Tag Archives: Julie Penrose Fountain

The Pull

Architecture Study Series 1, No. 8 (Julie Penrose Fountain)

Architecture Study Series 1, No. 8 (Julie Penrose Fountain)
Colorado Springs, Colorado 2014

There’s lots of things in life you have to push yourself to do – paying the bills, going to the dentist, picking up groceries.  Often, even when people tell me about things they do for fun – participating in sports, playing music, practicing photography – I get the feeling they have to push themselves to do those things as well.  These are the kinds of people who play their sport once or twice a year, or haven’t picked up their musical instrument in six months, or who only dust off their camera for vacations or special occasions.

The people I know who are really in to what they do feel a compulsion to do it.  They don’t have to push themselves, the activity pulls them in.  For me, the pull is all about the process – seeing something interesting, capturing it with a camera, and working on the capture to realize a print.  I don’t even hang my own work on my own walls – not because I don’t like it or think that it’s not good, but because the pull isn’t about the finished product, it’s about the feeling of being engaged in the process.

Just one person’s observation, of course.  In your own life, what is it that pulls on you?

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Why Photography is Such a Personal Medium of Expression

Architecture Study, Series 1, No. 8 (Julie Penrose Fountain) Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2014

Architecture Study, Series 1, No. 8 (Julie Penrose Fountain)
Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2014

I tend to think that art is quite an intimate form of communication by an artist.  Done honestly, it really is a very personal expression of something dear to the artist, be it an idea, a concept, a point of view or the like, conjured from nowhere else but the artist’s own well of personality, thoughts, and experiences.  This is why it can be frightening to share one’s creative efforts, because it is not about simply sharing the thing itself, but rather a piece of who one is.

To me, photography is a particularly personal form of expression because of the inherent realism of images captured by a camera.  Two people can stand in front of the Julie Penrose Fountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but it is likely they will each perceive it in their own way.  For example, one person may experience the fountain as part of its broader environment and setting – the green grass of the park, the people climbing on its base, etc.  The other may experience the fountain in terms of its form and structure – its curving lines, the way it reflects light under a clear blue sky.  And so on, ad infinitum, for the number of perceptions of the number of people who each may see it.

When I photograph and make images, what I’m really doing is memorializing and sharing my particular way of seeing the world, and that is why photography is such a personal medium of expression for me.

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Architecture Study, Series 1, No. 7 (Julie Penrose Fountain) Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2014

Architecture Study, Series 1, No. 7
(Julie Penrose Fountain)
Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2014

I’ve become interested recently in the idea of formalism in art and how that may play a role in my photography.  At the outset, I should state that I have no formal training in art or photography, and so my thoughts on this subject are based only on my own experiences making images and what I have otherwise read or taught myself.  That being said, my understanding of formalism in visual art is that it is an approach to making images that stresses the purely visual aspects of the image – line, shape, texture, etc. – rather than other ways to interpret the image, such as what the subject is, what the concept is, any social or historical contexts, etc.

Formalism really resonates with me.  I think it’s always been the crux of the way that I see things photographically.  To me, objects in the world are more than things that happen to be in my field of view.  Lines have power, they slice through the air in arcs or diagonals, or create balance and harmony in horizontals and verticals.  Shapes have weight, they pull and tug on things and need to be arranged and balanced.  Textures have feel, the smooth ones feel like you could reach out and glide across them, the rough ones feel like they could skin your knee.  Composing a photograph is mostly a fascinating and immensely enjoyable game that’s all about managing these powers, weights, and feels to arrange them in pleasing, harmonious or interesting ways.

What’s missing in this approach?

Well, for starters, there’s not a whole lot of emphasis on the subject.  In this image, the subject is the Julie Penrose Fountain, a large work of public art in a park in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  However, the image is not about the fountain, at least not to me.  If you were to look up a picture of the fountain online, I think you would agree that this image does not represent what the fountain really looks like in a faithful or representative way.  Rather, this image to me is all about the lines, the shapes, and the textures.  And not even these lines, shapes, and textures in an abstract, theoretical way, but rather in the way that the lines convey power in their sweep, that the shapes defy gravity in their curves, and that the metal surfaces create fluidity in their smoothness.

What else is missing?  There’s no particularly cerebral concept here – the photograph basically is a visual game, and represents no deeper thinking than simply the impact that the visual information has.  Also missing is any social or historical context – it just doesn’t matter to me when this fountain was erected, or why, or even who Julie Penrose (the fountain’s namesake) was.

If there’s a criticism of formalism, I suspect the criticism is that formalism is cold, emotionless, and detached.  I respectfully disagree.  While it’s certainly possible that formalistic art can be cold, emotionless, and detached – any art can be bad – there’s nothing about a formalistic approach that commands this result.  Instead, when used well, I think formalism serves to bring out and highlight the emotional impact of an image, for example by emphasizing aspects such as power, weight, and feel, and eliminating competing and potentially distracting elements like concept and context.

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