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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Discovering my gift..


I don't know if it's true or not, but I have been told that I have a gift for photography. I don't see it so much as a gift, but rather a drive. I constantly feel the need to capture something that I see, in a way that will make it interesting. It doesn't always work, so I go out and see if I can do a better job with it. I don't really know if I will ever be completely satisfied with the results that I get.

I guess you could say that I am driven to do it better each time. Sometimes this means by getting better equipment, and sometimes it just means finding a new way to see it. One of the things that the professionals and the critics say consistently is, "see it differently". and what they mean is that if you can get an image of something in a way that hasn't been done before, then you have something interesting. One of the best examples of this would be the Eiffel Tower. How many different ways have you seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower? Daytime, nighttime, holidays, in the rain, in the sun, at sunrise, at sunset, from the top, from a plane, from a helicopter, from the bottom, in the snow..... and so on and so on. In the 100 or so years that the Eiffel Tower has been in existence, it has been SO photographed that it is nearly impossible to come up with a new way to get it. Reflected in a window? Yep. In the background of a cafe shot? You bet! Try as you may, you will not find a unique way to photograph the Eiffel Tower, however, simply finding a way that YOU like can be all it takes. Do you want to see it backlit with the setting sun? Then this will be your picture, perhaps you get the chance to see it when the clouds are so low that they obscure the top, then you have something that perhaps not many people have done. Truthfully, most unique picture opportunities came along by happenstance rather than good planning. The photojournalists who have managed to get those particularly memorable pictures were not the ones who planned the best, they just happened to be in the right place at the right time with their gear ready to go.

Sure they have a great body of work behind them ( or in many cases still to come), but the truly iconic pictures of the ages are just pure luck. The Execution on the streets of Vietnam, the photographer turned a corner and saw the interrogation happening, he lifted his camera just as the commander pulled his pistol and stuck it to the head of the saboteur. Dumb luck, and he has said so more than once. Sports shots? the guys catching the ball in the end zone, the perfect contact punch from ringside? All Luck. Yes, there is skill and practice in the way the camera was set and loaded and held, but you can have a million technically amazing shots in your files, but it is a fluke of timing to get the "perfect" picture.

I have been entering pictures in various contests this past year, and once I enter I then have to keep looking through the other entrants. Every contest seems to have at least a dozen or so pictures of certain iconic places in the world. If it is a nature, or outdoors geared contest, there is always the pictures of The Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Yellowstone and Yosemite. I will not argue that these aren't awesome amazing pictures. Technically wonderful shots that show beauty and grandeur. They are also Common. Everyone with a camera gets something similar. I am just as guilty of submitting common shots, but I am trying very hard now to study the previous contests and the winner and to see if I can find something unique to submit. A common submission is a rainbow, usually from a rainstorm backed by the gunmetal gray storm clouds that spawned it. There is the occasional waterfall rainbow too, but I think I have found an interesting twist on the theme, I took a picture of a waterfall rainbow as it stretched over gorge wall covered in ice and snow. I don't recall seeing this particular style done before. Now I have done it! There are often various pictures of state and national parks, showing the big attractions, the waterfalls, the geysers, and the lakes, the trees or the wildlife, but what about the historic structures inside the park, in a way that they are rarely captured? Stone picnic tables in winter covered in snow and tree shadows. Something that isn't seen as often. It is built on spectacular colors or a once in a lifetime scene, but rather the way that it is, when nobody is around. People don't get to see this image, because they aren't there to see it. The question though is can I make that image compelling?

To show the tables in the snow is not really enough is it? How about a series of tables set in a tableau that makes them appear as steps on a hill? Covered in snow to resemble mushrooms? In the same place they are every day of the year, but surrounded by virgin snow? Does any of this make the image of something as mundane as picnic tables seem compelling? I hope it does, because it is what made it compelling for me!

In the end it comes down to who is looking at the picture and how it makes them feel. One day it may move them, and the next they may find it to be pedantic and a waste of time. That is the nature of art, what moves one person is nothing to the next, and yet we all keep trying.

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