Several years ago, I had the honor of being able to teach photography at ArtCamp at the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, Czech Republic. Over the course of three summers, I saw much interesting and introspective work. It makes me proud of and for students whose work I continue to see. Irena Ellis is one of them.
Each class was one week long. The students were required to complete a digital portfolio by the end of the week. Irena's was titled "Everyday Courages" and it continues to resonate with me. So much so, that I often encourage others to take a look and absorb the messages. Today, I do so for you.
Check it out. Read, look and absorb. Then live courageously, moment by moment, day by day.
A student's enthusiasm, excitement, smiles and new-found insights is encouraging. Multiply it by 70 students and... incredible!
I had the pleasure of teaching four sessions for the students taking Creative Writing at High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. I was asked to teach a variation of the course Words and Images that I created and teach at Houston Center for Photography. By bringing photographic skills and sensibilities to the young writers, they could not only enhance their writing, but also learn how to blend the two. The last of the four sessions was set aside for them to present their work. The results were exciting, enlightening, complicated, simple, multidimensional, revealing ... they were outstanding.
For the first session, they learned about photographic concepts (several of those in my book, The Seeing, Not the Taking), and how to tap into their lives for insights and inspiration (using some of the tools of my latest book, LIFElines: Empowering All Aspects of Your Life). The utilized much of the former, and were wonderfully connected to the latter. And their work showed it with images and words that conveyed the heart and soul of the work's creator. Subsequent sessions required them to apply what they learned and create. And create.
The fourth, and final, session called for them to present their work. One student's response about interests and inspiration led to a Listen to Life blog posting! Her simple insight screams for attention in our busy worlds. The things that interest us can, and should, inspire us in many areas. An interest in gardening could inspire photography, drawing, gardening, writing (factual, blogs, poetry, fantasy), cooking and much more. The young woman was so pleased to find that that which interests her and inspires her also inspired her in her new expression -- photography. I wanted to give her a hug. And the other several dozen students, too! So much talent ...
My closing comments to them would be my comment to you: "As life continues and you grow older, never forget the power of your voice. Never lose your voice. God bless you."
I don't know whether I was knocking off the rust or putting fuel in the engine; I'm not sure whether I intended to find new creative depths or soar to new heights; I don't even know whether I had a strategy other than putting myself into an exhausting situation of creating for 24 hours straight. The focus and exhaustion could serve me well, I figured. I was right, but in ways that were surprises and some that weren't.
As I moved through the day, photographing in my studio and in the area, I responded to a variety of things that inspired me. I thought that, perhaps, I would through the exhaustive nature of staying up to write and create photos find new depths (perhaps dark ones) from which inspiration would flow. The exhaustion came, but no darkness. At least not in a personal way. I don't tend to remember hurts that I have received (there are a few exceptions), so I don't imagine why I would think that I would find dark inspiration. I wrote early in the day that I felt like a child who was learning to walk, moving around curiously but not with a sense of adventure or speed.
At the time that I wrote it, I was frankly disappointed that I was walking and not running, climbing mountains and jumping out of planes...in a metaphorical sense about my creativity. By the end of the 24 hours, I realized my creative work and my life's style is more like Thoreau's "Sauntering" then like mountain climbing. And that's okay. Many things happened during the course of the day to remind me how important it is to be okay with, and to feel you have permission to be, the type of creative that you are. Come as you are; create as you are. And that is plenty.
Planned as an isolationist activity, I encountered people who were lost and needed directions. I touched the tracings of someone who was at a gazebo long before me (I wonder who they are) and I met new, interesting people. As I photographed the hanging wire, an old man with a German accent asked me what I was doing. I told him about the 24-hour adventure and why I was photographing a wire. It all made sense to him (more positive affirmation), and he went on to explain that he was an 87-year old chef at the hotel. He was their original chef and still enjoys working there. I'm glad that I met him. And the old waitress at Waffle House at 2:00 in the morning. There were others. You don't need to know everything and everyone who I met. I believe you should know that getting something other than what is planned is part of the lagniappe provided by listening to your own creative nature.
Photographing at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning is challenging, and I spent more time writing during the low-light times, but simply walking around in the stillness encouraged me ... to always be accessible to inspiration, among other things. Maybe that was the grand enlightenment (or gentle reminder) about the 24-hour creative marathon: explore, see, respond, create. Don't race past it. Saunter. Walk with the curiosity of a child learning how walking reveals the world.
This mostly destroyed, now vacant building, remains as if looking for attention as it watches over the bay ... the bay where Hurricane Ike approached to ravage the area years ago. I love looking at this structure and was drawn to it again as part of the marathon. Life happens. It reminds me. Stand resolute. It reminds me. Never surrender. It reminds me.
Hundreds of images and dozens of pages of writing (journal entries, poetry, haikus, beginnings of short stories, completed short-short stories): I created without a higher purpose or an audience in mind. I tell my students that is the way to create and the 24 hours had me taking my own medicine, wearing down any veneers of high falutin' purpose or pretense.
Playing was part of the fun, too, particularly in my studio during the night. As Forrest Gump so famously said, "You never know what you're gonna get."
Pretty cool Styrofoam cup, even if I do say so myself.
Life is bumpy. Always will be. Creating based on who we are helps us through. Just like the following image taken at about 23 and one-half hours into the process. Sunrise. Storms looming. Or maybe only the appearance of storms. At any rate, the moment is beautiful, dramatic, hopeful and humbling. Creating does that. The 24-hour creative immersion is a good process. I'll try it again. And again. More importantly, I am reminded to enjoy in each moment, not just in the marathon.
Thanks to advances in reading human DNA, you can find out your true ancestry, your propensity to diseases and even your tendencies toward habits and behaviors. I knew that decades before the project started in 1998.
