Sea Blue Lens


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…But I Know What I Like

Is It a Message?

When it comes to art, I know what I like — and I also know what I don’t like. Maybe. Lesson 7 in Find Your Eye: Journey of Inspiration asks us to consider why we have negative reactions to some works of art.

I’ve really been blocked on this assignment. Though I’ve touched on this topic previously, here and here, I’m a person who is very uncomfortable pronouncing judgements. One of the overriding principles of my life is to never say or do anything that will hurt or offend anyone. I know that’s not a realistic goal or even necessarily a good one, but it’s who I am.

Living on the Edge

I realize that art appreciation is very subjective. Something I love may leave others cold, and vice versa. But I have to admit that there have been many times when I have visited an art gallery or museum and have asked myself, “What makes that ‘art’? Why is that [whatever] considered worthy of hanging in a museum?” Sometimes I just don’t get it.

I remember once seeing in a museum a canvas painted entirely white. There were not even any brush strokes visible. It could have been a blank wall, except a wall would have had more texture. The narrative next to the painting went into great detail about the significance of this master work, all of which sounded like gibberish to me. All I could think of was the Emperor’s new clothes.

Hope

I don’t like art that makes no sense, or makes me feel stupid. Drips and blobs of ugly colors don’t speak to my soul, no matter what they are titled or how the critics rave over them or how much they sell for at auction.

For a work of art to be significant to me, it needs to touch me in some way. I need something I can respond or relate to, whether it’s color, design, pattern, or story. I prefer beauty to ugliness, though again, I realize that the perception of beauty is also very subjective. I prefer art to lift me up, stir my imagination, pique my curiosity, or make me think, or feel, or marvel over the skill and vision of the artist.

Solitude

On the other hand . . .

I don’t like it when others assume I won’t like something, based on their perception of me. I don’t like being put into a box. I don’t like being told, “You don’t want to see that – you wouldn’t like it.” Sometimes they are right, but often they are not. In any case, I want to decide for myself. I want to keep my heart and mind open to new experiences. I want always to continue learning and growing.

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Movie Night

Through a lens darkly

Lesson six in my current (soon to be over, I’m sad to say) Find Your Eye e-course asks us to read a little about cinematography, then watch a movie known for its cinematography. The idea was to see what we could observe about how various techniques were used in filming the movie, and how we might use them in our photography.

Kat provided a link to a list of “Top 10 Cinematographic Masterpieces.” When I reviewed the list, I was surprised to find that I had actually seen 7 of the 10 films listed. Of the three I hadn’t seen before, two were not readily available to me, so I went to the library and grabbed the one they did have: The Godfather. Shocking, I know. Almost 40 years after its release, I had never seen this iconic movie that people of my generation have been talking about and quoting from for most of my adult life.

The first thing I noticed was the color. The entire film has a faded, warm, slightly-sepia tone, which enhanced the period feel. The impression given was that it had been filmed in the 1940s and the film had faded or color-shifted, as old photos do. Much of the movie was very dark, and I don’t mean the storyline. Interiors were dimly lit, and often the backgrounds disappeared in the gloom, focusing attention on the faces of those featured in the scene. Even those faces were often darkly shadowed, as if illuminated only by dim room lighting.

The parts of the movie that were set outside of New York had a very different look. The California and Nevada segments still had that faded, period feeling, but they were much brighter in contrast to the dark New York scenes. At one point, the setting unexpectedly changed from grim, dark New York City to the Italian countryside. The atmosphere changed completely, and became bright, with open vistas and beautiful scenery — accompanied by the swelling love theme, the first time I really noticed the movie’s music. It was a shocking transition. Suddenly it felt as if I were watching a completely different movie. When the story cut back to shadowy New York, the foreshadowing was clear.

I’m not quite sure how to apply my observations of the cinematography of The Godfather to my own photography. The dark, gritty noir look is not a style that appeals to me much, though I have in the past used darkish indoor lighting for some portraits that I like quite a bit. Overall, though, the style of those Italian scenes resonate much more with me. I suppose they would, since I am primarily a nature and landscape photographer. Perhaps the strongest takeaway for me is just how much lighting does affect the mood of a photograph.

Home Safe

One movie that I remember purely for its cinematography, and that I do relate to photographically, is Days of Heaven. I saw it back in the early 80s, on a rather primitive color TV. I hated the story, but I was absolutely riveted all the way to the bitter end by the cinematography. In preparing for this assignment, I googled the film and clicked on Image Results. It still takes my breath away.

