When I first got interested in photography I was in my teens. At that time photography was a complicated and time consuming vocation, not to mention a very expensive hobby. I learned about apertures/F-stops, film speeds, and focus fields, shutter speed and lighting whether ambient or created, composition of the subject, etc... and that was just in taking the photo. After that came the dark room work. Mixing chemicals, working in the dark. Literally. No light could touch the film before it was stabilized with a developer. Wrapping the film around a graduated spindle inside a wire cage so that it didn’t touch at any point and placing it into a small, light sealed tank where the developer could be distributed evenly. Any light and the entire film roll would be turned to a solid, uniform brown. Ruined. The film negatives created successfully were then run through an enlarger that beamed light down through the negatives onto photo-sensitive paper which then had to be run through a series of chemical baths to stabilize the image on the paper before being hung to dry. Phew! Just remembering that process makes me tired. Oh yeah, and that was just black and white. Color was a whole other beast and a lot more complicated.
As so many budding artists must do, I embarked on a more immediately lucrative path and that shift took me off in myriad directions in life. I’ve worked in many venues and vocations and now that I’ve “retired”, as it were, the option of artistic photography having become mainstream, instant, almost spontaneous is a blast. Woo hoo!! Photos in a moment! Poof! My old desires reawakened and bloomed.
There are a couple of ways I look at this new medium anyone can use to create images instantly and with a precision that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to match doing things the “old” way. On one hand I look at the pure prolific nature of this blanket access to an artistic medium and see many many people with access to an outlet for their creative abilities who would never have had the chance without it. I love that. I think it's great that folks who have an artistic message to share but doubt their own artistic “talent” can create through the vehicle of the camera. Those who feel that they can’t draw or paint or sculpt can now immerse themselves in the growth of their creative voices. That they might now find a means of expression and a new confidence in creating images that are pleasing to the eye and clear in their message is brilliant. On the other hand, I sometimes worry about the pure artistry that gets drowned by the sheer volume of images out there. Perhaps the entire human perspective about images is shifting as we evolve from painting cave walls and carving images in stone to painting with pigments and drawing with coal, carbon, ink and chalk to graphic design, CGI in films and TV, 3-D printing and instant cell phone photography.
Now, when I find myself feeling concerned about the hidden artistry in the vast oceans of images available, I intentionally pull my viewpoint inside and begin to think about perspective. How do I want to include the opportunities of this technology in my own life? With the ability to instantly capture an image that we enjoy and then play with its colors and shapes, sizes and even layers and text the opportunities for an artistic outcome are limitless.
As I look at all that possibility I contemplate ways to produce an image, that has as much depth as my intention, to play with reality as I experience it. Working with programs that allow me to alter just about everything in any photo, I can put together an image in any way that sparks me at the moment.
But this new tool can lift us in other ways as well. Generally we wander through our day to day lives in a constant state of vigilance following a series of routines. Morning ablutions, travel and work responsibilities, housework, cooking, school and schedules, the myriad needs that pull us to and fro have most of us running a treadmill of stress that leaves little time for looking past the task that’s right in front of us.
Most of us have a smartphone available at any given moment as a great tool to assist in so many of the demands we work to fulfill. They’re great for organizing, learning and communicating, yes. But they also have the capacity to be a portal to a time and space outside of our current reality. Sitting in a cafe for lunch, riding the bus or the train, watching a child figure out a new experience, or a loved one conquer an obstacle, we have the chance to capture that moment. In the past our simple, or not so simple, experiences would have passed with maybe a thought like, oh I wish my sister was here to see that or my spouse or parent or friend. Now, swipe, tap, tap and there it is. A moment captured to explore, enjoy and share whenever needed or desired.
I think that when we choose to take just those few extra seconds we can detach from the demands and responsibilities of the day to bring some much needed and vibrant balance to our routines. There are theories and data that show taking brief breaks during the day helps to refresh our thinking processes and revitalize our energy. Imagine taking a quick snap of an interesting way the light bounces off your computer screen or the sweet face of a child on the playground across the street or a brilliant lily pad floating on a pond that you pass on the way to work. Each of these “snapshots” in time offer a way to escape the drone of routine if we take a tiny slice of time, just a few seconds, to step outside the lines and bring that vibrance into our day.
Going a step farther, it’s easy to be inspired by a photo snapped in a flash of curiosity or beauty or color. In that image, frozen in that single moment we have a chance to look more closely at the beauty or curiosity or inspiration that caught our attention. We can revel in it, we can step into that moment and interact with it. With an image to look at, the moment doesn’t slip into the past fading as it goes on into shadow, it’s there for us to enjoy or ponder or shape in new ways. Are we looking at something that’s reflected back to us? Can we look beyond it? Through it? Into it?
As much as a smartphone is a tool for wrangling our harried days it can also give us moments of clarity, creativity, curiosity and calm just by looking through the lens of its camera or the gallery of images we’ve captured.
In the images here my intent is to see the close up beauty of the glass on the clock, to enjoy its antique, sepia hues and then shift the focus to its reflection of the room behind me. From each perspective my experience of this time/space broadens and unfolds its layers of possibility and meaning. If I choose I can place myself in the comfort of the room. I can sink myself into the soft, overstuffed love seat surrounded by books and fall into a story. And then, if I choose to keep the focus on the surface I simply shift the camera's depth of field to capture and take in the intricacies of the painted face of the glass. The unique the play of light and flash of a time long ago when the artist first conceived the idea for the design and then painted it carefully onto the glass.
I can think of many times in my life of managerial drudgery, work drama, travel boredom or times of distraction when the chance to step out of my immediate reality to follow the patterns in the petals of a flower or watch fluffy snowflakes hang softly and silently against a background of skeletal trees -just for a few minutes- could have made a difference in my ability to focus on what I needed to, when I needed to and with a more open and accepting state of mind. Even the silly laughter caught in a selfie with friends or family can bolster the mood when we’ve gotten tangled in the worries and challenges of the day. I personally am not moved by photos of food or car selfies (Honestly, what is the attraction of taking pics of yourself in the car?) but still they're popular and if they provide a smile or giggle on an otherwise dreary day then, I think, the pixels have been well utilized.
There are certainly a lot of digital images out there but, as I see it, there are exactly that many opportunities for artistry, self actualization and beneficial diversion. I love how the intellectual brilliance of the human family keeps growing possibilities for awakening.
Photos taken with a Samsung, Galaxy S9, No filters, no editing, natural light.