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The Creative Space, Part Two

In part one of this post I imagined an inspirational photographic location – a creative space – and then looked at how different artistic disciplines might interpret that space. I ended with the question, ‘how can we enlarge the creative spaces we inhabit to energise our work?’ Let’s look at an example from last year’s workshop, using poetry.

Following an introduction looking at Japanese books illustrating haiku poems and touching on the work of Duane Michels, you are given two poems with the request to visualise them photographically. This introduces text and therefore activates both the left and the right brain.
The process of finding a hook on which to hang a photograph forces us to study the meaning in a way quite different from reading a poem in a book. It stretches our imagination, helps us think in terms of metaphors and pushes us to explore new directions. It is a simple technique but it works. The first reaction is surprise. It seems baffling but we teach tools which help conjure up images out of words . So the initial reaction is quickly followed by intrigue at the challenge and usually delight at the refreshing end result.

But is the idea of enlarging your creative space right for you? There’s an easy way to tell but you will need to set aside a few hours.

Look back over your work of say, the last two years.
Pick twenty favourite images from each of those years.
Lay them out in Bridge, run a slideshow or preferably look at postcard size prints. Review that body of work. What do you see?

Using free association, what are your strongest impressions? Here is a starter checklist;
Rational: choice of lens/camera, depth of focus, vantage point, colour palette, image composition, post processing style …etc.
Emotional: human interest, decisive moments, emotional qualities, use of analogy or metaphor … etc.

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Scribble spontaneously the words which come to mind. Do it quickly and don’t hold back. We’re looking for a plentiful supply of first impressions. Then repeat for the second year. Using the mind’s natural ability to detect patterns, look for recurring themes in words and images, similarities and differences. What is the overall picture? What are the repeat patterns? Are they positive or negative? Then consider this equation:

Do you have a strong signature style which you execute consistently across different creative spaces?
Or is it that you are traveling the world basically taking similar pictures?

The question is: in short, are you in a groove or a rut?

Most of us fall somewhere between the two. And where we fall on that line tells us what we need to do next. Whatever the outcome, this is a useful exercise and I hope you benefit from it. If you like the idea of seeing how different artistic disciplines can influence your photography it is easy to try out the poetry example above with a friend.

If you’d like a more comprehensive approach to enlarging your creative space, then please check out the ‘Visual Conversations’ workshop I co-teach with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in July and at the Leica Studio, Mayfair, London in August.

Visual Conversations

July 10th – 16th, Maine Media College, Rockport, USA

Aug 23rd – 25th, Leica Studio, London, UK

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If you have trouble in deciding on your best work in the first place, then check out John Paul Caponigro’s site which has a host of terrific references including a PDF called ‘Finding Your Best Work’.

Find it here.

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The Creative Space, Part One

Imagine yourself in a favourite photo location. Maybe for you that is Street shooting in Bangkok or Brooklyn. Or for this post I’ve chosen a beautifully backlit waterfall in Iceland. You excitedly pull out your camera and start shooting. You already know that you’ll get at least some good images. You smile inside at the expectation of processing, posting and printing. Right. Job done. Where to next?

This is a well trodden path which produces some great images and good friendships. But this time let’s not rush off. Instead let’s pause, rewind and consider some alternative scenarios. Consider that location as an empty ‘creative space’ waiting to be filled with an interpretation.

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Now imagine a painter walks into that scene. How would she see the light, the movement and the colours? She has the advantage of being able to add and subtract elements on the spot whereas photographers can mostly only do that in post processing. Which elements might she accentuate and how?

Now rewind and imagine a poet enters the same creative space. He has more leeway to convey the full sensory impressions; the deafening sound of the waterfall and the delicate touch of the spray. The poet might consider how in Iceland it is easy to feel a deep connection to the elemental forces of nature. How trolls might live in the rocky recesses of the mist covered mountains. Is there a photographic equivalent to this kind of inspiration?

Finally, rewind again and imagine you are a composer entering the space. What kind of mood could you conjure up with the full complement of musical instruments at your disposal, ? How do you capture the majesty of a landscape? As Gustav Mahler said when a colleague enthused about the view of the lake and mountains from his cabin at Attersee in Austria, ‘Don’t bother looking at the view – I have already composed it’. How can we approach a fuller sense of the potential of the scenes in front of our cameras?

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You get the point. When we are in our personal photographic creative spaces we are seeing only one small part of the creative whole. A good analogy would be our eyesight where visible light is only a small part of the total electromagnetic spectrum, only one version of reality. There is more to be seen.

Similarly each of the artists above will interpret the magic of that creative space in very different ways. Whilst this is a simple point to understand intellectually, very few of us are skilled in a variety of artistic disciplines. So to expand into any of these spaces seems in practice almost impossible.

And this is one of the much debated issues in photography as an art form. The instrument itself is quite limited. Yes we can stray into impressionism with camera movement, into the surreal with multiple exposures and blend modes and into metaphor with ‘equivalents’ (http://www.moma.org/ collection/works/44200?locale=en)

But these are ‘technical’ solutions and only slightly change how we think about and see our images. So how can we bring some of that artistic inspiration available to other disciplines, back into photography? How can we enlarge the creative spaces we inhabit to energise our work?

There is a way that Eileen McCarney Muldoon and I have developed and teach in our workshop, ‘Visual Conversations’. The principles are covered in part two of this post to be published next weekend.

Meantime if you’d like more information on the workshop please check here:

Visual Conversations

July 10th – 16th, Maine Media College, Rockport, USA

Aug 23rd – 25th, Leica Studio, London, UK 

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After being featured in Lens Work magazine Jerry Grasso’s Moorish Influences goes on to be exhibit at Photosynthesis in Manchester, CT from March 12 – April 9, 2016. The opening reception is Saturday, March 12, 5–7 pm.

