March 26, 2010

Coffee + Critique + Conversation

This Sunday, March 28, I will be at Multiple Exposure Gallery to review visitors’ work and offer advice. Whether you have a new set of images or project, a completed portfolio, or simply a selection of photos about which you have questions, all are welcome to come in and engage in friendly and helpful dialog. It’s FREE to attend.

March 12, 2010

A Look Back

frontBack(l) Frames and Planes; (r) Storm Light

In an upstairs hallway in our house, I installed a photo hanging system that has converted the space into a small gallery. The other day I happened to pause to study two of my framed prints that are hung beside one another (above). Suddenly, it occurred to me that both photos had been taken at almost precisely the same time, 180 degrees apart. If I had not turned around to see what was going on behind me, at least one of these images would have never existed.

It has been almost two years since I took these photographs, yet I had never before considered the significance of their connection. At that time, I had just returned from a week-long seminar at the Maine Media Workshop with master photographer Tillman Crane. I was there to learn how to find extraordinary images in ordinary places. Up until then, I had always relied on my training in graphic design when composing a scene, and the techniques I employed were readily apparent in my photographs by the use of strong directional lines, bold contrasts, and tight croppings. While my work was always well received, I somehow felt that the strength of my compositions overpowered any sense of emotion I wanted to convey. I concentrated so much on the arrangement, that the resulting images often ended up feeling a bit sterile to me.

On the first day of the workshop, Tillman reviewed my portfolio and quickly recognized my dilemma. He offered several valuable techniques to practice for the remainder of the week — the most significant was his suggestion that I shoot from the hip and not worry about composition, exposure, or even focus. Just concentrate on the physical act of looking and responding. It was vital, he said, that I give myself permission to make a bad photograph in order to learn how to make a great one.

After our meeting, I headed back to the area where I had been shooting earlier that day. But now I focused solely on my emotional response to the location, with the camera functioning as an extension of my physical being. I stopped worrying about what I was going to photograph. Instead, whatever caught my eye I immediately recorded with my camera. Almost at once I felt an awareness of my surroundings that was unlike anything I had experienced before. It was like seeing the world for the first time. It was thrilling!

In just a few short hours that afternoon, my whole approach to photography changed. Where once my process had been predominately left brained — very linear and logical — I was now using my right brain to a far greater degree, allowing intuition and emotion to guide my artistic vision.

As the day drew to a close, I began packing up my gear when a little voice inside my head told me to stop immediately and look up in the sky. Instantly, without thinking, I drew my camera to my eye and fired the shutter. This is what I saw…

Maine08Clearing Summer Storm, Camden, Maine

At the time, I could not image how significant the simple act of responding to the moment would be for me, but it literally changed everything. It opened up a world of possibility that I was never aware of before, and it fundamentally transformed my photography. From that moment forward, I have never stopped looking back… or up.