Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is that all there is?

My photographer daughter is home for the weekend, so I'm having her look over some of the images I've been preparing for the Center for Fine Art Photography's new Red contest.

She hates this one (I may send it in anyway) because she doesn't like images with lots of noise (all those grainy looking little black dots) in them.

So I decided I'd put in on the blog today -- is that a gesture of defiance? Maybe a little; I do sometimes get a little annoyed when she knows more about photography than I do -- or claims to... But mostly I just want to know why I like this; what it's saying. Because it's actually fairly rare for me to add to images; I mostly just pare them down to their essentials. So when I do actually create a new image, it feels like I'm actually being an artist. Which is cool, because -- as I said to my friend Robin a few days ago -- though I want to belong to that community of people we call artists, I don't always tend to feel we photographers are actually qualified to be considered artists.

I didn’t say that to put myself down: I get that I am an artist: that I have a unique vision, a way of seeing and portraying beauty; that I express a lot of emotional content through my work, and that it has value. (When I was hanging my work at the clinic yesterday a patient walked by and said, "Wow. I feel better just LOOKING at your images!" I can't imagine anything I'd want to hear more!)

But photographers don’t work from scratch the way painters and sculptors and designers and quilters do; we are never confronted with a pile of materials or a hunk of stone or an empty canvas and asked to turn it into something. We are given beauty -- it's everywhere -- and we're only expected to see and reproduce it.

I once took a photography class whose instructor explained to us right from the start that a good photographer -- or was it a professional photographer? -- doesn't Take pictures; she MAKES pictures. And I don't feel I actually do that all that much -- I mostly just respond to stimuli by clicking the shutter. So, again, it feels like "maybe I don't belong."

So when I take something that already exists -- like this red hallway at the Seattle Public Library -- and add an element from some other photograph -- like these two girls, taken at the Roche Harbor Mausoleum around 10 years ago -- then that feels more like art; like I'm making something rather than just taking something. And look at the connotations of those words: Make implies creativity, but Take is just a kind of glorified theft. No wonder certain tribal people worry that the camera has a way of stealing their souls...

But for me, making is more like playing: there's just something in me that says, "hmm, what if...?" and then goes off on an adventure, exploring possibilities -- rather the way our priest's sermons go: he looks at the week's passages and then just sees what stirs in him. Because even if each of us photographers is looking at the same subject, even if each preacher is working from the same passages, even if each painter uses the same canvas and pigments -- the questions we ask, the directions we travel, and the resources we bring to the creative process -- whether it be writing, or painting, or sculpture, or photography -- are uniquely our own.

Maybe there doesn't always need to be a why. Ours is a society which tends to operate out of a masculine/left-brained/rational approach: we need REASONS for the choices we make and the things that we do. But maybe there aren't always reasons. Maybe it's okay to just play, and to enjoy the results of our labors, without it actually saying much of anything, except once I was at the library, and once I photographed two girls climbing stairs, and I thought it would be fun to put the two images together.

"But really now," I hear Freud asking from his couch up in the sky. "Is that all there is?"


Maureen said...

I don't know why but when I got to your last words, "Is that all there is?" what came to mind immediately was Peggy Lee, singing, "Is that all there is? Is that all there is?. . . " in that style she had, and I have no idea how to get that tune out of my head now.

Change WHY? to WHAT...? and the perspective changes completely.


"All there is" - wow, I just glanced up at Maureen's comment and she hit the same button - This is a stunning photograph and I just loved it for the color, the movement, the shadow - so pleasing and then right in front of my eyes, you gave me another aspect I hadn't even seen - the girls on the stairway. What looked like girls, etc to you just looked like part of the composition to me. Taking, creating, seeing? You have a fabulous creative eye and I'm blessed to participate in your seeing!