My habit is to look, my behavior is to create images and my DNA has f-stops, shutter speeds and focal lengths strewn together in a soup of D-76 and fixer (photographic chemicals for those of you only familiar with digital processes). Just as comfort and understanding come from reading the results from commercial tests of one's DNA, the same comes to me when I review photographs that I took today or 54 years ago (which is when it started for me) or anything in between. The images reveal a lifetime of visual curiosity, propensity to create images and a quiet appreciation for the beauty in life, no matter what form it takes.
It is one thing to be comfortable in your own skin; it is quite a bit more to be comfortable in your DNA. I am blessed for both.
Morning at Walden. My Walden, that is. My son was hunting, nestled in a blind with a crossbow, so I meandered around a quarter mile away trying to be silent, hunting for images. The early morning light hit the south bank of the pond and caught my eye. I'd live there if I could.
The simple, if not primitive, nature of an under-funded quest to "return to my roots in the country" and my desire to this very rural experience, provides great experiences with labor and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. The closest town is 14 miles away and has no buildings more than a couple of floors. The next nearest town is similar, but has a Walmart. Civilization, I guess, but not my preferred place to go. I prefer the sole proprietors or smaller businesses that are, or once were, the lifeblood of these communities.
Walden: my place for rejuvenation, simplicity, creativity.
I hate cheesy smiles and hate worse the "call to smile" by saying "cheese." Smiles are beautiful things, and goodness knows the world could use a few more of them.
I had the pleasure of offering social media headshot portraits as part of the gathering of Bay Area Networking Circle, a brainchild of Chris Maginnis. In one area of my office, a sommelier offered wine tasting and the group members brought food and other drink. In the studio area, I created images, taking no more than a couple of minutes for each person. Each will receive three images as a "door prize," of sorts. It was great fun and even greater networking. But the greatest treat was the smiles. Dozens of people smiling.
This morning, as I reviewed the images and posted a few on this site, I couldn't help but smile back to those in the images. Their smiles were authentic and warm, drawing out my good mood and appreciation for who they are.
Five decades ago, a school photographer said to me, "Say Mickey Mouse backwards" to provoke me into a smile. Instead he received a glower and curled up lip. All genuine expression engages me, whether it is laughter or tears or anything in between. But a smile...a smile...the world could use more of them.
I just reviewed my entries to the Terrabella Media call for entries. The theme was hands. My five choices displayed nicely on the screen. And I cried.
Photography does that because it evokes more than images and memories; it goes to my marrow where blood is made and to my soul where beliefs reside and my heart where emotion churn. When looking at images -- the five for this entry come from 2003, 1004, 2010 and 2016 -- my life of visuals goes by quickly like a flip book. The connections, old or renewed, remind me of the power of the photographic process as a compliment to the beauty of images. And when those strong senses of connection grab me, I feel emotions ranging from nostalgia to melancholy, joy to sorrow and most everything else in between.
My love affair with photography has given me a love affair with life.
Seeing beauty in another person has little to do with lighting schemes, post-processing or posing. All those elements should be used to help a photographer convey what he or she sees: beauty in another person. For photographers who photograph women, I have a simple suggestion: Quit looking at her like a photographer.
As a photographer, you might see skin texture, coloration, shape and other things that relate to the photograph. But first, you need to see her. See her beauty. The technique is simple. See her like her best friend would.
I've photographed women since my early days getting into the field in the mid-'70s. I've learned a few things. For example, women tend to see themselves as if they are naked in harsh light while standing in front of a full-length mirror. They will find a flaw. A wrinkle, cellulite, a scar...something. And for that, they tend to deny themselves the trait of "beauty." However, they will also talk about their beautiful friend, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, friend, neighbor and so on because, "she has a beautiful smile," "she has beautiful hands," "she has beautiful eyes." Many times I have heard a woman deny themselves the trait of beauty because of a "flaw" while also bestowing "beauty" on another woman for one feature or trait. To see a woman's beauty, see her like her best friend does.
Years ago, I explained to a woman the logic and process of my photography, that is, I strive to show who a woman is, not just how she looks. She replied, "I'd love for you to show me who you see in me." I loved the sentiment and the expression, and, with her permission, began to use the phrase. It became the title of a book. You can review some of it if you want to see how the concept works.
Quit seeing women, men, children, nature, etc. as a photographer. Look like a person who cares for and about what they see. Create thusly.
Push a button. There you go. Anyone can take a photograph, and with today's gear, most of the images will be "good." The art and the magic is in what you see and how you choose to convey that as an image. It is the seeing, not the taking that matters.
I tell my photography students, "If you want to create better images, close your eyes." Try it. Close your eyes and let the rest of your senses feed your inspiration. The smell of baby shampoo, the feeling of the breeze, the sound of a flag cracking in the wind... Be open to your senses and image ideas flow.
Click the link on the book below. You can read the entire thing for free. I teach a course in this at Houston Center for Photography and other venues. Learn to see with all your senses, pay attention to the words in your head...it's all in the book....and taking photographs will be secondary. It is the seeing, not the taking that serves your vision.
I tell people and use in my introduction for speaking engagements, "I was a photographer since six, a writer since 12 and a poet since birth." Words and images have always played together in my mind and my expression.
Since this blog opportunity is fairly new, I direct you to a project that has been completed for almost six months, "Still, life..."The project involved one photo per day, each taken on the day it was presented (there were a few exceptions among the 365, but you'll see why if you go through the collection). The title is a double entendre, playing on the artistic "still life" and the real message, i.e., despite all that occurs in our day-to-day experiences, there is always...still...life. I hope you enjoy it.