“The enjoyment of beauty is a kind of escape from, a going out from, the urgencies of place and time.” ~ Virgil C. Aldrich (American Philosopher, 1903-1998)
There was a point early in my career where I realized that the process of creation was no longer an option. The act of creating had became an escape from the everyday stresses of life. If I didn’t get into the field at least once a week, I went into a low level depression (withdrawal?). Being out in nature was a big part of what drove the creative process. The science is clear about the benefits of being in areas of woods, around water bodies; even just looking at pictures of nature lowers stress levels.
I have come to realize as well that beauty itself drives my creative process and can serve as an escape. One of the benefits of working in the arts is the ability to create things of beauty. I can create my own escape when I need it. In my farmhouse studio space I can explore subjects in detail at my own pace and experience a world of beauty all to myself. For me art is all about experiences.
The image above was the result of an exploration of a silk moth which I found on our farm earlier this spring. Discovering its intricate wing scale design was a joyful experience. It felt like I was looking at a mosaic of tiles when I viewed a section of wing close-up. For the period of time in which I created images I thought of nothing other than the wonderfulness of the color and pattern. With its rhythm of scales though, it was the curve of the wing that I was drawn to most.
Curves introduce a feeling of tension. While sensual in form, curves imply resistance. Straight is less tense while driving; a curved road requires more expenditure of energy to maneuver. A river that flows through an oxbow is constantly fighting the curves. Straightness implies a fight with gravity which is lost, or even a struggle with death no longer fought. Leo Stein (American art collector/critic, 1872 – 1947) remarked, “Tension in line can be observed if one will follow the outline of a vase and notice the force it takes to bend the line of a contour.” Curves to me speak to a life force, something I think art can convey uniquely.
I sometimes feel transported back in time by the simplicity of the rural landscape around me. I can imagine that it is the middle of the Nineteenth Century with no wires, no automobiles, no cell towers. On a wintry day with snow on the ground, the landscape becomes even more stark. Working with the most modern of photographic tools, I still felt compelled to create a monochromatic piece suggestive of old glass-plate days and wonky lenses.
It’s always exciting and fun to have a new project for a client. This current request for a four seasons collection had me considering works depicting spring trees. The image making process for me is always intense, so each trip through my collection of images brings back memories and emotions.
This image was made in Bucks County, PA early in the morning from a position where I could place the sun behind the early spring buds. Their rich colors were emphasized by the the back lighting, a polarizing filter, and contrast development in Lightroom.
It’s kind of nice to be thinking about spring on a cold, windy winter day.
Sometimes you experience an event year after year and marvel at the spender of it. This is how I feel about the sight of Canada Geese flying past fall colored trees. For years I had visualized an image made of these large black and white birds against blurred yellow, orange and red leaves. By panning the camera on a tripod during the flight and in the direction of the path the geese took, I knew I could make such an image. It requires a slower than typical shutter speed and some very smooth action on my part to keep the birds in relatively the same space in the picture frame.
It is a bit tricky really, too slow a shutter will blur the vertical wing beat into oblivion. Not slow enough a shutter will make it appear as if the birds stopped flying in mid air. Success also requires that I make the image as parallel to the birds as possible to maximize the background blur. I found a location within an area I frequent where I could make several attempts with small groups of birds as they left for their morning excursions. This type of image doesn’t work on a sunny day, too much contrast with highlights and shadows creating strange geometries.
It is also best done I think with longer lenses in order to narrow depth of field and really isolate the birds. This does necessitate the birds being in the same plane of focus. however, so stopping the lens aperture down a stop or two can be helpful. I used a Canon camera with Canon EF 500mm f4.0 and Canon TC1.4.
The artistic process differs from medium to medium and is of course a never-ending learning process. As an artist working in the medium of photography, I cannot help but compare my medium and process to others. I find it both helpful in understanding my own medium but also in growing with it. And although I have been working in digital format for almost 10 years, the medium still feels new to me.
There is one aspect of working in digital format that may be more important than any other. Unlike working with film, having immediate feedback on the camera’s LCD means being able to respond both to the scene in front of me and to the image I just created. And so as in painting, sculpture, or even composing music, I can analyse the result and adjust the process to do things differently.