The images below are definitely more Days of Heaven than The Godfather. But they do use light to capture a mood.

Morning Haze

Still Standing

Last Light


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Don’t Know Much About Art…

Oh boy. I’ve been putting this off, probably because it feels more like homework than our other Find Your Eye lessons do. I’m supposed to ponder and write about my own definition of “art,” consider whether I think photography is art, and whether I think of myself as an artist.

Of course, the first thing that comes into my mind is that old cliche, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” I think the reason it’s such a cliche is that for most people, it’s the truth. It’s a fact that I don’t know much about art. I’ve never studied art history or even had an art appreciation class. It’s also a fact that I’m quite opinionated about it, nonetheless. I do know what I like. So I suppose I must have a definition, or at least a concept, of what “art” is, but it’s difficult to put into words.

I believe art is an impulse deeply rooted in the human psyche. We bring art into our lives whenever we do something in a way that goes beyond merely meeting our needs for utility or survival. Humans crave beauty, and we also crave expression of our own creative spirit. When we style our hair, or put on lipstick, or plant flowers by the front door, isn’t that an expression of art? In that sense, our very lives are our canvases.

I recall vividly my first exposure to what I think of as real art. I was in my early 40’s. It was a traveling exhibition of the Armand Hammer collection, displayed at the local university where I lived, in a town without an art museum or galleries. Tickets were sold in advance and people waited in line patiently for hours to get in. I remember standing in front of a portrait of a man by Rembrandt, my vision blurred with tears, totally overwhelmed because it was so perfect, so old, so alive. I was in awe that a human being could paint something so exquisite, and that it remained so vivid hundreds of years after its subject had died and turned to dust. Of course, I was probably also awed simply by the fact that it was a REMBRANDT. I was not totally ignorant, after all.

So is something art because someone says so? Because it’s placed in a museum? What about a urinal, hung upside down and renamed “Fountain” by the artist? According to Wikipedia, “In December 2004, Duchamp’s Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals.” To me a urinal, no matter whether you hang it upside down or sideways or wear it on your head, is not art. But it was to Duchamp, and apparently to a lot of other people who know more than I do.

Is photography art? Most definitely. Of course, not all photographs are art, any more than all paintings are considered so. When it comes right down to it, art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And perhaps also in the eye of its creator.

The image below is one I took on a recent  autumn walk. It was just a photo of a found object, as most of my photographic subjects are, but for some reason, it stuck in my mind. What if I give it a name that connotes some of the layers of metaphor that have been tickling my brain?

Fallen

Now is it art?

Do I consider myself an artist? Yes, I do. This is a new discovery for me. I’m not a Rembrandt, nor an Ansel Adams. I’m not a professional artist. But I am an artist, nevertheless. Only, now I use a camera instead of a crayon.


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POV

It all depends upon your point of view. Haven’t we all heard that (or said it) before? For our FYE assignment on Point of View, Kat challenged us to take at least 30 photos of a single subject from every possible angle we could think of. This turned out to be educational in more ways than one.

For my subject, I chose this little statue that had belonged to my mother:

Hebe the Cupbearer, Goddess of Youth

Until now, sad to say, I’d never really tried to find out who or what she was, but a quick Google search turned up not only her identity but a photo of this exact rendition of her. (The niche she is standing in is something I picked up in an antiques shop in Ohio some years ago. I suspect it’s actually an old clock case with the works removed.)

I set her up in my “studio”:  i.e., the table in front of the southwest-facing window in my bedroom. The sky was mostly overcast at first, but the sun came out as I worked, changing the light considerably.

I took at least three dozen shots of my little Hebe from the front, back, side, top, underneath, standing up, lying down (her, not me) as the light changed. I photographed her head, her feet, and everything in between. There were many shots that simply didn’t work at all, but I got several that I was pleased with.

Isn’t she lovely?

To me there’s something tender about this soft light on her back.

Who does she remind you of here?

I loved this one straight out of the camera.

This last one may be my favorite. It was certainly my biggest surprise. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see the detail in it better.

It’s hard to believe from this image that this little statuette is only about 10 inches high, an inexpensive cast resin replica. I love the way the light reflects from her collarbone back up under her chin. And just look at the texture of that skin. She looks alive!

I really enjoyed this assignment. In addition to exploring different points of view with my camera, I discovered new things about a simple possession I’ve always taken for granted. Thank you once again, Kat, for enriching my photography and my life in unexpected ways.

