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Seeing the Light

In ancient Greek, seeing was directly equated with knowing — the word for both was the same. I think we still have echoes of that. For example have the expression “seeing is believing”.

But how far does that really take us?

I suggest it doesn’t take us as far as we hope or expect.

There are lots of ways our vision is deceived. (“Who are you going to trust? Me? Or your own lying eyes?”) That can be wilful or accidental. And even if they aren’t outright tricked, they’re never given the whole story. Our eyes aren’t especially good at peripheral vision. And the cameras we rely on to tell our stories are generally far worse.

Additionally, our visual memory is notoriously bad. When cop shows get precisely detailed pictures which closely resemble the perp from a witness’ short interaction with a sketch artist, I scoff. Nearly as much as when they get a good 8×10 print of a fugitive from the reflection provided by a licence-plate bolt caught by a security cam from 150ft away, behind the– you know the drill.

Basic exercises in visual memory reveal that most people cannot accurately describe places or people that they’re only passingly familiar with.

My broader point is that seeing something tells us only a fragment of the story. It may be an attractive, compelling, evocative or arresting fragment.

But it is not the whole.

Recognising that is a step to growing as people. We can stop believing we have someone accurately summarised because of how they appear to us. And this might even lend us an investigative bent because we know that seeing the surface is insufficient.

As with many aspects of life, the path to seeing more accurately begins with acknowledging that we don’t see all that accurately.

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A Thought on Originality

kol25826Remember the ’90s? Those were my formative years. The era when mainstream culture was adopting the grunge aesthetic. An iconoclastic revolution to both overthrow and undermine the excesses of the ’80s. The change in itself was viewed as originality, a break away from the establishment. Among my friends and the media we paid attention to, the push to be original was everywhere.

But that was also evident in the ’60s. And the hipster generation has a whole fresh take on this ideal. So, clearly, the drive to be original is itself anything but.

Insisting on originality is a farce: it’s simultaneously not enough, and too much.

We’ve always been trying to be original — to make a break with status quo. Part of the human condition is to never be 100% satisfied, with pretty much anything. :-)

And then again, we’ve never, ever able to completely escape the lingering frustration that we can’t be completely original: It really has all been done before, and we are still inherently creative beings.

Clearly, originality is a complicated mess.

The tools and the techniques have been democratised. In the world of photography at least, anyone can do pretty much anything anyone else can. The more images that get made, the harder it is for anyone to stand out (for long, anyway). But it does make the ones with a truly unique voice or message to stand out all the more.

And the unique voices that I’m drawn to are the ones which express love.

  • Love of the craft.
  • Love of their subject.
  • Love of life.

So stop worrying about the timeless, impossible quest for originality.

Instead, dig in.

Explore more thoroughly.

Be yourself.

You are an original.

Just like everyone else. ;-)

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The Camera Club Experience

kol25826Camera clubs are a great venue to learn the craft of photography. They’ll help you understand terminology like f-stops and ISOs. The people who are really into it will use language like hyper-focal distance and inverse-square law.

But there are a few problems with camera clubs that eventually became a deal-breaker for me.

It’s about the rules — focus, exposure and framing, with numerical values to decide the quality of a picture (and by extension, of course, the quality of the photographer).

Repeatedly, I saw amazing images disregarded, and “nothing special” work would be awarded the club’s highest accolades.

If you’re paying attention, you could easily assert that my statements about this are merely my own opinion. No argument here! Actually, that’s my point — the judging process is that.

There is no way around subjectivity, even with multiple voices in the mix.

Additionally, a club is all about rules, structure and competition. It’s not naturally about experimentation, and attempting something new. In fact, people who were trying something new were often scoffed at.

It was often about looking back, not looking forward, and the people who are intent to pursue what’s next could not find a home in a club like that.

I like modernist poet Ezra Pound’s mantra:

“Make it new.”

It assumes that while absolute originality is impossible, there are ways of bringing classic virtues to a fresh audience. There’s room for a lot of different expressions and intentions in the world. But I tend to gravitate to the innovators amongst us.

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I’m No Purist

kol25826Once upon a time I thought perhaps I could get good enough to avoid post-production — to provide a true representation of reality. And then I realised that all my favourite images from all of my favourite photographers were (subtly and tastefully) tweaked.

I still work diligently to get everything right in the camera. But I also use the editing features of Adobe Lightroom extensively. A lot of photographers I’ve talked to feel the same way I do about Lightroom:

“It was made for me!”

While it’s rare that I think an image needs more tweaking than I can give it in Lightroom, it does happen sometimes. But I draw the line at remodelling someone’s face or body.

That’s a step too far for me.

The point here is to get to a place where you feel comfortable with your post-production work — we are in an era when nearly everyone is expecting some degree of post-production on their images. Knowing how to apply even the most radical edits and effects doesn’t mean that you have to.

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Not Quite a Manifesto

(Image by Ladyheart)

kol25826One of the greatest challenges that I’m experiencing is trying to (re)discover my ‘why’. I’m a competent image-maker — I’ve even received thanks for how I help others explore creativity and technique. I’m invested in the process of art and craft, and I have grown an appreciation for a broad diversity of expression. But what is *my* motivation to create?

Every time I try to explain this to myself, I keep facing a mental roadblock.

There are many far better photographers out there, no question about that. But there’s also a lot of hollow creativity — people who just do things to do things, and there is no discernible rationale to back them up. There is no specific audience, no purpose, no direction, no meaning.

That doesn’t do it for me. Not any longer, at least.

What I keep coming back to is the sense that my camera is a bridge — a phenomenon of human connection. And there are things about people that I’m perpetually curious about. So I’m developing a personal project to connect with and photograph people who intrigue me. I can’t promise that my stories or images will be better or even as good as those of my favourite photographers.

But they will be more mine.