Mostly, people think of that feedback as a way of checking that the camera is working correctly and that the image reflects what was desired. That is helpful, but maybe even more important is that the image itself becomes a new thing to which I can respond. Just as a painter lays down a brush stroke and then responds to how that brush stroke changes their feeling about where to lay down the next brush stroke, the photographer can respond to an LCD display of an image to determine what next direction to take.
In the image below that I made in Acadia National Park this past August, I was able to respond to the image I made as separate from the scene in which I was working. The image I made then could send me in a different direction than the scene itself would have. As a result I could respond by changing focal length, perspective, polarization, exposure, composition, and if I chose to, also white-balance and application of a variety of other camera-based controls. The immediate feedback offered by the camera’s LCD allows me to be more creative in the field and ultimately with the final print.
This image was made with a Panasonic GH2 with an Olympus 9-18mm m4/3 lens at 18mm hand-held.
I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and what it means. Well, my shows are done for the year and I’m reading more, so that and increased coffee consumption over stimulate my brain sometimes. Anyway, during my last several field outings, I’ve felt especially good about the images I was making. So what was going on? I think it relates simply to two factors 1. a desire to express an emotional response to my surroundings (passion) and 2. enough knowledge of photography (my craft) both technically and aesthetically, to communicate it.
For that period of time outdoors, I was being creative. I was creating images that were expressive of the feelings I was experiencing and which had meaning to me. I wasn’t trying to be unique or different, just honest with myself about what was turning me on visually about my immediate environment. Ultimately, and this seems to jive with the reading I’ve done so far, the result of my creative activity is what distinguishes fine art from applied art.
Creativity it appears is all about problem solving. In photography the problems are visual and the goal is communication. When the problem is given to you by another, the art created is applied art. When the problem is self-imposed in order to express internal desires, that is considered fine art. Fine art isn’t necessarily more creative than applied art, just a different motivation.
Sure the leaves are all off the trees and the landscape looks more winter-like than fall-like, but I’m not willing to let go of my grip on autumn quite yet. This fall went extremely fast. The color was never really vibrant anywhere I looked around me here in Bucks County and the heavy rains and winds of October did a real job on any color that did occur.
When I wasn’t doing a show, it was raining, or I was preparing for the next show. Finally I had enough and just had to get out. Sure enough it was raining. But, with my Olympus E-3 and Olympus 50-200mm SWM lens (and some gortex clothing), I was able to spend several hours photographing at a nearby lake. Frankly, I didn’t find the scenery very inspiring, initially. But it was fun working in the rain (sometimes heavy rain), and I began to see the beauty of what was there. Colors weren’t the vibrant reds and oranges I visualized, but the rain made the umber leaves that remained standout well. The cloudy skies offered me smooth, consistent lighting, and if I could keep the blowing rain off the front lens element, I was actually getting quite stoked. By the end I found myself creating some of my favorite fall images ever.
I listen carefully to what show attendees say to me when seeing my work. At this last show in Hawley, as in many others, a regular comment is that I must be a very patient person. I often hesitate at this because I simply feel it misses the mark on how I approach making an image. Truth is I’m not a very patient person. I don’t just stand or sit waiting for something to happen or some creature to pass my position.
I think the confusion is that many people equate wildlife photography and nature photography in general, with hunting. I am not hunting with a camera. Maybe a better description is that I am exploring with my camera and then communicating with as much emotion as I can, the visual experience. Sometimes my images are the result of pre-visualization, maybe for months or just seconds before making the image. Sometimes I just walk around and allow myself to respond to what I see and feel. Other times I do stand or sit in a spot where I have pre-visualized a certain image or type of image I want to make. Usually though, I am on the move observing and thinking about color, form, perspective, and compositions, but mostly letting myself respond to the visual experience I am having.
It is more often true that any image I make was made as I came upon a subject or situation in the field. Many of my images are the result of planning to be in a certain location under specific conditions in order to attempt to make an image I had already considered. This means being in the desired spot often while it’s still dark with the needed equipment and a predetermined creative approach. In fact, this approach may be considered the exact opposite of patience. I’m not saying I never exhibit patience, it’s just not my strongest character trait (at least with regards to making photographs).