There is a time moments before the sun sets and the light fades where the gentle glow grants unusual clarity to common subjects, where shadows are long, offering contrast and refuge from continuous shape and form. In normal times I’m a deeply introspective person, and during holidays, at the conclusion of another year, I often find myself completely lost in contemplation. Is the year ending in a better place than it began? What goals have I successfully accomplished, and where did I fail? Has my photography been faithful to my principles and communicated my thoughts in a meaningful way? In other words, am I proud of what I see when I gaze into the mirror and look through my contact sheets? What has this year taught me?
Chasing shadows: a year of chiaroscuro
Sometimes what isn’t there is every bit as interesting as what is; a lack of information presents a mystery that lets the imagination run wild, allows space for a composition to breathe and serves as a reminder that art mirrors the unfortunate irony of life – light wouldn’t have the magic it does without darkness. Prior to acquiring a deeper knowledge of photographic technique, I shied away from difficult lightning clearly beyond the capability of the medium to record. Lessons learned through photography often mirror those found in life; only with the unconditional embrace of difficulty comes complete satisfaction. Worthwhile endeavors are never easy, and are we truly capable of growing in a landscape of perpetual comfort? Sometimes jumping into the dark abyss is the wisest move.
Music and photography
I have come to the realization that there is an inextricable link between my love of music, my piano playing, and my photography. Some of my greatest photographic inspirations come from music, and I often play music while I’m working in my darkroom. The way compositions flow in photographs often remind me of specific musical compositions. Every transcendent melody has a raw, undulating contrapuntal movement from which its immense power is drawn. It is with this same poetry that light works to gently reveal the beautifully nuanced shape and form of the world around us. Just as each interpretive choice a musician makes informs a careful listener, every photograph is a small window into the mind of the photographer. Beauty takes many forms but can be found everywhere by those who seek it.
Looking forward (hopes for tomorrow)
Goals are important, but excessive planning can quickly become burdensome. I have found that a general framework from which to guide future decisions provides a good balance between strict milestones not easily adapted to changing circumstances and failing to improve due to a lack of direction and/or focus. My lens from which to work through 2019 is informed by the following principles:
Maintain a visual sense of self. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Create photographs that are interesting to you, not what you think may be interesting to others.
Be mindful to always have a “point of departure,” an overarching idea that can be expressed visually to form a cohesive body of work. As Ralph Gibson said, photographers without a point of departure just have boxes of prints. Publish a book based upon a specific theme.
Fail, again and again. Nothing is more overwhelmingly devastating to a passionately creative person than failing, but it’s an essential part of the process. A lack of failure indicates a lack of growth, and it’s safe to say I’ve always learned more from my failures than successes. Expect it to happen and be accepting when it does.
Lastly, enjoy the journey. The creative process is a lifelong pursuit; it is iterative and never complete. Creativity is itself a pilgrimage of personal exploration without a destination, or perhaps in search of one. Happy holidays.