Beyond the Camera ~ A Letter to an Artist

Being a creative, there comes a moment when you realize that the camera is not that important.

Last week I attended my first art opening. I walked into a room that had bright white walls that displayed the works of six different artists. Rows of lights lined the ceiling aiming down on the art; lighting the work, leaving the room slightly dark to enhance the exhibits. The crowd, the art, the lights...definitely looked like an art opening.  Men with black-rimmed glasses, scarves affixed around the neck.  Ladies with their hair pulled up atop their heads, wearing high tight black boots that reach beyond the top of their knees. The crowd mingled, taking time to stand and stare at the art.  Wine and cheese held in their hands as conversation about the night flowed.

For myself, I had the black-rimmed glasses upon my face and hat atop of my head; no scarf..I felt like an outcast.  I drank water.

Being a photographer and coming off of my first private show you would think that I would be a patron of the arts. Sadly I am not. But I will be attending an art opening this upcoming Saturday night. Will be sure to wear a scarf.

As I walk through the crowd admiring the work I was enthralled by the photographs that were created without a camera. In my workshops I preach the words “the least important thing that you need to create a photo is the camera”. Yet it is important even if it comes in last.

Quick lesson: Photographic paper works a lot like film.  When light hits the paper it causes a chemical reaction that causes silver-halie in the paper to turn when processed with developing chemicals.

These prints were abstract, minimalist, rich in depth and color. Here were photos looking very much like my “ambient art” that were created without a camera.

To stand in front of camera-less photos and take in the beauty of light was breathtaking.

A week later came my next learning experience in “Beyond the camera”. Take a close look at the photo that is in this post.  Click on the photo to see it as a complete photo with a black background and no other desktop noise to distract you from viewing it.

This photo was taken with a camera but the camera was not that important in creating this image.  The camera only stored the vision; it held the digital bits of information. I dare say that light was not that important in creating this photo either.

This photo is beyond the camera and beyond the light and into a moment of pure creating. This photographer saw into the light and created beyond the norms of exposing.

The second guiding principal that I beat into the heads of those who attend my workshop is “photograph the light first and compose the subject second”. This is good advice.  This photo is beyond that type of thinking.

The photo was created by my wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a well established creative photographer who daily teaches me something new. This photo left me speechless, motivated, inspired and humbled.  There are many, many things that I love about this photo: composition, framing, tones of colors, motion, fluidity.  What I love the most about this photo is that I could have never created it; I could never have conceived the vision.

As you read this you may think that I am a bragging husband.  That is true. As a working artist myself I am inspired to create a photo that is beyond the camera, that is beyond the light to create a transcendental photo.

I have spent twenty years in the photography business.  Ten years in the analogue world and ten years in the digital world.  Either decade the lesson remained the same:  learn the rules of creating and learn to use your tools.

In the digital decade photographers all too often use their tools to cheat.

With new technology there is new responsibility.  Do not think of technology as the easy way out.  You will never reach a transcendental experience in you art.

Use technology purposefully to complete your vision, not to fix it.  Real creativity is full of mistakes.  Creating should borderline between unpleasant and ecstasy.

Going back to things that I love about Elizabeth’s photo is that it could have been created in any time throughout the history of photography.  No post production was needed in creating this photo….big lesson to learned is that no amout of technology can help you conceive the creative process.

Yes, this photo was edited in Lightroom: a photo does not become a photo until it is selected and toned in the darkroom, be it digital or analogue.

Giant disclaimer: This is not anti-anything-tech. Tech is good. Ok, let’s move on.

It is about using your tools to create rather than fix.  Easy example is in music.  There is a tool called auto tune, it is used during the recording process when either a singer can not sing in tune or does not want to be bothered to go back and re-do the vocals.  This is cheating.  All too often in photography Photoshop has become a repair shop rather than a well-intended software tool where you could complete your vision and finalize you work.

When creating we are all too often searching for a resource; a way to make it easier for us (be it Photoshop, actions or auto anything). Resources alway get depleted, used up and outdated.  Technology is a resource.

Be the source of your own creativity.  A source, be it the sun or yourself is an inexhaustible inspiration.

Be the source…..

This is what Elizabeth’s photos has taught me.  No amount of resources, technology or cheating could have created this photo.