Artistic growth. It is not something planned, it happens organically as experience and knowledge are gained. When I first started working with a camera, my primary intent was to record what I saw. It was a rather literal representation that guided my purpose. I’ve been working with a camera for 40 years though and have long understood that photography is not just a literal medium. It is a selective, abstracting, very plastic medium when so desired.
When one looks at the world with artistic vision, with the need to express feeling, and personal values, the medium of expression is of little relevance. I find myself less interested in the typical photographic renderings based on sublime locations and extraordinary events. If an image elicits a response of “luck”, “right-place, right-time”, or “where did you get that?” I wonder if I am creating something personal enough. While, there are certainly times and places which drive me to make images, I hope that those images are more than recordings. I want them to be about something bigger than the content in the frame.
While any selective process has an element of personal meaning to it, I acknowledge that my response to an event or place can be guided by a desire to impress others or for financial gain. As an artist who must live off the work he does, I accept that my motivation is from more than one thing. But also, as an artist, I have to create images consistent with what drove me to be a full time artist. Right now, that work is rather different than when I started, and even different than what I was creating 5 years ago. If I were still creating the same pictures that I was 30-40 years ago (or even five years ago), I would be stating that my life and experiences have led me nowhere new, that I have not grown, or changed in any way. And that would not be true.
Much of my new work is done on the 7 1/2 acres of farmland my artist wife and I own, or in my studio within the farmhouse. Here the aesthetic experiences are simple but no less profound. As in other locations where I have worked for many years, I see more deeply with increased submersion. On or near the farm, I have daily, seasonal, and yearly interaction with nature and it is here that my most authentic work is now done.
Knowing why we do something can give us insight into what we are doing presently and motivate our choices going forward. I came across one explanation of why artists create the work they do which I find apropos. Artists, it is suggested, create works that help them fill in for something that is missing in their lives. I can see that explanation of motivation being true with certain works I make. There have been times when I felt the need for more beauty, peacefulness, or simplicity around me. There are many stressors in life, and creating imagery that balances those stressors by emphasizing peace and simplicity seems like a logical explanation. These works then are expressions of that desire.
One piece that I come back to often when feeling a desire to unwind is titled A Ripple, A Blade of Grass. It is an image of grasses reflected in pond water in Acadia National Park . A minimalist image, it really only consists of lines against a monochromatic background. I find it both soothing and engaging though. The simplicity of it is calming, yet there are lines that create triangles (due to the grasses reflection in the water), a shape that imparts a sense of action. Also, the ripples in the water have created zig-zag patterns that serve as visual contrast to the straight lines and add a sense of tension through the implied motion. I applied a sepia tonality to the piece to lower the visual harshness of a stark black and white.
This type of imagery is not easy to make because as a result of it being minimalist, every element that is included becomes more important to the piece. Finding the right balance in a minimalist work is part of the challenge however, and for that I am often working from a gut feeling.
I’m currently reading two books on aesthetics which I find fascinating. I’m still at the beginnings of both books but already they have me contemplating the “why” of art more deeply. As an artist I create from a relish for nature, a relish for beauty, a relish for life. It is a consciousness raising experience and one that lifts my humanity. I respond to natural beauty through aesthetic experience and translate that into my own interpretation, striving to create something beautiful in itself. When I respond to a field of grass aesthetically, I’m not trying to recreate that field. What I am doing is trying to relate my unique aesthetic experience of that field to a viewer so that they may feel about it the way I did.
If I am successful with my creation then I have affected some response in the viewer which raises their consciousness and relish for life as well.
I’ve been looking back at images I made in the last few years. It’s an annual practice that I enjoy at the beginning of each new year and is an important part of deciding which images will be introduced as new prints.
In moving some things around, also an annual process, I came across a box of slides from 1991. Yeah, I can’t believe how long ago that was now either. This image however was not representative of my style then. It is more abstract than my work was then. It is a much more subjective image. In the last several years however, my work has become increasingly subjective — more about form, texture, color, and minimalist. In some ways I feel my work has become more about mood and more expressive.
It’s not that I haven’t created expressive imagery before, it’s just that I’m making and exhibiting more of it now. I find it very exciting and freeing. I’m creating work that is both authentic and in the moment. I’m expressing my personal aesthetic without concern to ultimate use and really enjoying it.
Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend who gave me a heads up to a coming deadline, I was able to submit a feature article idea for the Photographer’s Market 2010. As a strong believer in “write about what you know”, I suggested an article on the hows and whys of doing art shows. The article was accepted for inclusion in both Photographer’s Market 2010 and 2010 Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market.
Both publications are now available. As a long time purchaser of this series of books, I am pleased that my 2000+ word feature has played a part in the latest versions.