalities to me. I think that fine distinction was lost in translation somehow, but that is how I felt as a child, swept up in a personal relationship with nature, and I find it a useful and satisfying way to frame things for my creative self today.

I see you, grasses, waving to me there!”