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Shooting in Style

No, this isn’t a post about hairstyles. For our Find Your Eye course, Kat has asked us to write about our style of photographing. That is, not the style of photographs we take, but the way in which we take them . . . our “shooting style.”

I’m a girl who likes to travel light. I went to London for 10 days with only a carry-on bag. I recently flew to California for almost two weeks, again with just a carry-on. For everyday use, I carry a wallet-on-a-string sort of bag, just big enough for ID & credit card, a little cash, lip gloss, and cell phone. Pre-cell-phone, the rest of those things just went into my jeans pockets.

That’s why I was so enamored (and still am) with my little travel camera. Tons of functionality packed into a very small handful, a bit too big for a pocket but easily slipped into a little pouch to wear on my belt. Now that I have a dSLR, I’m researching and experimenting to find the perfect camera bag. For now, I bought the smallest one I could find just to protect the camera and allow me to safely transport it around. It’s not my ultimate solution, but it’s working for now.

As part of my travel light inclinations, I carry and use very little camera gear. I prefer to handhold my camera rather than use a tripod, even though I know and understand all the very good reasons for using one. I prefer natural light, and seldom use flash. I stick with one lens, though it is a zoom. I don’t use reflectors, remotes, filters, or other accessories, though that may change in time as I get to know my dSLR better.

At the present stage of my life, I seem to be mostly a weekend and vacation shooter. During the week, I’m in an office all day and tired when I get home. In the summer, I do go out with my camera after work sometimes, but this time of year I’m already feeling the pain of lack of light. After the change back to standard time next week, it will be dark before I get off work, so I’ll be doing all my shooting on weekends — and praying for good weather!

I tend to be a spontaneous photographer. That is, I photograph things I come upon, rather than setting out with a deliberate goal in mind. I almost always have a camera with me “just in case.” I will often go somewhere — a drive or a walk — planning to take photos, but not with the intention to shoot anything in particular. I ramble along, taking whatever catches my eye, whether it’s a wide-angle ocean vista or an insect on a flower, an old mill building or a reflection in a puddle.

When I get home and review the images on my computer, I love that moment of discovery when one of them makes me inhale and say Ohh! There might be two or three out of a hundred. But those are the ones that make it worth it. The rest . . . well, I learn from those. I often think, Well, too bad, that didn’t work. Or, Hmm, I wish I had tried . . .  Next time I’ll . . . .

In a way, I guess you could say I’m sort of a sloppy photographer. Or, to be kinder to myself, a casual one. But I’m not really satisfied with that anymore. Learning to think about what I’m doing, and trying to photograph with intention is a new experience for me, one that’s causing me to grow, and not just in my photography. I have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the process. I don’t ever want to stop.

The image at the beginning of this post has nothing to do with anything. In fact, I didn’t even take it. I was visiting my daughter and her significant other this evening when their parrot, Cayce, climbed onto my shoulder and began playing with my hair. My daughter took the photo with her iPhone and I really liked it. So here you go, Cayce, your 15 seconds of fame starts now!

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Retracing My Steps

I just wrote a whole post about how disappointed I was in the photos I took on Sunday, when I repeated Saturday’s camera-less photo walk with my camera.

Then I picked out a few pictures that were sort of tolerable, and started working with them, and decided that maybe I liked them more than I thought.

So here they are, to speak for themselves.

Doesn’t look like a promising start to a nature walk, does it?

But it does get better.

You can sit here . . .

. . . and gaze at the town on the other side of the river . . .

. . . or imagine who might live in this hole.

Here’s that mushroom I told you about . . .

. . . and some really beautiful birch trunks.

A lovely lookout point, another good spot to pause . . .

. . . to appreciate another view.

Edgy red

Leaf rainbow

Grass seed

Softly colored woods

. . . and a single dead leaf to close this chapter.


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(Almost) Photoless Photo Walk

So I took my camera-less photo walk for Kat’s class this afternoon. And let me admit, right up front, that I cheated. Just a tiny little bit.

Sorry, I had to do it.

I did NOT take my camera with me. I saw so many wonderful photo opportunities that, weather permitting, I’m going back tomorrow, with camera. But this sky was so strange! I knew it wouldn’t keep, so I grabbed it with my cell phone while I had the chance. Please forgive me — I couldn’t help myself.

Let me back up and start from the beginning. It was gray most of the day today. I didn’t want to drive anywhere. There’s a river walk that starts off pretty near my home. I’d heard that a local trails organization had done some work on the path, and I’ve been wanting to check it out. So I headed out this afternoon, thinking it would be a good opportunity to explore without getting sidetracked by stopping to take pictures every few steps.

