Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just a hobby...

This morning, while sipping my coffee, I looked out the window and spotted this great study in contrasts: the bright verticals of the dune grass, glowing orange in the sunrise, and the horizontal ripples in the still teal water.

So I grabbed my camera, found a memory card, and stepped out on the deck to capture the moment. There was only one image left to shoot on the card, but how hard could this be? I focused, allowing the camera to do that work for me as I was still barely awake, and pressed the shutter. But when the image appeared on the screen, the camera had focused on the waves, and the grasses were all blurry.

After several tries, with the camera whirring confusedly while trying to find the grass, I gave up and put it into manual focus, lined up the grasses and shot -- but, of course, there was no response: the memory card was full. So then I needed to go back and delete some images -- which involved using a brain that had not quite kicked in yet to remember which of those images had been transferred to my computer.

Eventually I had cleared out a few, was able to focus, and managed to get the shot. But it had turned out to be definitely more complicated than my early morning self could handle with any speed, and the ripples --crisp and strong when I first spotted them -- had almost disappeared.

I once had a photo instructor whose favorite mantra was this: a good photographer does not TAKE pictures. A good photographer MAKES pictures. Clearly this was one of those days when I had to MAKE the picture.

Which, I have to say, is not my preference. I am particularly aware of this right now, as I begin preparing for an October invitational exhibit whose theme is WORD. Somehow, without allowing any spiritual content to creep into my images, I am supposed to generate photos which have words as graphic elements whose actual meaning is irrelevant. And the more I wrestle with this challenge, the more I realize that if I were a GOOD photographer I would be out there MAKING these images happen.

But for me (and I have to say that I am desperately trying to ignore my mother's voice in my head, repeating as always that I am a LAZY child) photography is a sort of mystical process: I pick up the camera in response to some faintly heard prompting from within; I compose the shot in whatever way seems to ring the strongest chord within me; and I allow the camera to drink in the scene as it will.

That, I think, would be TAKING a photo. To actually MAKE a photo, I would have to be considerably more conscious about the process. I would choose where to stand or squat, rather than returning to the space where I stood when the prompting occurred. I would place or remove elements of the photo to make some sort of conscious statement rather than allowing its message to emerge from the IS-ness of the moment. And I would control all aspects of the camera manually, rather than allowing the camera to make its best guess on lighting and exposure and then adjusting a bit to get what I believe I was meant to see.

I have a couple of great books on the Tao of photography, and they both recommend finding a balance between the masculine, controlling, equipment-centered approach to photography and the feminine, responsive, composition-centered approach. Clearly I err on the feminine side here. Is that lazy? I think it's best not to listen to that chiding voice, and to accept that, for me, photography is one of those places where I do NOT have to be in control, and that that is, in fact, a therapeutic and restorative process.

Which is not to say that I can't or won't ever strive for more of a balance in this area. But perhaps it is to say that this is not a vocation for me, a determined striving for excellence in a chosen field, but rather an avocation, a calling, completely apart from the world of jobs and making money.

But ouch. If I look at the dictionary definition of avocation, that means my husband is right: this is not my job, this passion which consumes so many hours of my day as I prepare for shows and other assignments. It's just a hobby, on a par with collecting beanie babies or building model trains; just a way for an elderly housewife with artistic pretensions to amuse herself and pass the time.

Sigh. I know better, but that's another voice that's pretty hard to ignore.


Anonymous said...

Just a hobby? With the quality of your work? No, its not at all like collecting Beanie Babies. It is only like building high quality model trains or layout landscapes. Take a look at the photos of the model train layout linked in my blog today.

Diane Walker said...


Unknown said...

Ouch is right; I don't like the sound of the quick summary, demeaning your gift and your passion. What if your love for what you are doing is the guide you follow? What if your love is what speaks? Could that be enough, to put that love out into the world for others to see, feel, enjoy? What if every single person worked only at what they love? What would our society be like, if it were full of people who worked from, and for, Love? I wonder if that passion might be the hand of God; I'd love to live from that place.

Diane Walker said...

Thanks for that -- and I do try to live from that place... just get discouraged sometimes. Thanks for your incredible faith.