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Entries in photography (4)

Friday
Jan272012

Production Value

Let me preface this by saying I am not crafty.

I woke up last week with an image in my head, an amalgam of a landscape I've been wanting to shoot layered with a model, and an outfit, and props.  At lunch I found myself fumbling through the fabric store, buying felt and beads and sequins.  The little voice that whispers this is absurd, this is not what you do was drowned out by the voice that said oh what the hell?  If it turns out to be ridiculous, no one ever has to know.

I diligently sewed shiny bits to scraps of fabric last weekend, and when my confused mother and stepfather asked what are you doing? all I could say was maybe this is a mania, or maybe this is production value.

If you've been coming here long enough, you know that when I shoehorn photography into my day it is by shooting what happens to be in front of me.  When I am successful, I manage to see it in an artful way.  But lately I feel unsatisfied with that.  I find myself dwelling in questions:

 What differentiates this from any other snapshot?

How do I know if it's any good?

How can I make this more of a process?

How can I push this further?

I have an urge to bring more intention to this work.  I have the urge to take a deep breath and dive further into the medium, to see if something uniquely mine exists there.  I want to finally learn to use supplemental light, to master Photoshop, to play with storytelling. 

I don't know if sequins and beads will lead me to where I want to go, but just in case it was the voice of the muse talking in my ear, I'll follow and see if anything interesting comes.

Monday
Dec122011

How to Disappear Completely

I wake early and slip as silently as possible out of bed, quietly gathering clothes and camera gear and making my way to a neighborhood park to shoot the eclipse. It is completely dark and very cold when I pull up to the edge of the lake and the shadow is only beginning to show on the upper edge of the moon. It is also very comfortable in the car and as the seat warmers kick in I decide I can wait until the eclipse gets a little further along to set up my shot. After a few minutes I turn off the radio and sit there in silence, watching the shadow slowly slowly eat the moon.

Last weekend I was Skyping with a friend who asked me if I get much alone time. Um, my commute, I noted a little more bitterly than I intended. Three-year-olds, husbands, and work collaborators seem to demand a lot of attention.

People start pulling up to the lake, getting out to watch the moon.

Commute. Alone. If I'm going to insist on being one of those wasteful Americans in my gas-guzzling car driving to work by myself, maybe I should take advantage of the chance to be alone.  I noticed this last week and resisted the habit of making phone calls on the way to work.  Quiet.

Long lenses and tripods begin to populate the lakeshore.  Orange creeps into the eastern sky behind me.  In the car I am alone.

I sit for an hour and a half. The eclipse is so gradual but somehow the moon becomes a sliver suddenly, and it's sinking toward the mountains fast. I came here to take a picture - the third month in a row I have tried in vain to shoot the full moon - but by the time I get the tripod out of the car I don't have time to find the right place to set up or frame the shot the way I'd imagined.

It's strange that you can race through life at such a pace as to approach terminal velocity, but when you do sit you can totally lose track of the urge to move at all.

In the end, I only fired a couple frames of the eclipse. Immediately after it sunk behind the mountains I had to fight off regret for not trying harder to get the shot. Missed opportunity! What was I thinking?! It's not the shot I came here to make!

But the warmth. The quiet. The shadows. The light.

Invisible.

Peace.

Tuesday
Nov152011

On Becoming an Artist

I have never thought of myself as an artist.  A creative, yes.  But perhaps more of a creative technician, taking other people's visions and breathing life into them.  I remember talking to my father years ago about what artists are (he knows a lot of them) and he said, well, I know this: an artist is somebody who creates because they can't not create.

Hmmm...  Seems true, I thought.  But it doesn't sound like me.

Part of doing creative work that's client-based, which is what I do professionally, is that you learn not to get too attached to it.  There comes a point in every project where you have to let your vision go in support of their vision.  They're the client.  It's their baby at the end of the day.

But this idea of being an artist still tugged at me.  Do you think of yourself as an artist? I asked a colleague I love and respect, on a work trip one night at a hotel bar in suburban Houston.  I was surprised when he said yes.  I felt so far away from that.

I started taking pictures and, at some point, began to think of myself as someone who takes pictures.  The word photographer still got stuck in my throat.  But something happened as I neared the end of my 365 project, and as I was putting together my video and looking back through the pictures I thought huh, it looks like a photographer made this.

