“The camera always points both ways. In expressing your subject, you also express yourself.” Freeman Patterson
I’ve always loved this quote. I’m pretty sure that Freeman didn’t invent it but he’s been such a great philosophic educator of photography and has meant a lot to me over the years that I’ll give him full credit for it anyhoo. But I will expand the quote thus: “What an artist shows in their art is nothing less than their self”
I was sent to do a little story on a local city that does a big coordinated gallery walk every holiday season. Kinda boring story with kinda boring visuals – people standing around. Joy! (Read as a challenge!)
Well I was looking about at the first gallery and was struck by the stark differences between the work of the featured artists all of whom were painters. The four of them had very different styles and subject matter. One was obviously deeply religious, one was fascinated by the mystical power of animals, one was focused on Aspen trees and the other did very impressionistic still life.
My impression of each of them was pretty clear from looking at their work. The tree gal deals with personal isolation and sees the world as being rather clearly defined as her beautifully painted trees are devoid of not only animals but also importantly people and the trees themselves are filled with tiny details importantly the myriad of growth scars that appear as black slashes against their stark white bark. The impressionist is all about very warm soft light and he uses a lot of paint layering for texture and the impression of detail where his bold brush strokes show only shape.
I got to chatting with the tree lady and the dude with the still lives and found them to be very nice people. I also nailed their personalities and in describing their work/personal outlook that I got from looking at their work they were both astounded at my accuracy. Yep, he’s a classic romantic and she had a hard childhood.
Now while all this looking and chatting was going on I was figuring out how the heck to show something interesting from a packed room full of people in coats having snacks and occasionally noticing the art that is all around them. Any news-y who has covered these kind of things knows how dreadful this kind of assignment can be. There are a lot of cliché images that can be made but I hate that kind of thing so I didn’t tread in that territory. But I was looking at everything through my eyes and all which that means.
Which … got me thinking about my self and style with a parallel: my music. I’ve been a musician almost as long as I’ve been making photographs; they are my two artistic passions. I realized that night that both share a similar style, one visual and one auditory but very much the product of me and how I see the world.
I see things in a dark and mysterious manner but one that isn’t contrived to be heavy handed. I see our experience as a place of multiple dimensions where not everything is as we seem yet is totally “real”. I love texture, complex rhythm and not really knowing what is going to happen next. Things that are slightly disjointed isn’t jarring but rather happily surprising. Isn’t life like that?
Also I’m not the product of any school or teacher. I figured out things by myself with the intent of being inspired by but not molded by any known “master of the art”. In fact I made a lot of effort to know what the standard material is and to not learn it. Learning technique is one thing and I spent a lot of time developing and continue to practice/learn but I didn’t want to be able to play/shoot like everyone else. Why?
As a result if you ask me to bring my guitar over for a jam I will likely decline because I intentionally don’t know a bunch of well known tunes. I mostly only know my own compositions. I never photographed figure studies or classical still life – boring! I find tight studio portraits to be almost pointless unless there is an invoice involved. It’s not that I can’t do those things if I wanted to it’s that they don’t have my voice involved. As a result I don’t and won’t play blues. I like blues alright but it’s not my way of speaking. Just as I don’t like putting people in a studio only to use huge and soft light on them – my way is to be more dramatic and soft light is clean to the point of sterile. To me the world isn’t that way because seamless light without character is, well, without character. I don’t like “nice”.
So life is like jazz is that we all have a basic chart of what we might expect in the song we are playing but we are expected to improvise our parts while everyone around us improvises too. However being a metal guy I think that life is not all sweetness and light. It’s often dark, powerful, nebulous and menacing. To me there is a beauty in the maelstrom if you care to look at it.
Oh yeah, I was a Philosophy minor in college. Can ya tell?