Today was amazing. You were amazing. You came to a room full of strangers, camera and flash in hand, eager to learn, uncertain of the outcome. And you showed up anyway.
We talked, shared, experimented with our camera flashes. I offered suggestions, you asked amazing questions. We tried new things; you were brave. Together we each left knowing more about flash photography. It was glorious.
And then, as if that wasn't delightful enough, your parting words were an unbelievable gift. Some of you said things like, "I learn so much from you!" Others said, "You have such a way of explaining things so I can understand."
I left filled to the brim with delight, and utterly exhausted, as it should be. I poured myself out and you filled me back up. Thank you.
I can't wait till next time.
Jokes are often made by and about photographers that they like to "shoot" people. You see it on t-shirts, and in memes. Sometimes you hear it at events or paid gigs. But the other day I was reading in a great little book called, The Little Book of Contemplative Photogaphy, by Howard Zehr, how our language about photography has become highly aggressive: we shoot people, we take images, photographers steal moments, we lurk into uninvited spaces. Icky.
Luckily, Zehr doesn't believe this is the nature of the medium (and neither do I), but that it's been co-opted for less than virtuous taks: paparazzi, fashion photography's influence on beauty standards, etc. Photography doesn't have to be this way though.
Zehr posits we can engage with photography and our subjects in a way that invites, that calls, receives, meditates, contemplates. One of the ways he suggests we moved from contemplative photography to what it has become is the development of our cameras. In today's DSLR cameras often the photographer "hides" behind the viewfinder and minimizes engagement with their subject. Although some of this is functional practicality, it was not always so with other types of cameras, like the medium format film cameras that offered "waist level finders" where the photographer looks down into the viewfinder at about waist level, not obscuring their face from the subject.
This speaks to my heart as I've begun to explore film again this past year. I love not only the look and feel of it--I love the process. I can't see what I've gotten right away, measuring my objective, but I'm invited to see, capture, then wait. In that way it feels meditative. Zehr is encouraging me to go further and engage this contemplative style further in how I photograph, keeping the concept of receiving and image in mind rather than "capturing" one, or "taking" one. The challenge feels like a welcome relief, the good kind of discomfort that leads to change.
What do you think about receiving versus capturing an image? How might that change the way you take photos? Share in the comments. I'm excited to read your thoughts.
Today I was reading a fascinating book, Art as Therapy, by Alain de Botton--in particular, a chapter on self-understanding. De Botton exerts art can help us better communicate about ourselves, and create an aid for self-understanding. He notes how the art we are drawn to can have a "self-organizing" affect, and reduce the struggle for words we sometimes experience in communicating our deepest truths by allowing us to look outside ourselves, at the art, and say, "This! This is how I feel."
He goes on to note how this relationship between art and ourselves goes further: how we decorate our spaces also helps us invite others to get to know us, and to have small experiences of what it's like to be us. As I read I found myself realizing I've done this unconsciously in a number of times in the places I've lived (e.g., my bookshelves filled with spiritual direction and art books, my kitchen filled with vintage cookware and appliances, etc.). And when I have the most personal pieces about my space I feel most comfortable. So much here to unpack, but it got me wondering: if this is true of the art we see and respond to, how much more true of the work we create?
For example, I am consistently drawn to portraits. Particularly self-portraits of artists. I love seeing how artists see themselves. It helps me understand myself as an artist. It challenges me to see more, to live more fully into this part of myself. It's not a far jump then to connect how portraits play such a pivotal role in my commercial photography. I emphasize individual portraits when I photograph a family. I love when artists come to me for head shots. These clients allow me to play in the terrain I'm drawn to. After reflecting on this, I'm challenged that perhaps it would be a good exercise for me to create some self-portraits and to play in this realm for a bit.
That's me: but now I wonder how it is for you? What do you create, or what art are you drawn to, that feels resonant of who you are? When you go out with your camera, or when you have those moments, "I wish I had my camera!" what is it you're responding to? What do you see in front of you?
Maybe, together, we can even take a small step today: go through our photo roll (whether it's on your smart phone or elsewhere) and notice:
I'd love to hear how this little exercise goes for you. Let me know in the comments.