a photographer’s miscellany

Reflection on River Trent, NewarkLots of bits and pieces this week, plus a few images that I like with but about which I don’t have a great deal to say.  To start with the images, they were taken by the road bridge over the River Trent in Newark where, on a sunny day, there’s a reflection in the water of the metal posts that fence the road up above.  When the ducks swim through it the reflections get swirled around and this zebra effect is created.  This appeals to me greatly, and that’s really all there is to to say………….

We visited Connected 2016 this weekend, an annual photography exhibition which is on at Patchings Art Centre in Notts till May 21st.  I would have been going anyway, but when I saw the poster advertising it I realised that a photographer whose work I’ve been following for a while was going to be giving a talk at the Launch Event, so that made it an absolute must.  If you haven’t come across Vanda Ralevska, she creates wonderful and very individual images and is currently doing a 366 project on her blog.  I find it hard enough doing my rather more modest 52 Trees project, and how she manages to maintain such a high standard on a daily basis, I really don’t know. I got to meet Vanda, who is a very lovely lady, and her talk was excellent – funny, fresh, interesting and hugely enjoyable.  There was also a talk by Guy Aubertin, who himself creates beautiful landscape photos.  If you’re in the area a visit to the exhibition is well worth it – the standard is high, and the work varied.

I’ve been interested for a long time in methods for teaching the creative side of photography, and Sean Kernan’s approach is unusual, to say the least.  He uses theatrical exercises to give people the experience of cultivating awareness without analysis,  and the exercise in the video below (which has a number of professional dancers taking part) is a lot of fun to watch.

Alison_Sean class from Sean Kernan on Vimeo.

Kernan is also an amazing photographer and well worth checking out.  I came to his work through his still life series Secret Books, which were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

The video above reminds me of reading John Daido Loori’s account of going on a workshop in 1980 with Minor White – someone well known for his unorthodox photographic teaching methods.  Students were expected to get up at 4.00am and participate in dance and meditation exercises, and were often not allowed to pick up their cameras till after a day or two of this had passed.  Loori, at the time, thought this was ridiculous and nearly stormed out; however he was persuaded to stay and came to see the value in White’s approach by the time he finished the workshop.  You can read his account of this in The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life.

Moving on, I came across an article called Why Typical Preschool Crafts are a Total Waste of Time.  The main thrust of the article is that these crafts are both too ‘ready-made’ and thus about as creative as painting by numbers, and more importantly, that they put too much emphasis on the end product rather than the process.  By doing this, the article claims, we’re indoctrinating young children in the belief that you must have something to show for any time you spend on creative pursuits.  There’s a parallel here in that so much emphasis is put on the images we manage to ‘capture’ and not enough on what the process of photographing does for us in itself.  After all, even if you don’t catch a fish, going fishing can still be rewarding.

As someone who can procrastinate with the best of them, I really liked this article’s take on how to use it to your advantage, and found it quite amusing:  ‘All procrastinators put off things they have to do.  Structured Procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you.’

The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

I have never kept a photography sketchbook.  We were encouraged to do this when I was studying photography, but a blog was thought to be an acceptable alternative.  I kept the blog, which has morphed into the one you’re reading now, but I’m wondering if I’ve missed a trick in not keeping a more tangible and less public sketchbook where I could explore ideas and keep a record of them.  These examples of photography students’ sketchbooks make me want to join in.

One of the first books I read that introduced me to the idea that photography was about a whole lot more than the camera, was Freeman Patterson’s Photography and the Art of Seeing.  I loved this book, still re-read it regularly, and think it should probably be required reading for every photographer.  This interview with Patterson is long and dates back a bit, but well worth reading through to the end.  Patterson is another person whose photography teaching goes far beyond the usual ‘this is how your camera works’ style of classes.  Here he is, talking about the kind of assignments he gives to his students, each one individually designed for that particular student:

…..one person might be given a white sheet and asked to photograph it as a landscape; somebody else might be given the topic ‘outer space’.  We don’t care how they deal with it.  Someone else might be given a colourful shirt and told to photograph it, but only in water.  One of my favourite assignments, and I’ve only given it two or three times, is the Joseph Campbell quote “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”.  We gave it to a guy this week from near Chicago and it was just one of those intuitive things.  We could tell this guy was experiencing a period of real personal liberation, and he really carried that assignment off, it was beautiful to see what he did.

And on that note, I leave you with some more zebra-patterned water:

Reflections, River Trent, Newark

Zebra stripe reflections, River Trent, Newark

Zebra stripe reflections, River Trent, Newark

What it looked like before the ducks swam through:

Reflections, River Trent, Newark