Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Dreaded 'C' Word

In a recent blogpost of the World Photography Organization several videos were presented about creativity and photography. Generally I tend to shy away from the new age philosophy that we are all inherently creative, but the first of these videos brought the issue more into focus for me (pardon the pun). 

I'm always searching for that kernel of whatever it is inside me that makes me a productive artist. In the video the speaker makes four points, and I think it is the extent to which any of us is willing to engage all of these points that separates the 'milk from the cream'. 

Being open and embracing experience: When I go about my day I have to be always aware of what goes on around me, open to a new situation or experience, and be willing to become engaged in it. It's what shooting on the street is all about. I can't go out with preconceived ideas of what in particular I will be looking for - that's like wearing blinders - but rather just observe the world around me and jump into a new situation (sometimes with fear and/or trepidation).

Embracing life's challenges: It's what connects us all together, and in reflecting that in my images I can draw the viewer into the subject to see the world through the camera, with my perspective. The more difficult or challenging the situation, the more effort I have to put into it. But I can't run from those experiences to look for what is more comfortable or familiar.

Pushing up against the limits, and what you can't do: When I hear a voice in my head that says 'You can't do that' I have to listen to it, and then go and do it. Succumbing to that voice is to admit defeat. Were I to have listened to that voice I would never have become a violinist nor a photographer.

The embrace of loss: This is the most tragic to run from. Loss is part of everyone's life, in myriad forms. It's part of the natural world and the inexorable passing of time. As time moves forward, what was once, in an instant, is over - gone forever - and if the way I see it is not documented, the memory of it will fade and disappear over time. 

These are all not easy to commit to. To the extent that I am willing to do so will determine the force and impact of what I seek to portray.

On one of my photo walks in NYC I happened upon this gentleman and was struck by the disparity of the sadness in his face and eyes, and the sign he was holding. I hope he, and all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Becoming and artist

From Art & Fear : '..... becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.' Reminds me so much of Joseph Campbell's idea of following your 'bliss'. Every artist has to forge a path through the forest in search of his grail. If he follows another's path, it's not his own and the message in the art will be derivative. 

When I see a scene or incident that catches my attention and piques my interest, when it speaks to me and I photograph it, that says something about me. As I work on an image I look for what caught my attention and for the flaws and weaknesses it reflects in me. Again, from Art & Fear : 'Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.' There definitely is an undercurrent of fear in taking photos of people on the street, but having overcome that and having nailed the shot leaves me with a buzz. When I see reflections - in windows or mirrors - the image takes on new levels and planes of focus. There is the background that stops the viewer's attention and forces the eye back into the scene. There's the street merchant facing the camera and pushing attention back to the middle ground, and there is the woman in the foreground, really just a non-descript dark presence that stops the eye from drifting off the side of the image and forces attention back to the center of the image - the reflection in the mirror of yet another person who does not bodily appear in the shot. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why do I do it?

There's so much pithy information in Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, that it's difficult to decide what points to address first. The first point that hit me right between the eyes, and it's on the second page of the first chapter, sucked me right into the rest of the book.

Making art .... means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside ethese doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment with the work itself.

So, why do I do it? Why do any of the many street photographers with whom I correspond regularly use their precious free time to go out with a camera and walk the streets looking for that visual pun, that 'decisive moment', knowing that not many people will ever see it if it's posted on the internet, and of those that do, few will comment on it (except to tell you how great the shot is in the hopes that you'll look at their work and tell them how great their work is).

When I was out this past Saturday, I went to one of my favorite spots in Manhattan. It's a corner in the Meatpacking district near the lower end of the Highline. I like this spot because there's a bench to sit on just outside of a biker's bar. Since the area has started to become gentrified, quite a few trendy shops and restaurants that attract a hip young crowd have opened. It makes for an eclectic mix of the people that pass by the bench. I love a crowd - they increase dramatically the possibility of serendipitous moments. Grabbing those instants of time give me a rush, a feeling of 'got it!' And after I 'get it' I love to digitally develop the image to make it tell the story that made me push the shutter button in the first place. Once the image is created and posted, my process is finished. I'm done with that shot and on to the next one. I enjoy showing the work and getting feedback from viewers, but that's not the real motivation to taking the shot and developing it. During that whole process I'm really looking at myself, like looking into a mirror.

Now about this shot - there's just something I enjoy about taking a photo of an attractive woman. Here I was, standing in this small crowd of bikers who are swilling beer and chowing down cheap bar food, and this pretty blonde girl walks by followed by a preppy looking luster. I got a couple of shots of the girl, but this one in particular grabbed my attention because at the moment I pressed the shutter button the preppy guy stopped dead in his tracks, thinking he was going to  courteously give me space to get my shot without walking through it. 'Social Distortion' filled in the space and made the image speak.