Revelation in the Art of Seeing
Recently I have been feeling a bit of a creative block in my photography. Yesterday was a particularly straining day on me, having not really taken any great shots besides the ones at Mesa Arch, but again those were merely copies of the thousands of other photographers who have shot the exact same shot from the exact same position. So instead of heading out at 6 am this morning I decided to take the morning off and rest up, figuring it would be a waste to go out and get another average sunrise shot. After heading back to bed for a few more hours I went for a walk around Moab the town. I ended up stopping in the gallery of Tom Till, a Moab based photographer with a similar eye for photography. I thought the images were all great, better than the ones I shot of the similar scenes in Arches and Canyonlands, and I figured whats the point of shooting at these famous locations if all you are going to get is a slightly less interestingly lit version of what they have? They have been coming here for years and waiting for the best conditions, I am here for three days and all I get are somewhat boring copies of someone elses work. Needless to say, it was another shot at my creativity that I had been trying to find on this trip.
After the gallery, I stopped in a book store to take a look at some photography books of the area to hopefully inspire me. I was far from impressed with the photographer’s books they had, I flipped through a few and was not struck by any of their images, I’d seen versions of them all before. Then I found what I was looking for…in the form of a coffee-table book of Georgia O’Keefe’s abstractions. Flipping through this one brought on a wave of creativity in me. Every single painting resonated with me in some way, each one a different feeling. Then I realized what was bothering me this whole time was that I was looking in the wrong place to find my creativity. Instead of viewing a scene in its entirety, I must look deeper into the scene to find its true essence.
This got me thinking about the shoot I had the night before…I went up into Canyonlands to get the awesome vista aptly named “Grand View Point” at sunrise. I set up shop on the rim of the canyon facing westward waiting for the sun to dip close to the horizon, I took a few shots and was utterly unimpressed with what I got. Then I walked around a bit for a different viewpoint to see what I could find. Then all of the sudden I saw something that caught my eye. It wasn’t a giant rock formation in the valley below, but instead was the light hitting this small bit of desert grass that was peaking through a few rocks. I went a grabbed my camera and took a few shots at a few different angles and went back to shooting the sunset, again getting forgettable results.
After the bookstore I decided to head into Arches and go for a walk in Devils Garden to keep my creative juices flowing. A wave of ideas popped into my head when I was driving up so I decided to bring a notebook to write everything down. I ended up filling about ten pages with thoughts, mostly about my beliefs about photography and viewing photographs and the art of Seeing. I thought about all those photographers at Mesa Arch getting that cookie cutter shot, and what they were doing was not “seeing” in the sense I mean. They were associating what they saw in their role model’s photographs and wanting to recreate it and call it their own. This is the exact opposite of what “seeing” is all about. Its really about understanding your feelings for a distinct scene and finding something unique to describe those feelings in the form of an image.
Now I am not saying I am an expert in the art of Seeing, but what I do know is that what I had been photographing so far was not “seeing,” but instead was “Copying” the works of far more accomplished photographers. Which is why that image I took up in Canyonlands last night had struck such a chord with me this morning. It was truly an original image of a subject at the peak of its visual existence. It describes my feelings about the nature of the scene in a way that no grand vista can. That is what I was truly looking for in my photography.
Now after looking at it again, it brings so many emotions that weren’t present at the time because my mind was occupied with other things. This gets into a whole other dimension of Seeing…the art of Seeing as the viewer. Like the abstractions by O’Keefe, this shot I took brings forward so many different emotions in such a simple form. You can derive really any thought or emotion you can from it, but in the end its up to the viewer to decide what exactly that feeling is. While the artist can in fact guide the viewer into what feelings they themselves were feeling at the moment of capture, the viewer will likely hold different emotions for the scene. This is because viewing a picture and viewing what is really in front of your eyes are two different beasts. After reading from famous landscape photographer Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography…he delves into the psychological aspects of seeing. I do not want to get into the details of it, but what he said was that for a viewer to look at an image they have never been to, they must use associations of what they do know and since no one has the exact same experiences, an image can mean a million different things to any particular viewer.
So back to the image, to me it represents the desert in general, as it should, it was taken in the desert. But looking further, what interested me at the time was the light hitting the grasses, in my mind forming a golden crown, which represents my respect and awe for the natural world. And in a sense the light itself being the subject, because at any other time of day it would just be rocks and grass. It also gets me thinking about the desert landscape, both unforgiving in the sense that its difficult for humans to survive in most deserts and also its fragility in that if you even step onto a piece of vegetation you will most likely kill it. This is represented in the contrast of the rugged, solid rocks and the fragile grasses poking through.
While some people may think I am looking too deep into a simple subject, I am merely acting as a viewer of an abstraction. The basic nature of an abstraction is that the viewer must create their own vision of the whole. This may bring on a whole different emotion for any one else viewing the subject and I hope my interpretation does not sway anyone who views it.
In the end, I think I have regained my creativity, at least for the moment. I hope you enjoy my work.