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.