(an edited, shorter version of this article was originally published on http://lifeasahuman.com/2014/photography/i-am-not-a-camera/)
The biggest breakthrough I’ve had with photographic creativity resulted from what I can only describe as “listening to my camera”, that is, listening as opposed to dictating to it. The results were revelatory, and incidentally, proof that technique follows intent.
Many people, if they think of photography at all, have a very set and specific idea of what constitutes a photograph: It’s sharp above all things; it is a faithful reproduction of reality; it has integrity and must not be altered (“photoshopped”); it’s properly exposed; the colors are correct; and on and on.
I maintain that NONE of these criteria is necessary; that they are all optional, that each is on a continuum which ends in its exact opposite quality; therefore, the gamut of available techniques can be expanded at least by 100% (in fact, infinitely).
The one quality in the above list that is considered most important is sharp. Check out commentaries, critiques, “how-to’s” and you will see this constantly. Of course, if sharp is your intent, then they’re right; but what if the ability of your camera to capture pin-sharp, highly detailed images was rewiring your brain? What if pin-sharp is not what you want? What if that doesn’t express what you want to express? If your camera has rewired your brain, you won’t even be aware of the possibility.
I was gratified to see others online coming to the same conclusions. There is a general movement to embrace the blur, the random, the altered, the imaginative. It is possible to follow Monet’s advice to show not the objective reality, but how you feel about the reality.
Here are three images that illustrate non-conventional photographic techniques that I employ. I don’t pretend that any of these techniques is particularly earth-shatteringly original; it’s the embracing of the technique that is the point.
About two years ago, when I became bored with the tedious predictability of digital photography’s process and results, I started to use my camera transparently, side-stepping the precision and clarity that digital is celebrated for. Photography is about the surface of things, specifically, the surface that reflects the light; but I wanted to penetrate the surface, so I could stop taking pictures of my preconceived ideas.
I began using a makeshift light-table, illuminated above and below with flash units, and more often than not hand-holding my camera. Employing this method, the results are various combinations of sharp and blurred, but in a way I can’t, and don’t want to, plan. “Dahlia Cosmology”, with its “incorrect” exposure and hot color palette, is imbued with an electric energy that is very likely more truthful than the safe, pretty picture I would have taken as a beginning photographer.
Another method I’ve pursued is a deconstruction and reconstruction of my subjects, tearing and rending, in a rather perverse act that the followers of Dionysus referred to as “sparagmos”. “Petal Study: Cool Spectrum” is an exercise in pure color and form, and I think this may be my way of tricking my viewers into taking time to observe. I’m not bothered by “what is it?” or “I don’t like it!” when the alternative is to hear the dreaded “oh, look at the pretty flowers!”, and know that I’ve missed the mark.
Although I don’t substantially alter the images I choose for post-production, I sometimes composite them into larger structures. “Aubade” is a beautiful word that denotes a serenade performed at sunrise. I created a triptych from three related but not actually contiguous images. Triptychs were originally altarpieces and devotional objects, and “Aubade” riffs on the concept of apotheosis; but instead of plainchant, may I suggest jazz?