I wasn’t expecting that much, honestly, because I’ve covered the area pretty thoroughly in the past. But the improvements to the trail were great! It used to be a scary scramble down a steep dirt path and over rocks, where it petered out a short distance later on a granite outcrop by the river. Now there are safe steps and handrails, lookout points, and the path continues on to join another farther up the road.

Some of the things I saw:

  • At the beginning of the trail is a small hydroelectric dam that I’d like to try to shoot. There’s also a wall there absolutely covered in graffiti that might make for some interesting photos.
  • A flash of vivid red leaves — just a few — caught my eye in a clump of otherwise drab foliage.
  • Berries of many varieties and colors, from pale yellow to orange to fiery red to navy blue and black.
  • A few remaining wildflowers.
  • Some nice views of the town on the other side of the river.
  • A boatyard with a number of vessels already shrink-wrapped and stored for the season.
  • A variety of grasses and seed heads waving in the breeze.
  • One beautiful golden mushroom. I regretted not having my camera for that, because I doubt it will look the same tomorrow.
  • Remnants of old granite slab walls on the riverbank.
  • A cormorant perched on a buoy, silhouetted against the sunstruck ripples of the river.

The path then left the river’s edge and joined a road that parallels the water. A sign informed me that it was a dead-end street, but much to my delight, though the street ended, the path continued. And that’s where it started to get really good!

I came upon a small, covered observation deck with a bench, where I sat for a time. The shrubs and trees were filled with the flittings and chirpings of small birds, something warbler-like. My son-in-law could have identified them, I’m sure, but all I know is that they were entrancing and made me smile.

And the view! I can’t wait to go back and try to capture and keep it. I already have it saved in my mind and heart, but I want to be able to share it.

On my way home, I stopped in my favorite local deli/wine shop on Main Street and picked up some homemade turkey stew for my dinner. While I was waiting, I looked around and thought that would be a great place to take some photographs, too. I plan to go back and ask if they’d mind if I try.

Overall, I have to say this was a much more satisfying experience than I expected it to be. I don’t think I’d have gotten as far or seen as much if I’d had my camera with me. And now I have the pleasure of having discovered new territory just a pleasant walk away from my front door, and the happy anticipation of exploring it all over again with camera in hand. That’s a win-win, for sure.

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What’s the Problem?

Breaking Through

Here we go, embarking on a new Find Your Eye journey. This one is called Journey of Inspiration, and boy, am I ready to be inspired some more. The first assignment is to think and write about my experience in solving problems in my photography.

This one has me stymied. I’ve been trying to think of a photographic problem I’ve solved. All I can think of are problems I wish I could solve! The first one is time, or rather lack of it. I could get so much more photography done if I didn’t have to go to work every day! Of course, if it weren’t for the work, I’d probably have to hock my camera to buy food, so I guess quitting my job won’t solve my photographic problems.

Since I have a brand new dSLR, I’m facing the “problem” of figuring out what it can do and how to use it. My solution for that, as with most problems, is: Read the instructions. That’s a solution I really do use over and over, and it always works for me.

I’m a great one for following instructions, and I always want to learn all I can about everything. However, when I first took this camera out of its box, I charged the battery and simply started shooting. On Auto, of course. Over a month later, I’m still on Auto. Hence my desire for time . . . time to master the manual — and the manual mode. I’m hoping to get some practice in this weekend.

I finally did think of one photographic problem I learned a solution for a long time ago that I still use today. It has to do with photography at the beginning or end of the day. If I aim my camera at the scenery, the camera will expose for that and the sky will be washed out. So usually I point the camera at the sky and lock in the exposure, then recompose for the composition I want. The scenery will be darker, sometimes even silhouetted, but the sky and clouds will be full of color and detail. Often I like that silhouette effect, but if not, I can usually make some adjustments in post processing to bring out more detail in the shadow areas.

These are a few examples from my recent vacation:

Silver Dawn

Dry Rain

Riding Out the Storm

I feel like I haven’t really answered the question, but it’s been a long week and that’s all I’ve got for now. You’ve got me thinking again, Kat.

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Wrapping It Up


Our final, bonus exercise in the Find Your Eye photography e-course was to review and assess what we actually got from the class. Immediately after the class finished, I went on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I’ve had some time to consider this. But it’s still not easy to put my thoughts and feelings into words.

