“If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.”
I came across this quote in a photography magazine a few weeks ago and, like some things are prone to do, it has lodged a place in my brain. I kept moving this magazine around the house and kind of out of the way, but still flipped open to this page, knowing that a wire had been tripped and that a blog post was likely to result, that I needed a little time to marinate. When I read Richard Avedon’s words, I really realized how long it’s been since I’ve done much with my camera, since I’ve gone on a wander with no agenda other than to see where I end up, to take some pictures along the way. I’ve taken some photos this winter, but not many. Snowshoeing here and there, a couple of beautiful snowy mornings on my way out the door, frantic, sleepy, and running behind as with most mornings. When I first read the quote I thought, in my typical cynical fashion, “Well shit, apparently I’ve been asleep for quite a while then.”
But there’s a little bit of truth to that. Winter is the hardest for me for photography, with its darkness and the white snow that I never seem to get quite as white as I’d like, knowing that it’s a lot about exposure and maybe a bit about Photoshop. And the house where I live doesn’t really have the Good Light Spot like most houses – at the kitchen table, or in the living room in the afternoon, or on the front porch. Do you have one favorite place to photograph in your house? Looking back on the photos I’ve taken in recent years at various houses, at my houses and apartments and housesitting gigs and at my parents’, location themes arise among the images taken at each place – there’s pretty good light in the early afternoon at the dining table at my uncle’s house, where I spent a few weeks, with a great blind that acts almost exactly like a scrim. It practically creates a lightbox effect, inviting studio-esque play. The dappled backyard light comes to mind at one house; the (sometimes glaring) light streaming through the bedroom blinds in the morning at my old apartment occasionally was just the right intensity. I took quite a few shots of my bed in that room, generally in some state of disarray, because the light made everything look warm and cozy, clean and comforting, like an old but well-scrubbed farmhouse table.
Spring has always been my most creative time, even as I love, truly look forward to, and appreciate the other seasons. And so the photography lecture I attended tonight, on craft and process, came at a good time. It’s hard to hit a sweet spot with photography instruction or lecturing – it swings too technical, it’s too gear-heavy, it’s too basic. Or, talking about creativity in general, I find that I’m hypersensitive to some of the kinda pretentious clichés so often relied upon when not so much new is being said. But tonight’s talk, given by local photographer and instructor Elizabeth Stone, really hit the mark for me. I’ve been trying to figure out why it seemed so Goldilocks “juuuust right,” and realized it’s a question of extremes.
To put it another way and draw a comparison with the many house magazines and blogs that cross my path, the House Beautifuls of the world are inspiring, but way out of reach. They suit their purpose, are fun to flip through, but not all that applicable, at least directly and until I win the lottery. The Family Circles, Women’s Days, more “down to earth” options are more affordable and more specifically “how-to” but a bit bland. It’s rare to read a “small space solutions” or “renter-friendly decorating” article, of which there are many, that is actually useful, actually strikes a balance between dorm room-iness and “just paint and sand and refinish floors, the landlord won’t notice!” It’s obviously a niche to be filled, or there wouldn’t be so many (mostly uncreative) attempts to write something that appeases, and in the same way, I’ve read a fair amount about creativity and the creative process, about how artists find space in their homes and heads to do what they want to do and love to do, but it’s mostly been too flighty and ephemeral or too hardcore. Quit your job! Join an artists’ colony! Commit to your vision!
At the beginning of the workshop (it was called a lecture, but was way more interactive than any of the other lectures I’ve attended over the years in the series), she handed out a questionnaire to each of us, with questions identifying our photographic interests, our life passions in general (and whether we’d explored them through photography, which I have in some instances but haven’t yet across the board), if any recurring themes or types of images arise in looking through our collections. And it made me made me kind of smile to myself, thinking of all of those people who’ve said, with some sense of hesitation, thinking it’s a little suspect as a subject, “Well, you sure do take a lot of pictures of food.” Or the weird looks I get in restaurants, at home and abroad. And yet it’s something that interests me, something I don’t tire of – seeing food like real people eat, not cereal with Elmer’s glue in some photography studio. The swirl of steam from a coffee mug, the glisten of a spring strawberry, the just faintly visible stickiness of white rice in a stir fry. What pleasure there is to be found in these little moments. And just so you know I’m not a wacko or making it up, see what you think. Do these images make you feel calm, or energized, or just hungry? I would love to think so, or that it’s a point I might eventually reach, to have that ability.
At this moment, though, it’s not so much about making you hungry as it is about me waking up, about making photography, seeing, shooting, making time, looking at the world creatively, more of a priority. My favorite photos are natural light, small quotidian moments, no super fancy equipment required. Sure, I’m still saving for that macro lens, the B&H wish list never get shorter, but there’s so much to be explored in the meantime.
It’s kind of like figuring out how to live in a rental and still have some style. Figuring out how to work with the camera and lenses I have, how to work my full-time not very creative job and still make the time and find the energy to explore my interests – even, dare I say it – passion.
Even if it means lots of pictures of food, and the curious looks that so often accompany them.