IlluminationXXXI_425

Illumination XXXI, 2014

It was one of my best sessions.

I had come prepared.

I knew the location well. My father first brought me to the Point Lobos region when I was very young. Later, during my college years, I spent more time exploring the coast. Long after that, I visited many more times, including several visits to prepare for leading workshops where you have to orient yourself more objectively. This was one of those times.

I knew the subject well photographically. Photographing in the region had a long history and I knew the images and their creators, often first-hand. Adams, Bullock, Caponigro, Sexton, Weston(s), White, Witherill, Uelsmann (and so many others) – they’d all made images there. I’d revisited them all to prepare for this session.  I knew that if I made successful images, that it was inevitable that some comparison to other works would be made. I knew that their images had influenced my vision and that I needed to more fully digest that influence to be free enough to make my own images, in my own ways, and on my own terms. And, I’d failed many times before.

I knew how to work the situation well. I came before the light was best and stayed sometime after it had passed. I didn’t make just one image; I made many. I surveyed a variety of aspects of the subject; planes, peaks, valleys, boulders, grottos, cracks, pools, waterline, etc. I framed each composition deliberately, then asked how it could be improved, and made that image too.

I knew myself well. I’d taken stock of my history, my vision, my themes, my style, and my goals. My natural tendencies resurfaced; I approached the land as if it were a human body. Long-standing themes reemerged; birth, death, and rebirth. I was aware of what I was bringing to the table – personally.

I also knew that, despite all this preparation, this would become a purely intellectual affair if I didn’t respond associatively and emotionally. So I let this all well up, holding nothing back – and I was surprised by what I discovered.

Old memories resurfaced, specifically of my first wife, who I used to visit these places with and who died of cancer when our son was very young, leaving a great deal unresolved. Then more memories surfaced of the decision not to have children with my second wife, a cancer survivor, because of health concerns. And here I was turning stones into wombs. I was emotionally present, raw even – and moving forward. I kept this inner dialog alive as I continued to make images. I had to answer this call to greater depth. Doing this work and making these images had become extremely personal.

Perhaps the images from this session are not my very best pictures, but it was one of my very best performances. It became a milestone for me. It had exceptional intensity and depth. That’s a level I now try to get to more consistently – or exceed. And I know what it takes.

It’s wonderful to see someone bring their A game. It can even help you find your own. But, your A game may be very different than someone else’s A game. To know what your A game is, you first have to get there. Once you know what’s possible, what it feels like, and what it takes to get there – you can bring it.

Questions

What performance would you identify as your best performance to date?

How would you describe your best performance to date?

What criteria do you use to evaluate your performance?

What areas are you concentrating on to improve your performance?

What steps are you taking to improve your performance?

When is it useful to separate your evaluation of performance from results?

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

 

Inhalation I, Nantucket, Massachusetts, 1998

I find this image supremely challenging – because of other people’s reactions to it.

The first time I exhibited this image, over the space of a weekend, in front of this image, four women shared stories of personal loss – a friend, a son, a husband, a father. Over the years, this has happened more than sixteen times Years later, in front of this image, in the same location in the same room, I found myself discussing the death of my first wife with one of the first women to share her own story of personal loss. I could pass this off as coincidence, but that would be irrational. While it sheds a little light on this mystery, Jung’s concept of synchronicity furthers rather than solves it. I simply can’t explain this. This challenges me – and others. Though largely formed of conjecture, the discussions are interesting. Specific combinations of qualities, universal color codes, sacred geometry, archetypes, intuition, precognition … theories multiply. The mystery remains.

When I made this image I wasn’t aware of the themes of death and loss weighing on my mind or heart. I was totally absorbed in making the image. Now, it’s almost impossible for me not to think of it, though I can still see much more in this image.

What people share about works of art may change their own and other people’s relationships to them. What the artist shares about their relationships to the works of art they create often changes the relationships their viewers strike up with them. This process is often encouraged and sought out. It can work the other way too. What people share about an artist’s works of art may change the artist’s relationship with his or her own work. While this type of process is less typical, it raises an interesting set of questions to consider, “When, where, and in what ways is encouraging this exchange most beneficial?”

