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Tag Archives: Misha Gregory Macaw
I’ve lived on the Front Range of Colorado for a number of years now. When you mention Colorado to someone who doesn’t live here, my observation is that most people tend to think of pristine, snowy, mountain-filled landscapes.
I love that Colorado. But there is another Colorado, too. Roughly half the state is flat plains, having more in common with places like Kansas or Nebraska than Vail or Aspen. That’s a Colorado worth knowing as well, equally compelling in its own way.
I’ve been listening to a lot of EDM lately (that’s Electronic Dance Music – check out Deadmau5!). It fascinated me to realize how much that kind of music makes me think of photography. The way the music works there feels to me like the way light works in photographs. The steady beats feel like the visual rhythms in the composition of an image, like the earthy, shadowy areas in a landscape. The rises and falls of the crescendos and drops feel like the way light spills from one corner of the frame to another, like a dramatic backlit sky on a stormy day. The way the bass kicks after a quiet break feels like the abrupt transition of a dark tree rising above the bright line of a distant horizon.
Maybe it seems like an odd connection to make, but to me it’s perfectly logical. I think creativity is something that resides within you. You bring it to bear on all of the things you do in your life. Creativity doesn’t seep into you from the outside, it’s something from within that colors the way you perceive the world. It’s an internal logic all of its own, personal to you, that allows you to see connections where others don’t. That’s one thing about it that makes it so wonderful.
I used to hold the opinion that “good is good.” Specifically, I think there is a branch of criticism in the photography world (really, the art world in general) that cliched photographs of cliched subjects are per se bad, even if done very well. Think photographs of sunsets over beaches, the Milky Way at night, or iconic locations like the Grand Canyon, which all have been photographed over and over again to the point where even the best executions of such images mostly really do tend to fade into a sea of duplicate, derivative, and look-alike imagery. My counterpoint always used to be that good is good, so even a cliched photograph of a cliched subject can be good if done well.
Truthfully, I think I still largely stand by that opinion, but I’m beginning to see the merit in the other side. I look at a lot of photography, and if you look at a lot of photography, you can’t help but notice the repetitive onslaught of the same depictions of the same subjects done in the same way over and over again. For example, I think I’ve candidly reached the point where I don’t need to see another long exposure seascape, unless it’s done by Michael Kenna or perhaps another of a handful of photographers who really pioneered or otherwise contributed to this genre.
It’s become a relevant consideration in my own practice of photography. I think a conscious motivation behind making the image in this post was to try and reach past photographic cliches. Which, on balance, I think is a good thing. I just need to remember, for myself in my own work, anyway, not to sacrifice fundamentals – like strong light, strong composition, and a conveyed a sense of emotion – that always make the “good” so “good.”
I wonder if maybe there is no such thing as talent.
Bear with me here. Talent, in the dictionary I checked, is defined as a natural aptitude or skill. It’s something you’re born with, you either have it or you don’t. A talent for photography, for example, suggests that it would take less effort for one with the talent to become accomplished in the discipline than one who has no talent, because the presence of talent supplies a natural aptitude or skill that can be developed and that is lacking in one with no talent.
But what if the operative force is not talent, but interest? To have an interest in something, say photography, suggests to me a capability to invest time pursuing it. One with an interest in photography, for example, might enjoy viewing many photographs, reading books on photography, and generally thinking about photography a lot.
It’s the capability to invest substantial time that’s important. Having the interest means you’re more likely to stick with it because your interest keeps you going, even when things aren’t necessarily going well or otherwise become difficult. Naturally, the more time you invest in something, the more likely it is you are to become accomplished at it, so it follows that those who become accomplished in something may well do so simply because of a driving interest in that thing, rather than some innate aptitude or skill for it thought of as talent.
Okay, I’m not really sure I fully believe this myself. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I find it interesting food for thought, though.
It’s virtually impossible for me to view one of my own images without bringing along a lot of baggage. By baggage, I mean the fact that I was there when the image was captured, I was there for all of the editing of the image, I was there for the first test print of the image and any and all thereafter – in short, that by the time the image is done, it’s spent a lot of time being on my mind.
As a result, at that point it really has no mysteries left for me. One of the joys of seeing the work of other photographers is that I come to it completely fresh. As a general rule, I don’t really know, with any precision or specificity, where they made their image, nor what they did to edit the capture, nor how many evolutions a print went through before it was finished. Such images essentially are all mystery me. I get the impact of seeing it as the artist intended, without being burdened by the backstory.
By way of contrast, when I look at my own images, they’re all backstory to me. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since creating an image comes with a set of rewards and satisfactions all their own. But the mystery associated with seeing an image fresh and new for the first time, without knowing the full backstory of its making and creation, is not one of them.
So I was surprised recently when I went back to look at some of my older images that I hadn’t looked at in a while. Briefly, very briefly upon first viewing, I would get the full impact of the image because I hadn’t thought about it in a while and the image’s backstory would take a minute to return to me. For that brief interval, it was like I was a stranger to my own work, able for just a moment to experience the image like I imagine someone else might.
It was pretty cool.
One use for a camera is to create pictures as mementos – objects to keep as reminders of persons, places, or events. In fact, I suspect that this is the most common use for cameras. In the past, people kept photo albums precisely for this purpose, though today I presume image files on computers or posts to Facebook probably have taken their place.
It’s a perfectly good use for a camera, but I think holding onto the idea of photographs as mementos creates problems if you are trying to use photography as a creative medium. When I read about photographers commenting on their own images, I often come across the statement, in one form another, that the photographer likes the image because it reminds him or her of something like the chill in the air, or the crashing of the waves, or some other attribute of the experience of having been there when the photograph was made.