“Jerry Grasso’s photography depicts the progression of the Moorish architectural influences from the Great Mosque at Córdoba to the final grandeur of Islamic art in the Alhambra, the magnificent palace/fortress of Granada.  Ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns form the basis of the architectural influences of Moorish history in southern Spain.”

Find out more about Jerry Grasso here.

Explore more Alumni Success Stories here.

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Alumnus Michael J Quinn was recently interviewed and his work featured on Phoblographer.

Here’s an excerpt.

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“When you’re surrounded by so much awesome beauty from nature, how to do control yourself and not take pictures of everything?”

Michael J Quinn

“In the beginning, I did take pictures of everything. Not uncommon for me to shoot 10,000 images during a week trip, which is way too much. It makes editing and pairing down images almost impossible. The sorting process becomes daunting and thus does not get done. It is only after repeated trips and mentoring by both John Paul Caponigro and Seth Resnick, that I have begun to see better in the field. Make much fewer captures but at the same time increase the quality of the images that I am capturing. I am able to pre delete images before capture. That is to say that I can mentally edit.

Is this shutter click going to result in at least a 3 star image? If not, don’t click. This is a learned trait and must be practiced. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress. During my recent 4 week trip to the Arctic, I shot less than 5,000 images. This makes the editing process much easier.

I have more confidence in my abilities which plays a role too. I have the confidence that I can capture the scene with enough depth of field, exposure and focus. Slowing the capture process helps as well. If there is time, taking a moment to really look deeply at a subject, interpret my emotional response to a scene and then make the capture. Having a plan also helps in the capture process. Plan out what type of story or stories that you have going and where the holes are in your story. Then when you are in the field you have a shot list of images that you are looking for. It makes it much easier to sort through the chaos in the field and find the gems. You have to be prepared for the new opportunities that arrises as well – like when a Polar Bear pops his head out around a rock, but having a plan will focus your attention. Reviewing while in the field is also a valuable tool. You can confirm that your technique is working. You can look for new patterns and themes in your images. Finding new stories to tell is always exciting.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

Learn more about Michael J Quinn here.

Read more Alumni Success Stories here.

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Alumni Doug Eng discusses his new exhibit Streaming South.

“Last spring, paddling a kayak became the first steps of my journey home. My birthplace and residence is Jacksonville, FL, on the St. Johns River, a 310 mile artery dotted with spring fed creeks. I often photographed a glimpse of a creek from a bridge or trail and always wondered what lay beyond what I saw.

“Streaming South” started as a desire to produce a series of intimate landscapes of individual creeks, depicting remote places in the style of early 19th century landscape painters who visited Florida and found an unspoiled paradise. Florida has changed dramatically since those times but I knew that a version of the “real” Florida may lay deep within these creeks and I wanted to find out.

Over the course of one year, I experienced the seasonal characteristics of the landscape in 33 visits to 12 creeks. I created thousands of images and started a blog, streamingsouth.com, to record each outing with comments and additional writings.

Once I began my explorations, my outward excitement about what I was seeing shifted to a personal introspection concerned with ethics, morality, respect, care, and gratitude. Not only was I given a gift of incredible beauty, peace, and solitude, but I was exposed to neglect, disrespect, and violations that stirred deep emotions. I always appreciated where I lived but never had an attachment to anything specific. I never cried when I saw trees being cut or became resentful of a dock or bulkhead on a riverbank. I never laughed at otters eyeing my passage or spent time collecting discarded bottles lodged in the roots of trees. I never witnessed the awe in a perfect reflection of over-arching trees forming a cathedral in the middle of a stream. Now things are different, I have changed.

When photographing the “environment” you make choices. Do you focus on beauty or despair or exactly what exists? It’s an easy decision for me. Beauty and peace connected me to my home. Not the plastic bottles, beer cans, old tires, and keep out signs. I believe that my advocacy for attention to these rare places must appeal to what is positive and good about our home. First connection, then care. That’s how it worked for me.

As a result of this project, I have developed a special connection to my Home. Connection is about participation, hands on experience, and being present. You must step out your door and cross the line. To really care about a place, to cherish it for what it does to our hearts and souls, to really connect with all that it is, creates the cognizance necessary for responsible, actionable stewardship. These are only pictures, but they represent in a very real way what is here and now and beautiful about our earth and where we live. This work is my advocacy. I am grateful for finding a glimmer of enlightenment through photography for myself and to share with others. The journey continues.”

Find out more about Streaming South here.

Find out more about Doug Eng here.

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Alumni Scott Tansey describes his recent feature on The Leica Camera Blog.

“I took these images on a Fall Color Workshop given by John Paul Caponigro at Acadia National Park. I had recently completed a huge five-year project taking panoramic images of Los Angeles (my home town). It was time for a change, and I needed a creative spark to do something different. As I mentioned previously I had attended a printing workshop given by John Paul Caponigro, which changed my photographic direction, and I thought his workshop would give me kick-start on my creativity. It did, but not in the way I intended. I was going to shoot the fall colors. Southern California is not as noted for its fall colors as Maine is. However, when I went to shoot the fall colors, they did little to inspire me. The light was lousy, and we missed the peak by a few days. On the second day of the workshop, after much frustration, I went to our last stop that was a rock pile. Oh, wow! The evening light and the colors and the patterns of the rocks spoke to me. For the rest of the trip I focused mainly on taking close-up images of rocks on the Maine coastline.”

Read more on The Leica Camera Blog.

Read a second feature on The Leica Camera Blog.

Find out more about my Maine Fall Foliage Workshop here.


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