12 october 2011
following up on previous post from 10 october

So there, we like to label things. When first perceiving something new, our brain instantly asks ‘what’s that?’ and we just as instantly try to answer with a name of the thing. Naming and labeling helps us categorize, feel familiar with, make sense of the multitude of things and stimulus we receive from our environment.
Knowing the label we believe to know the thing. Knowing the name of a thing or of a person, we assume to have familiarity with that thing or that person.
Jonathan? Sure, he lives in that house at the end of the road, doesn’t he? Sure, I know him.
Yes I have read that article on the famine in Africa, I know all about it, it’s horrible.
‘Mom! I don’t want you to take me to Europe, I hate Europe. I know, Bobby was there last year with his parents and he hated it, I know what it is like there!’.

But do we really? Can we know anything without having experienced it? Felt it and lived it? It is not a simple feat to distinguish between knowing and mere opinion, even be it ever so based on intellectual learnedness. We can read all we want and listen to as many teachers as we can find, unless we experience with our own bodies and mind our knowledge remains an intellectual construct. This is not to say such intellectual constructs can not be of real-life service. We do not need to jump or fall off the height of a 100 feet bridge to understand the consequences. Yet, even that is still only intellectual knowing and understanding.
Now how does all this relate to photography? Well, consider the last time you were at an art show, whether photography or other. The majority of works, even abstracts, were likely displayed along with a title. I am not referring to image-labels that simply provide a means of archival identification for the individual image, such as ‘Street Scene Paris # 5’, or ‘Yellow Flower’, but titles that say what the image is supposed to mean, to tell and inform, that provide the story.
Clearly, there are circumstances in which it is appropriate to add words to the image. Consider a photograph of a crowd in the street, clearly in uproar, yet the image does not provide any clue as to the reason for the uproar. In a documentary, journalistic context a title and possibly even lengthy words of explanation may be very appropriate. Were the image to be displayed as art, maybe for it’s purely photographic merits, however, how would a title influence our viewing and experience of the work?
We can consider various possibilities. If an image does not have the strength and clarity to express itself, can a title make up for it? Is it necessary for an image to ‘tell a story’ at all? Should the artist provide a meaning, an interpretation, along with the image? Why? Why not? Should we, as the audience and viewer, expect to be served a story and meaning along with the photograph? Every photograph?
When you look at images the next time, try to get a sense of how the mere reading of a label, a name, a title, influences the path our mind takes in interpreting and finding meaning in that work? How it shifts and directs the experience of the image. How it can subtly or not so subtly limit the relationship our own mind could create with the work.

Viewing art is an intimate exchange and communication that takes place within ourselves. It has the potential to find meaning from within the context of our own personal life experience that each of us, individually, brings into this exchange. We all relate not only to art, but to people and their behaviours, and events and circumstances in all areas of our lives, in our own personal ways.

Thus, I also prefer to decide for each image individually and depending on the context of use whether a title is necessary, desirable, or limiting the potential for the viewer, and if a title is chosen, which purpose it may serve and why. The title becomes an integral part of the final work, after all, and deserves the same deliberation as the image itself.
enjoy the autumn colours with or without meaning


Looking or Seeing Images

10  October  2011

Image and Message

There are various approaches to assessing the merits of a photograph. One can look for  technical aspects, such as lighting and exposure, shutter speed chosen, sharpness versus blurriness, tonalities. Then there are artistic choices such as composition and framing, use of colour and monochrome, in printing the choice of papers and presentation. The choice of the subject photographed itself, can be made part of deciding on the merits of the final image; some people may consider a photograph of a socially important issue to be, by mere selection as the subject matter, to have inherently more value or importance than, say, a photograph of a natural landscape; others may decide vice versa.

As in so many areas of life, variable factors, circumstances, conditions, and timing determine case by case how to create, view, and relate to an image; rarely can we, even should we, use final and fixed statements about whether an image is good, great, or not worthy of consideration. It all depends and differentiation is a more appropriate approach when assessing a photograph, or art in general … and other people, for that matter, too!
Differentiation, for example, between images that are of journalistic and documentary nature,  intending to record and present our world as realistically as seen by the photographer; purely artistic purposes, abstract images, or those that show us that same world in a way we have not noticed before; private and personal work that may never be intended to be seen by anyone else. So many options for our creative work.
Then consider the countless and all valid reasons for doing what we do, even within each of the above mentioned types of image work:
we may create
– for our own satisfaction of creativity;  maybe we never intend the image to be seen by anyone else, but to satisfy our own growth as a human being, furthering our own creative process and learning;
– to understand our own life better; for example by observing ourselves, our emotions, hopes, desires, and anxieties, habits, during the process of creating, such as in the practice of contemplative photography ;
– possibly without even being interested in the final image, creating simply for the love of the process of working and experimenting with the gadgetry of camera work;
– for an audience  – to see what we saw   – to appreciate and show natural beauty or to understand a message we see or intend in the image, be it drawing attention to other people’s lives and circumstances; environmental messages; to change the world; encourage others to action, to think, to question;
– to receive approval for our own ego ( neither easy to acknowledge nor to get past … but maybe I am just talking of myself here … ), or to find approval for furthering our recognition as a photographer, artist, our business;