This is treating the photograph as a memento, and the problem with this kind of thinking (to me, anyway) is that the measure of the photograph becomes, at least in part, how well it serves to capture the experience of having been there. Essentially, the photograph is “good” if it makes you feel like you could have been standing there beside the photographer at the moment of capture, seeing what he or she was seeing, experiencing what he or she was experiencing.
I have nothing against having great experiences while out photographing. For me personally, the act of photographing is a wonderful way to engage with the world in a manner that transcends the ordinary, and I have gained many immensely satisfying personal experiences simply from taking my camera out into the world with the intention to photograph it.
But I don’t confuse the experience of photographing with the art of the photograph. To me, the image lives separately, apart from the experience of capturing it. When I edit captures, sometimes the resulting image reflects the experience in some direct or indirect way, and sometimes the image reflects something completely different. The experience of making the capture is one thing, but the capture itself is just raw material from which an image is made, the meaning of which may be something else entirely.
It’s not a trivial point. Like all art, photographs are a communication between the maker and the viewer. If your photographs serve partly or wholly as mementos to you, then isn’t the message you are communicating to your viewer simply, “you should have been there?” If you make photographs as expressions of creativity, shouldn’t they say something more meaningful?
I gave away for free a small print of the image in this post to a good friend of mine who voiced a special connection to the subject matter. I do that kind of thing from time to time, and as the creator of these images, I’m happy to be in a position to do so.
However, it’s the exception, not the rule. I do price my work and if people want to acquire it, I generally expect them to pay for it.
It’s not that I’m after the money per se. I sincerely appreciate it when people take an interest in my work, and part of me would like to provide everyone who sincerely enjoys one of my pieces with a print to enjoy.
But I just can’t do that. Why? Put simply, it’s because I value my work. Whatever other functions it may serve, a price at least demands some level of acknowledgement of the value of the work. If I were to give my work away for free, or even for less than I think it’s worth, that would be tantamount to me saying my work has no value. And if I signal that I don’t think my work has value, how can I expect anyone else to think it does?
I remember vividly the evening that the capture for this image was made. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms in Rocky Mountain National Park. This often is a bit risky from a photography standpoint, because it seems there’s about an equal chance of seeing something really cool happening with the conditions, or getting simply a flat, drab sky or a persistent downpour that washes away all of the visual interest in the landscape.
On this night, I got the really cool conditions. In fact, the conditions were unreal, I’ve never quite seen anything like it in several years of visiting the park during evenings in the summer. A rolling fog filled Forest Valley, the valley just behind this spire, and curtains of mist moved in and moved out with alacrity over the spire itself. But the fog and the mist were uneven – a clear sky would sometimes develop, even as most of the landscape otherwise was covered by the fog or draped by the mist. In summer, this location usually is quite crowded with tourists, but on this evening, warned away by the weather, there were few people about, and perhaps none by the time I made this capture. Photographically, it was one of those evenings I probably never will forget.
But there’s something I remember even more – the profound sense of peace and well-being I felt while I was working that evening. This particular image was a long exposure, two minutes or perhaps more if memory serves. While I was waiting for the exposure to run, I simply was sitting with myself, watching the scene unfold, and being at peace with my inner life. There were no regrets about the past, nor anxiety about the future, just being, truly being, a part of the moment. The feeling was all the more remarkable for occurring at a time otherwise rife with personal turmoil.
Photography is like that for me, and there’s a lesson in there somewhere, I suppose. Wouldn’t it be nice to carry that feeling with you all the time?
One reason I like photography (and painting, and sculpture, and all of the visual arts, really) is that it is communication without words. I suppose this concept is fairly obvious to understand, but really, it’s pretty deep with you think about it. If you’ve been moved by a work of visual art (and I hope you have), it’s not because someone described it to you, or explained it to you, or communicated the nature of it to you in a code of linguistic symbols having abstract meanings attached thereto by which we exchange concepts and ideas with one another. It’s because when you looked at it, it acted on you in ways that defy speaking and writing, that refuse to engage the cognitive and reasoning parts of the brain that are required to process language. Instead, it reached out and touched the parts of your brain that don’t work on a linguistic level, but that respond instead to line and shape, to tone and luminosity, to space and arrangement, and it made you
That’s pretty cool.
Not a slam on my writer friends in the audience, just an interesting observation.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
- Lao Tzu
My work is changing.
I didn’t really notice it myself until a friend pointed it out, but now I can see that my recent work looks different than my earlier work, at least to my (and my friend’s) eye. It’s not a sudden break or dramatic shift from what I’ve done before, but more like a gradual change over time that you don’t notice while it’s happening but only after you’ve come a way and look back at where you were.
I can’t quite put my finger on what has changed. I will say that I’ve become more aware of the emotional communication of what I make. When I started in photography, the most direct way I connected with the work I was producing was in terms of its visual communication. The message of the image was communicated primarily by my manipulation of visual elements such as lines and forms, brightness and contrast, etc.
I think I still work this way on a conscious level, but now I think I also am aware of what the image makes me feel like when I’m done with it. Sometimes this feeling simply is what I was feeling when I captured the image in the field, and sometimes it is what I was feeling when I edited the image after capture, which can be quite different. The point is that mere manipulation of visual elements is not enough, there has to be emotional content to the image as well. Perhaps this always has been the case, and I simply now am more conscious of it than I used to be.
I’m very aware that I could have edited this image differently, to make it look perhaps more “pretty.” But, without getting specific about it, I will say this edit more accurately reflects what I was feeling at the time I did the editing.