Thursday, April 23, 2009

TAKEN OR MADE?

Yesterday evening, I picked up my camera, went out to check on the sunset—and got waylaid by a cloud. Not a particularly photogenic cloud, either. In fact, a rather plain cloud, small and unprepossessing, decidedly ordinary as clouds go. Still, I felt it had possibilities… Maybe it was the sort of charcoal smudging along its front, as if wherever it had been earlier, somewhere out of sight beyond the western horizon, that place had been a bit on the grimy side. I understood and sympathized. As a fellow traveler, I often find myself rather grubby after a long journey. The sky itself was not doing much to give the cloud a boost. The blue was dull and slightly grayish, like an oft-washed tee-shirt that still has color but long ago lost its brightness. Between moments of keeping an eye on the cloud and the lackadaisical sunset, I looked around and tried to find something to isolate and photograph. A long time ago, when I bought my first camera, the fellow who sold it to me and later became both mentor and friend, gave me an excellent piece of advice: “Don’t ever go out with the idea of taking photographs,” he said. “Thieves take things. You’re not a thief…you’re an artist; artists create, they make things. Learn to create and make photographs.” The distinction is, I believe, the fundamental difference between good photographs and snapshots. Photography isn’t equipment—it’s a conjoined mind and eye. An awareness. A philosophy of approach. Good photographers can, to an often astonishing degree, create shots—make photographs happen. Not that I consider myself a great photographer, mind you. But the idea behind this way of thinking and doing will benefit anyone with a camera because it requires you to look, to observe, to see…and to consider what you might do with whatever you find. It isn’t magic—though it can sometimes appear so to the uninitiated. If the cloud and sunset aren’t going to cooperate, I thought after a while, how about the fading light on the surface of the water? I like water shots. There’s often a surprising amount of color caught and intensified in the reflections off dancing waves and swirling current. Then a finch landed in a tree near the deck. Maybe a silhouette? The small bird paused just long enough for me to make a single exposure. The sky grew dimmer and the single cloud was joined by similar clouds—all slightly sooty, and as a group, possibly a bit more interesting. In the end, I came back inside with a less than impressive array of shots. It happens, even given the best of intentions. Sometimes you look and look, try this and that, and nothing seems to work, or at least work well. You can usually find and make photographs…though there’s still no guarantee they’ll turn out spectacular. This was one of those evenings. No fiery sunset, no stunning clouds, no surreal water reflections. Probably the best image I managed was another silhouette—of a tree across the river with the cloud-veiled sun beyond. The image at the top of this post. You may not agree that the photos from last evening are a whit better than snapshots…but I am proud to tell you they were all made, not just taken.

12 comments:

KGMom said...

Whew--you changed the font. Unless my computer was doing something wonky8, when I checked your blog I found all the text in webdings. Hmmm--but now you've "translated" it. Thank you.
I agree with you on the nature of photography, wherein you see what you will have once the photograph is taken--actually made. My husband tends to take a picture; I tend to make photographs.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I have no idea what happened…it looked fine from this end. Lynne sent me a comment telling me I had problems so I redid the entire posting, text and photos.

Yes, what you are talking about is "previsualization," which is one of the techniques Ansel Adams used. But I'm also talking about something more basic, the idea of not just looking but seeing—not necessarily the finished photograph, but the "place" where the finished photograph might now be hiding. Like that cloud. I didn't "find" the shot in there…but I still think there was a good image in there somewhere. It's the notion that you manipulate the environment by manipulating your vision and thinking; you can teach yourself this if you first say I'm in control, I'm going to make a photo.

I think that's what you're probably doing already.

giggles said...

Webdings? Me too!

Now, though? Loverly post, with loverly photos taken... And the watercolor painter wannabe in me sees beautiful clouds with many colors and depth and possibilities.... Just beautiful!!

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

Photography is kind of a metaphor for life it seems. What you think you are seeing, doesn't always play out the same as it really is. I love the photos - they are real in their time and space - and that is enough for me.
I am a bit "Off" today so I am probably not making sense. I just wrote a wild post in reaction to two movies so I am trying to settle down here.
Your beautiful photos helped, "Thanks Grizz"

Love Gail
peace...............

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Blogger remains a puzzle…but at least it is now fixed, right?

I really don't think any of last night's images were much good—which is why I wrote what I did today. I'm an okay photographer with a fairly good eye. I'm not into it like I used to be, and no longer have a darkroom. I used to print for myself and a lot of other folks; I loved printing, loved making those big museum-mount images for fine arts photographers.

Anyway, this wasn't written to say, "look how good I am!" because I'm not, and I know that anyone can learn to be a better photographer—and they way you start is in how you think about yourself and the images. Perception becomes reality.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you liked what you saw. And you're so right—photography can be seen as a metaphor for life. There's always an interconnection between the eye and the heart.

Take care.

The Weaver of Grass said...

All taken with the eye of an expert Scribe. Absolutely lovely - the sky ones are better than sunsets - more subtle. I always think sunsets are a bit "in your face" whereas those clouds are so subtly beautiful. I love the idea that photographs are created rather than taken - a good distinction I think.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I love cloud shots AND water shots for the same reasons…their subtleties and nuances of colors, textures, etc. Just as I love spring for all the shades of green.

bobbie said...

I love your beautiful pictures. That little bird... superb! Lovely clouds!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

Clouds are something I just can't predict—some turn out better than I imagined; others which I had little hope over seem to work great. And everyone's "taste" in clouds is apparently different, too. I like them in pastels, others prefer stronger contrasts and colors.

I liked the bird too—given it was a one shot deal.

Jain said...

I'll think about this post next time I'm out with my camera. It's a good one.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

I hope there is something of practical value in the piece. My bottom-line intention was to convey the fact it isn't gear that makes pictures, but people—their mind, eyes, thought processes, attitude, philosophy. The camera is just a tool…like a word processing program is a tool for the writer. The "magic" isn't in the box, but in the individual.