Okay, so I'm out wandering with a camera, in my little trance, open to everything around me. As usual, I'm on the lookout for evidence of history and opportunities to mystify the commonplace. I'm also concerned with the moment, but given the static nature of my typical subject matter, this has mostly to do with the quality of the light. If it's color and texture I need to emphasize (I'm pretty much always working digitally now), I like overcast. Digital cameras love diffuse light for recording color and detail. So I come upon this old aluminum dinghy, akimbo in someone's driveway. It's pretty obvious what's interesting about it: that color and those scratches. And by isolating the more obvious aspects it becomes enigmatic. But context is very important in the little guessing game I have going on here so Ilike to include a detail for discovery. The lapstrakes and the rivets are perfect. But it's the overall form I love. It has that subtle bulge that's emphasized by the soft diffuse light which gives it shape. For me there is nothing quite like this kind of beauty- the functional object well used but then de-contextualized, slightly, in the moment of one particular 60th of a second of atmosphere.
Thanksgiving. Allman Brothers just discernible upstairs. Good times with great people loom large for this evening.
I just realized that this portrait was taken in the yard of the house where our evening will take us. Giving thanks for a discussion of portraiture is appropriate because it's all about honoring the relationship with the subject. They are number one. Respect for them is paramount if you want to make an image that reflects who they are. And who they are will not come through if a subject is given cursory hello
s. I love to hold conversation through the camera. It will become invisible if the sitting is about the two of you and NOT about the portrait.
Approaching any subject is immediately a challenge because there are infinite options for which point-of-view to choose. (This is particularly a problem for Sagittarians like me because too many options can be paralyzing.) Nevertheless, I challenge myself to find unfamiliarity. This is often where the surprises dwell.
It also dawned on me, late of course, that this is really what life is about. Straighforward may very well be the best course, but if it isn't working, the first thing to ask is: "Is there another way?" As a daily crossword puzzler, I have definitely noticed that part of the brain becomes more responsive throughout the day whenever there is a roadblock. It has become instinctive to find alternatives.
The point is to open the heart and consider every angle.
There is so much contrived photography out there. By contrived, I mean arranged or set-up. Don't get me wrong, skill and imagination can't begin to describe the talent behind so much of this amazing work. And not that I don't ever do it. But I am just not pulled in that direction. As I search and pay attention, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to turn otherwise ordinary everyday objects into something mysterious, maybe even mystical.
I was having a drink of water in a Simon Benson "bubbler", one of Portland's public fountains, and the sodium vapor lights overhead were reflecting in the chrome ring around the bubbling water, while daylight illuminated the water itself. Something happened in this shot I haven't been able to replicate since, that suggests an exploding nebula or bizarre cosmic event-- from a drinking fountain. For the viewer though, it becomes a game of "what is this?". And it becomes a chance to rethink what we see around us.
Part of the Japanese reverence of nature and its temporal, fleeting beauty led to the refinement within Zen philosophy of categorizing several qualities. Yugen, or "the eerie and hidden" is often represented by fog or mist. Wabi is the name for things "forlorn and lonely"- represented by moss, weeds, etc. Shibui is the "simple and dull" found in dirt and shadows. Last is Sabi, reverence for "the old and worn out" and depicted by the elderly and dead plants.
I learned of all of this long after being drawn to subjects found in this realm of wabi sabi but had no idea I was on a path of long tradition. My reverence came out of the stories that are there- in this case the side of a ship and how every scrape, scratch, rub mark, or rust stain tells the history of a ship's life. But it is just as beautiful as it is storied. The above Zen terms are from Investigating Philosophy by Henry L. Ruf Professor of Philosophy WVU.
My first interest now is evidence of history. Everywhere I look, it seems, are fingerprints of time passing. They are paintings and they are stories. This photograph is from a WWII bunker that was painted once, then suffered the salt air of Puget Sound and then had been graffittied and painted over and weathered some more. It is direct evidence of that space, at that elevation, under the wear and tear of being a bunker now abandoned. And it is a richly deposited remain of the events of minutes and hours and climate and human vanity.
My favorite assignment when I was in school (lo, so many years ago) was, upon waking, to shoot 36 exposures (remember 36?) between bed and the bathroom. There's nothing like "looking" in a place one takes for granted. For me, the idea of looking with a camera is opening the heart. There are miracles absolutely everywhere. Play with shallow focus, altered points of view, over or under exposure. When we really pay attention, we use our ears almost as much as our eyes so pay attention to what's happening around you and anticipate. There are little ironies everywhere, little stories.
This, by the way, is the first digital photograph I ever took. It was six a.m., I had just bought the little Canon Elph the night before, and I fell asleep reading the manual. When I awoke at dawn, my eyes fell on the window shade and the rising sun teasing the pleats.