None of these are inherently better or more or less deserving or worthy than another. After all, who is to judge one’s fellow being’s creative process. What is valuable, however, is to become aware of our own intentions and purposes for being creative in a given way. Insights gleaned from such awareness can not only support and further our artistic path, but will naturally transfer to and inform all other areas of our daily lives to become more insightful and aware as well.
Here then are the questions: Does an image require a message? Does a photograph, in order to be a ‘great image’, need to convey a story? Does the viewer need an interpretation for or of an image in order to be moved by it?
Are there differences in the ‘value’ of images that depict a scene of Nature, a poor person in the street, or an abstract image of artistic merit? Can they each affect us deeply wether or not they tell a particular story or deliver a specific message?
Well, as for myself, I admit to rarely letting myself be pinned down to some final and one-size-fits-all definite statement … and this may give you a hint as to how I answer those questions for myself.
Might it be valuable to your own creative process, too, to become more clear about these questions ?

have a good camera day

to look or to see

It is commonly known that, in most circumstances, people look at an image for only about 2 seconds and then wander on to the next, for another 2 seconds, and so on. I, too, can find myself rushing through image galleries when browsing the works of other artists on the net. There is just so much!
Considering the time, money, thought, and possibly lengthy conceptual visualization that we have invested in the creation of the image, this may be rather disappointing.
For sure, with the boundless imagery that is made to pass us by every day, it is unreasonable to think we could spend any length of time deeply viewing, exploring, experiencing every single image we encounter. Just think of the literally flashing-by imagery of commercials and the magazines with hundreds of similar looking images repeated with every week’s issue.
Yet, the instant and speedy consumption of imagery is maintained in environments such as galleries and museums, when leafing through photography books dedicated to exceptional image craft, and even in exhibitions of print competitions have I seen the audience strolling along the lines of prints no different than as if leisurely enjoying the local park, glancing at the prints merely in passing. In these environments, people have put themselves for the very purpose of looking at and experiencing the images on display.
Is it then a lack of interest in the potential depth of experience that a well created image can provide? Or a misunderstanding of the role of imagery as simply another goods of quick entertainment? Maybe there is a lack of having been taught, by example, the wealth and value of Arts in general? Is it just that more training and experience is needed in how to look at images, what to look for, what an image can provide, evoke, enhance in your own life?
Likely it is a combination of all of the above, and certainly, in any case, it is up to us, the image makers, to also supply some of the how-to of looking at, experiencing, and appreciating our image work.
Still, even without any intent of artistic experience, there will, occasionally, be an image that can cause a person to a sudden stop, a brief hesitation to rush on, a moment of looking again at some particular image.

Is this a moment of recognition or of questioning? Maybe a glimpse of something not superficially apparent in the image? A sense of feeling an image, of resonating with it outside of pure consumption and entertainment?
In a Miksang- Contemplative approach to the process of seeing this moment might be considered a flash of perception; pure perception, that is, before our mind slips a label over it, or makes a concept out of the perception, or adds an interpretation by means of intellectual process.
There are many ways, of course, by which a person may sense a resonance with an image. It may be the subject depicted, the location, the emotion of a person in the image, or the type of scene that causes recognition, memory, familiarity, or also opposition, questioning, or like or dislike.
Mood, as purveyed through colour palette, light and dark and contrast, graphic elements and patterns, textures, lines and shapes in the image can all become sources of resonance for an individual viewer to experience the image on a more intimate and intricate level.
Often, the cause and reason for our being drawn to, resonating with, a certain image may not even become apparent. We simply sense a “… wow!! “ and  “ … ohhh I like this one … !!  … “ or we simply stand and absorb and would not be able to put into words what in the image actually makes us feel as we do. This is perfectly fine, maybe often even more than fine, as we do not need to intellectualize every experience in our lives. When an image can make us experience the silence within, it speaks of something beyond words.
We, being the image makers, might, however, do well to contemplate what in an image are the  subtle or not-so-subtle visual means to make people look beyond 2 seconds.
Chances are that in the process of such contemplation, we also enhance the understanding of our lives in general. After all, learning to appreciate art can lead to appreciating and respecting life and the world in its multitude of manifestations, including ourselves, and that, I have no doubt, will be of benefit to All.