I didn't have time to take any pictures last week, and by the time the weekend rolled around I felt like a caged animal.  I just needed to take my camera and go on a walk.  Maybe that's a sign.  I told Kim Klassen that I'm tip-toeing up to permission to think of myself as an artist.  She got very excited, and pointed me to this post in which she writes about her experience of becoming an artist.  She says that being an artist introduced her to a world in which anything was possible.  I thought yeah, I want that to be me!

I talked to my friend Kelly, an artist in Austin, yesterdayI said, I think I might be becoming an artist.

WHAT??? she said. You are already an artist.  I have known this forever.  I am the creator and president of the Corinna-is-an-amazing-artist fan club!  I'm SO GLAD you've finally decided to join us.

I don't know if Kelly is creating membership cards for this club, but if she does, I imagine they'll look something like this:Jen Lemen gave us these at Camp, but I didn't know what to ask permission for yet.I don't know how my life will change when I cross over into being an artist, but I feel like I'm right there, oh so close and I can almost taste it.

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Any of you guys want to give me a hint?  If you're an artist, what does it mean to you?  Is it important to see yourself that way?  What happens when you claim that identity? 

Monday
Oct172011

Five Things I Learned From My 365 Project

 Photo courtesy of Rainy Kolar

No, apparently I am not done talking about my 365 project yet.   I am still processing what this exercise meant in my life over the past year and what changes or knowledge it brought to my world.  The headline is that it has been an intensely positive experience that I would recommend to anyone  looking to get more in touch with their essential selves.  Here are a few things I learned:

1. Choose something and do it.   I chose photography because I wanted to learn to do it better.  Some days the photo gods smiled on me and everything in my path was bathed in golden light.  Some days I didn’t see a single thing that looked worthy of composing into a shot.  But the practice of doing something every day, whether I felt like it or not, became the important part. 

My creative mind was the muscle that needed exercise, and my intention was the fuel.  And some days, when I didn’t think I had an ounce of inspiration in me, I surprised myself.

You could choose anything.  It could be a sketch, a haiku, a home-cooked recipe, a series of sun salutations.  Carve 30 minutes out of your day – every day – and do this for yourself. 

2. Put it out there.  Honestly.  This one is hard, because obviously I want to release into the world only the highest quality work.  The rest can be stuffed into a shoebox and buried at the back of a closet.  Or better yet, burned.  That way no one will know that I’m less than perfect.

But instead I allowed this to be a project, an exploration, a journal of my experience of growing myself in my 37th year.  A very kind community that I value so much grew up around the effort.  Which means that authenticity attracts connection.  I like that.

The key here - to borrow a phrase from the writers - is to not be afraid of shooting badly.  Also, if I had waited until I produced only the highest quality work, I would be trembling in the corner and wouldn’t have posted anything yet.  (There’s something in here about the perfect being the enemy of the blog.)

3. Selective focus makes me happy.  It has become clear to me that this is true in photography and in life.  As the year went on I learned not only how to control the depth of field in my photos using the lens aperture, but I practiced focusing my attention and energy mostly on the parts of my life that give me satisfaction.

Yeah, I still have to do laundry and pay the mortgage on time.  Dirty diapers still invade my ideal world.  But that doesn’t get my focus.  And I’m happier for blurring out the blah stuff.

4. Look at everything in 360°.   I pulled over on the side of the road and worked these cloud sculptures, not entirely satisfied with the composition I was coming up with.  I got back in the car, figuring if worse came to worse I could crop one of the images and come up with something usable.  But as I was pulling away I noticed the other side of the sculptures in my rear-view mirror and I pulled right back off the road.  This time, shooting from the other side, the composition just clicked.  So I made myself a new rule:  when possible, walk all the way around my subject and look at it from all angles.

This is another one of those Best Practices for life too.

5. Do it now.  I am the world’s worst procrastinator.  Also, I am almost always rushing.   There were many times over the past year that I passed something on the street or noticed something between here and there and thought, oh that’s cool.  I bet that would make a good picture.  I’ll shoot that later/on my way back/next week. 

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t work.

That thing that would make such a good photo is inevitably animate, or if it’s not the sun on it is and when you come back the light isn’t right and the moment is gone.  I missed a lot of good pictures this way.  I had to learn to check in with myself:  This is life, and it’s now or never.  It’s okay to choose never but at least I learned to understand it as a choice.

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I'm still thinking about this.  It's a good list, but just a start.  Tomorrow, five more things I learned from my 365 project.  Then I'll move on.  Probably.  I promise.