Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Channeling Alan Watts....

I have all of Alan Watts's work on podcast. Or at least all the work of his that is available on podcast. I won't go into the why as it's not important for this blog post. What's important is something I he said at a talk that resonated with me deeply as it solves a riddle I've been pondering for quite some time - "how do you do you make your photographs?" 

I've never had what I felt was an adequate answer. I don't really know how or why my photography turns out the way it does. I just work on it until I like it. I don't have a formula or any particular process by which I follow, though I have learned that I like a few methods and stick somewhat to that, but always give myself the flexibility to play around. Well, Watts gave me my answer. Here's the quote....
"An artist is a person who performs certain things skillfully, but doesn't really know how he does it."

And there ya go. 

Actually, here's the full quote, which further emphasizes the point...
“An artist is a person who performs certain things skillfully, but doesn’t really know how he does it. You learn art by methods that you don’t know how you learnt, you can’t describe, because your brain is capable of absorbing all kinds of information that is much too subtle to be translated into words."
Now, there are, of course, certain technical aspects of photography that can be taught - the exposure triangle, camera settings, using lights, having a working knowledge of the tools in Photoshop and Lightroom, along with some plug-ins, etc. 

But what is it that catches my eye? How do I know when to stop processing an image? I haven't a clue. I'll use a shot I took during my recent trip over the Christmas holiday. One of my favorite areas is U.S. HWY 395 in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range in California and Nevada. It's magnificent and quiet, with little towns dotted along the route from Carson City to Mammoth and into Bishop, which is a fairly decent size town where you can't rent a car to save your life, but I digress. 

It's a road I've been traveling for a good 30-plus years and a scene that I've passed hundreds of times for some reason caught my eye. It's an abandoned house with a barn or some other structure, perhaps a neighbors house, who knows. It's just off of the hwy so easily visible, but I never took note of it until this last trip. Something about how the very diffused light of the scene caught my attention and I turned around to try and figure out how to capture it. 

There was a fence keeping me from getting any closer (I respect no-trespassing and private property regardless of how cool I think the shot would be by ignoring them) so I walked up and down a bit until I liked what I saw. What are the basics? The rule-of-thirds, horizon line is in the top 1/3, and a foreground base, so to speak. A bit of the barbed-wire fence made into the scene, which I cloned out.

I actually first shot this with the horizon-line in the lower-third to really capture the desolation and loneliness of the scene, but decided it really didn't capture the desolation and loneliness, it just show a lot of empty space at the top. So I lowered it and went with this composition, which is pretty much how it came out of the camera. Oh, I also liked the layering of the two buildings from this angle, so there's that.

I didn't have an idea of what the final would look like, I never really do, and I certainly didn't consider it as a black and white, though I was in a area frequented by the master of B&W - Ansel Adams. I just thought the old buildings and sagebrush looked cool. 

Once I got home and downloaded the RAW files I started playing with this and another scene from down the road a spell, closer to Bishop. As always I was curious what was going to come out the other end. And that's where Watts's thought comes into play again. I created the basic, fundamental scene without any notion of the final product, then just went to work and kept going until I was done, and when I started I could not have told you where that was going to be. But when I got there I knew I was done, and that's how it usually is. I will admit that I've learned to be a bit more patient and walk away for a bit, sometimes even a day, and return to see the scene a little differently. But for the most part I know when I'm done. How I see the finished product once it arrives is often a surprise to me, as in the case of the image above. I thought to try it as a monochromatic image and it instantly worked for me. It was almost as I'd seen it while there in the snowy storm.

So what's the takeaway here? Just get out and shoot, then get back and process. Do your thing as you see it. My work does not appeal to many people and that's fine, everyone has their tastes. But I like, for the most part, how things turn out and that's the most important. Don't do this to please others, do what makes you happy.

Golden Crossing
I'll be showing at the RAW Artists Futures event on Jan. 27 at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco. It would be great to see you there. I will be joined by a wealth of other up-and-coming local artists. Tickets for the event are $20 pre-event (purchased by 1/20), $25 at the door. You can pre-order at - http://www.rawartists.org/photoworksbydon

Your support is most appreciated. All those purchasing tickets will be entered into a drawing to win a 16x24 stretched canvas of one of my most popular and award-winning prints - "Golden Crossing".

Each ticket purchased counts as an entry.

*No purchase of art necessary. Drawing will be held at the event and the winner need not be present. However, if the winner wishes to have their canvass shipped, they will be responsible for shipping costs. If local they can stop by PhotoWorks by Don Hoekwater Studios in Walnut Creek to pick up the prize. Winner will be responsible for any local and state taxes.

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