Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Does It Matter?

I mentioned earlier this week that I've been trying to focus on my photography this month. If you follow these pages regularly, then you know that my camera's only subject for months has been my daughter. I think I had somehow given up on photographing Davao City, resigned to the fact that it's just not a very interesting place. The fact is, I've just been lazy. Or perhaps it's that I've been busy. It's easy to set up a photoshoot with the Bird when I'm with her at home for hours at a time. A more concerted effort is required if I am to find subjects outside of my own home.

With some time to spare while here in North America, I've been out on the hunt a few times. Uncle Bob loaned me a couple of books that helped to rekindle my interest and gave me some great tips. When I received a Barnes & Noble gift card as an early birthday present from Andy and RuthAnn, I knew exactly which book I wanted. I've had my eye on a book called "Within The Frame" by Vancouver photographer David duChemin. Rather than the typical "how to" discussion, this book delves deep into the concept of vision. DuChemin has done a bunch of work for World Vision and other NGOs, and his images always carry with them the spirit of the place in which they were taken.

I was enjoying this book immensely on the flight to California. The author was really challenging me with both his words and his images. I don't know how to explain it, except to say that each of his photographs seems to have soul. Does that make sense? He makes photos that cause you to feel something, even (sometimes especially) when there isn't a person within the frame. I want to make images like that. Incidentally, I only got to read the first half of the book because in typical Timmy fashion, I left it on the plane. I ordered a used copy on Amazon and it should be here next week. You know a book is good when you buy it twice.

Some of you know that I struggle with receiving complements about my photographs. It's not that I don't appreciate your comments (I find them encouraging), but when I look at the images made by professionals such as duChemin, I am immediately confronted by the fact that I have so far to go. If you're not sure what I mean, check out his website. You'll see.

I recognize that I'm missing something, and, by extension, my photographs are missing something. I guess that's part of what I was learning in this book—that I'm missing something. DuChemin doesn't go so far as to suggest that as a photographer I don't have soul. Instead, both his writing and his photography is so enriched with his own spirit, and indeed the Holy Spirit, that I can't help but recognize my own deficiencies.

I was created to be creative. Can't help it. I need to create something on a regular basis. And yet when I make my greatest creative efforts, I always struggle with self-rejection upon reflection of these efforts. Often times, after giving it my all as a musician or as a photographer, I long to retreat from that creative activity, feeling like a failure. Yet for some reason, I just keep getting back up, determined to do better next time. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

My weekend at Mount Rainier came at an interesting time. I was feeling discouraged after my group photos on the cruise ship turned out so poorly. While in Washington I was faced with a choice. I could sit around and mope about my extreme distaste for group portraits and my inadequate lens selection, or I could go out and face the mountain. Truth be told, I found time for both.

Our friends Rebecca and Orion invited us to spend a couple of days with them in a cabin at the entrance to Mount Ranier National Park. We had a nice time catching up with old friends and getting to know their two youngsters. On Friday night we stayed up way too late playing cards and hanging out in the hot tub. Despite the midnight bedtime, I had little trouble extracting myself from bed at 4am, determined to take one more step towards figuring out this photography thing.

The 45 minute drive and 20 minute hike was worth it; I had a great front row seat for the sunrise. Admittedly, I probably should have worn more than flip-flops and a t-shirt for my trek across several snow banks. Despite the less-than-balmy temperature (9˚C/48˚F) and heart-attack inducing climb, I was very much at peace when I plunked myself down on the side of the mountain at an elevation of 6000 feet. After sunrise, I drove down into the valley to further challenge myself in the early morning light.

Though the resulting images may satisfy the technical criteria—there are certain principals that make a photograph "work"—they still seem to lack that "spirit of place". Perhaps the problem is that I'm not a very emotional fellow. I didn't "feel" much of anything while making these images, so of course those feelings couldn't translate to the image itself. Another question I ask myself is, are these photos any different from those made by the other photographers who were in the park that morning? Another way of phrasing that same question is, do my images matter?

This isn't supposed to be a photography blog, and I'm probably getting a little too existential for my own good. I guess I just wanted to share with you a little bit of what's rolling around in my head. I suspect I will spend the rest of my life trying to make images that matter. The truth is, I love the hunt. I love the journey.

I recently told my father that photography is like golf. I spend most of my time hacking and slashing. But every once in a while I hit the sweet spot and drive a ball so straight and long that I spend the rest of the round determined to do it just one more time. I've made more bad images than I care to admit. I've got a hard drive full of them. Yet those few times when I've created a winner are enough to keep me coming back for more.

What about you? Do you have a pursuit, artistic or otherwise, that drives you to reach the next level? Are you searching for a way to inject "soul" into your pursuit? Have you long since given up the pursuit and need to pick it up again? Do you want to create something that matters?


As always, click the pic for a larger image.


pasivirta said...

dude. can't believe you flip flopped the snow without me. jerk.


unklrbrt said...

I understand!

I like the "golf" analogy.

Anonymous said...

I've exchanged the humming bird for the guy in the scenery picture. Wow! What a view!
Mom Mc

Anonymous said...

I especially like the pic of the stream...beautiful, beautiful work.