Having reviewed my lesson posts and inspiration file, I note the following discoveries:

  1. I do have an “eye.” My photographic interests and style have remained pretty consistent for all of the (ahem) many years I have been taking photographs.
  2. My eye is unique to me. While others may take similar photographs, mine are still . . . somehow mine.
  3. I will always be able to find subject matter for my camera. (More on this in a future post.)
  4. Sometimes it really is about the equipment. (More about this later, too.)
  5. Looking at the work of other artists, whether it be photography or other media, helps me to grow in my own work.
  6. Photoshop is not evil, but simply a tool, or sometimes an artistic medium in its own right, to help us achieve the image we envisioned. Post-processing can be fun!
  7. Photographing with intent and purpose can be interesting, informative, and fun, even if I do have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming.
  8. Stepping outside my comfort zone can be challenging and frustrating. It can also result in some very nice pictures!
  9. Thinking is a vital part of a photographer’s tool kit. This is a valuable lesson for someone whose photography is mostly intuitive.

All of these discoveries have been made in community with an amazing group of fellow students. As I’ve mentioned before, this is the first time I’ve ever shared my photography outside of a small circle of family and friends. During this course, I have learned so much specifically from feedback and interaction with the other students and our instructor, Kat, through all of our online photo journals.

My photography is usually a solitary pursuit, but through this course I’ve made connections with kindred spirits from across the country and around the world who now feel like friends. Not only have I found my eye, but I’ve found a new respect for my own work by seeing it through the eyes of others. It’s been remarkable to discover that images I’ve captured with my heart and mind can touch others, even complete strangers.

I’ve discovered a new joy and enthusiasm for my old pastime. I can’t wait to continue the journey in our next class, The Journey of Inspiration.


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Trendy? Not So Much.

Schoolroom Flag, Willowbrook, Maine

Assignment #8 in our Find Your Eye: Journey of Recognition course was to study current trends in photography and see whether they influence our own photography.

This lesson was both easy and hard for me. Hard because I can’t relate to it very well, and easy because the short answer is simple: No. Then hard again, because clearly that answer is not sufficient!

I’ve never been accused of being trendy, except jokingly. I seldom even know what the latest trends are, so if I occasionally happen to appear au currant it’s generally accidental rather than intentional. Whether in fashion, home decor, or music, my taste tends to run to the conservative, classic, and comfortably familiar.

Prior to taking this e-course, I only followed a couple of photography blogs. I’ve been introduced to many more through this class and the Liberate Your Art postcard swap. One trend I have noticed is post-processing for special effects, whether it be layering on textures, altering the color, or applying edges or frames to an image. While I admire others’ creative results, I’ve never tried any of these things myself, nor have I (yet) felt any desire to. (This will be no surprise to those who have read my previous posts.)

For this assignment I also looked at some nature, wildlife, and travel photography blogs. I saw a lot of wide angle photography with closeup foreground areas enlarged by lens distortion, macro shots with very shallow depth of field, and lots of “milky” flowing water. I don’t see these as new trends, since I recall similar techniques from photography books and magazines that I was reading back in the 1970’s and ’80’s. I noticed that particular photographers tend to use certain angles or techniques more than others do, but I think that is related more to personal style than trends.

When I look through my own photo archives, the only trends I notice are related to the materials available to me at the time. My skills have (I hope) improved, but the subject matter hasn’t really changed much over the years. I photograph what I have access to and interest in. Nature and travel have always been themes. What seems a lifetime ago, I documented my kids and family activities. My earliest photos are in black and white because that was what I had. Later I switched to color film, then slides, and another brief B&W phase when my husband had a darkroom in our home.

In the fullness of time, I moved over to digital photography. I love its spontaneity and the freedom it allows me to shoot anything I want, as much as I want, without worry about the cost of processing. But I’m still striving to capture what I see and feel. So far, I’ve had no desire to try to alter my images in an “artistic” sort of way. Those of my photos that look like streaky old Polaroids really are streaky old Polaroids, and the ones with the “seventies processing” actually were processed in the ’70’s. Back then, those were considered flaws. Why would I want today’s photos to look like that?

Part of me longs for the simplicity of older times, as reflected in the image above. Could this image be made to appear more “period” by applying some cool, current editing tools to it? I suppose so. But I really like it just as it is.

For now, I’ll continue to follow my heart, and let others follow theirs.  Who knows, maybe in 30 or 40 years I’ll be trendy.  If it can happen to seventies processing… !

Note – I chose this image particularly in honor of today’s anniversary. Not that we could ever forget . . . .

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