Silent Imagery

The world has become loud; and not just loud, but noisily loud. Consider how far out of town you need to get in order to experience the silence of a night without traffic, electric humming of appliances, air conditioners, furnaces, and the back ground vibrations of city life! Add the un-ceasing chatter in our minds and it is no wonder that many people, often especially kids, seem to be unable to sit without constant noise from music, TV, computer games, rarely radio, even be it only in the background. Silence becomes associated with emptiness. Emptiness being considered something inherently un-desirable. Not surprisingly so, in a culture in which all ‘things’ quantitative are valued more than most ‘things’ qualitative.

Combined with the constant fast-paced visual stimulation, mentioned in previous post, there is little space for the mind to find gaps into which it could retreat for rest. Let alone gaps into which it could possibly create something of its own accord. It is easier, so some believe, to have the external world supply, rather than to create from one’s own resources. It may be so, but likely only for the short run.

Winter Bench in Snow Storm

The snow storm for sure was hissing around my head, neither does the almost horizontally blowing snow convey quiet, calm, un-moving silence, either … yet, the image provides plenty of space to rest. Not simply by leaving ’empty’ white space, but by leaving just enough visible detail in that space to draw the mind into it with a minimum, barely noticeable, curiosity; and then leaving that space just empty enough to not provide anything for the mind to attach to and to label. Sure, the composition with the diagonal of the distant foggy tree line helps to lead the mind into that distance.  The eye usually first is drawn to areas of strong contrast, lightest area in an image, sharpest detail. So the contrast between the dark bench in foreground, likely the first visual perception for most viewers, and then the misty light back ground, too, has the eye move back and forth between bench and distance. The lucky wind direction which streaks the snow flakes from top left toward bottom right, parallel to the disappearing tree line, is a fortunate aid in leading the eye again and again into the empty distance.

There being nothing other than bench, snow, trees, without any clear story, meaning, interpretation, leaves the viewer without a perceived need to label, to put words and names upon the image. It leaves the viewer’s mind free to wander, to get lost, to stop for a while without noticing that it has stopped. An unexpected moment of experiencing the silence, not in the image, but in the mind.

How soulfully nourishing


Photographing a Stone

sit still as a rock

You may have heard or read the quote: “In walking just walk. In sitting just sit. Above all don’t wobble.”
Now stones rarely wobble, and if you use a tripod, the camera will neither. So all that is left to not wobble is you. Not wobbling the body is relatively easy; though if you can manage to unwobble the mind, too, the resulting image ought to be of the Stone; Stone as it is, that is, not as a wobbling mind may wish it were but isn’t. Or as we think we would like to see it but on the final photograph clearly don’t.
When the ancient Masters of Chinese painting taught the students that in order to paint Spring you must become Spring, and to paint Bamboo you must become Bamboo, and when they, as seems to be the case, have achieved some impressive level of mastership in painting Spring and Bamboo, maybe we can try similarly in our photography, too?
Next time a stone comes along that you wish to photograph, maybe you can turn into one, too ?

good wishes

here is a stone:

First Greetings


Simplifying life is a desire for more and more people, especially for those living in fast-paced cities.

Yet, simplifying life can be a rather complex process simply because of the multitude of activities, things, and especially thoughts we have going on day in and day out; mind in and mind out.

For sure, I am one of them, too, who would love to simplify lots of things, but find themselves rushing and busying on and on, day by day.

Well, if we can find or develop some activity to become an actual practice of simplification we can reduce that activity to a bare minimum, not in terms of time spent on doing it, but in requirements for doing it. In photographic practice, for example, concerns about equipment, cost, preparation for a day of image work, etc., can become elaborate and extensive. The real simplifying comes less from reducing the number of things externally, though such reduction of material concerns and costs certainly is very conducive to it, but from reducing things internally. Our minds makes our lives more complex and busy than need be by the constant chatter, concerns, opinions, likes and dis-likes, and pre-conceived ideas about pretty much everything.

Simplifying in photography can mean many things to many people. Here, we will explore of the process of making images, their subject matter, the looking, seeing, and viewing of images will become a means and a tool for the practice of simplification and improving not only our image making, but also to let those insights inevitably flow into and influence beneficially other areas and activities in our lives, and, for that matter, maybe other’s, as well.

take care