The process of communicating the experiences stimulated by works of art and the results of those interactions, which continue spreading in many ways, often producing both intended and unintended consequences, is part of the life of a work of art. Though not entirely in the control of the artist, it is not separate from the work of art. Works of art connect us in unique ways.

It’s interesting that the amount of energy imbued in a work of art is not limited to the amount of energy invested by the artist, more is added through others’ experiences of them. How strongly a work of art does this is one criteria, among many, for evaluating its quality and success.

How many ways can you encourage meaningful discussion about your images?

How many ways can you seek useful feedback about your images?

How many ways can you give yourself useful feedback about your images?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

Oriens I, Death Valley, California, 1999

I missed the shot(s) the first time. When I got back from Death Valley a friend said, “Zabriskie Point? Again? Well, I’ll bet you could photograph it in a way that hasn’t been done before.” I knew what she meant, but her comment actually clarified another idea for me.

I had been deeply impressed by the way the light changed mercurially over time, continually transforming the landscape, from pre-dawn through early morning. It first lit the blue gray sky with pale pinks, then turned the far mountains from a cold brown to a hot coral, crept slowly across the valley floor to set Manley Beacon on fire (the crescendo in a magnificent symphony of light that most photographers favor), and continued to create moving pools of light in the foreground during a process that lasts for more than an hour. It is a wonder to behold and to fully appreciate it one needs to be still and vigilant for some time. Its full impact cannot be found in a single moment, I found it in many.

The solution? Make multiple exposures of the same composition throughout changing passages of light and then blend them together to create the impression of an extended moment in time.

I had made exposures of sunrise at Zabriskie Point, but I hadn’t made the ones I needed now. I had to go back. It took a year and a half. Knowing that so many unexpected things often happen, I prefer to make flexible plans, so I wondered if would return for an idea that ultimately wouldn’t work. I envisioned glorious light in every layer of the landscape. As I began making the exposures, I realized there was a flaw in my plan. If I selected the ‘best’ light in every area of the picture, all areas would demand equal attention. There would be no contrast. The final image needed shadow just as much as it needed light. I persisted, making exposures, without moving the camera, for more than an hour, of every significant change in light – and shadow. My original plan was useful but it needed to be modified as it was executed based on specific conditions, new information, and insight. To succeed, I had to listen not just what was in my head but also to the place and the process.

Later, as I looked at my transparencies the final solution presented itself. This new solution even highlighted my feelings about the place more strongly than my original idea. The result, different from my initial conception, but consistent with my intention, achieves a dramatic lighting effect never before seen at one time. Yet, throughout time, a similar sequence of experiences has been witnessed countless times by so many.

The light on the foreground is unaltered, or to be more accurate I should say is faithful to the transparencies that recorded it. The separate portions have not been modified substantially nor were they modified unequally – there has been no dodging and burning. Instead, the light has been reorchestrated with time, faithfully representing the existing light(s) but changing what can be seen in a single moment.

Nothing in the foreground, midground, or background has been added or removed. The sky, however, is an addition from another location. I found the smaller sliver of sky contained in the original exposures made the composition cramped. It lacked the vast sense of space found in the desert. The sky had in fact been the first indicator of the presence of the coming light, making a thousand transformations before its arrival. But the sky that morning was not particularly noteworthy. I could have spent a lifetime waiting for the perfect sky. I chose instead to incorporate another sky from another location that supported both the composition and the light. This sky I altered dramatically, both in tone and color. I did so to expressively complement the drama of the light below, to support it and not detract from it. While the lower half of the image is a matter of resynchronization, the upper half is a matter of recontextualization.

Neither method (resynchronization or recontextualization) yields a classically objective document. But the results of their application may yield artifacts that are truer to our experience of events than traditional photographic practices. If applied in specific ways, they can represent certain aspects of events more faithfully, such as the passage of time.

Making this image changed the way I think about and experience the essential elements of photography – light and time.

 

How many ways can thinking more predictively about change aid your creativity?

How many new ways can you think about fundamentals of your medium?

How can planning increase your creative success?

What can you do to encourage your plans to evolve?

 

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

 


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