Archive for October, 2014

Let the rain in – be easy

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Right now, here on the east coast of Africa, it is the rainy season. The skies are dark and gloomy and on occasion even threatening. The rain comes sometimes in deluges so vast and cumbersome it is a wonder that anything survives. Every year it seems that we are all taken by surprise by this strange season that descends upon our normally sunny natured landscape.

For photographers this seasonal rain can wreck havoc on our work timetable. I personally have been waiting for several weekends for just one day with suitably tender weather to shoot one family. I find myself with a over zealous attachment to Accuweather on my iPhone, pouring of the details I find there perhaps in the ridiculous hope that I will be able alter the patterns of little picture raindrops that fill the screen.

This darkness in the skies often coincides, or perhaps triggers, a darkness in my creativity. With the rain comes a creative lull and just like I feel that the skies will never clear and the sun will never show it’s pretty face to me again so do I feel that I will never again reconnect to my creative core.

There is a frustration in all of this but there is also an answer. The answer is to be easy. The answer is to sit in this space. Let the rain in. Let it pour and sit with that a while. The sun cannot always shine, for if it did the ground would dry up and the plants would die and so would we. The earth needs a break from all that beautiful light. It needs the darkness and the drops that fall from those heavy spaces in the sky. So when it comes it sits easy with it. It sits easy and waits knowing that the sun will come out again in it’s own good time.  So I am learning to do the same. The rain delivers with it a chance for me to be easy. To rest and refuel my creative source. We, like the earth, cannot sit in sunshine all the time. We need the rain like we need the night. We need to rest our creative energy so that when it wakes it is stronger and more vigorous than before.

So next year I will welcome the rainy season. I will know that it is my chance to sit easy, and that just like the reality that the sun will come out eventually so too will I have the opportunity to reconnect to my art. In the meantime I am going to sit easy.

 

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Teach and learn…be good enough.

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There is a strange breed of person out there who likes to closet away their knowledge.   They squirrel away tiny pieces of information, holding it tight in their fists as if letting one fraction of it out will render them useless.  Perhaps it will.  Perhaps this is all they have, but guess what, we are all in this together, all trying to eek out a meagre living hammering away at our art, whatever it may be.  If you are skilled enough and have an intimate relationship with your creativity, your work will stand out.

So perhaps, like me, you live in a smallish city.  There are only so many safe locations available for shooting and then one day you discover a new one.  Perhaps it is only temporary.  I will give you an example.  There is an enormous amount of building going on around me.  Office blocks are rising from the dust on a daily basis and new roads seemingly appear overnight.  There is a block near a park which has been marked off with green siding boards, all weathered and antiqued in a beautifully un-obvious manner,  Here the roads are empty.  New roads devoid of the clutter of city life.  One day I discovered this when location scouting and I literally slammed on my breaks and jumped out of my car in a state of ridiculous excitement.  Perfect backdrops for portraits.  Rows and rows of green and blue exquisitely weathered boards available whenever I wanted.

I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  I wanted to share this with every other photographer I know.  Why would I not?  If they use the same location it is hardly going to distract from my work.  It is not going to make my technical ability dwindle or my creative soul float off into the ether.  Who cares if they shoot there too.  Who cares if everyone shoots there for the next month.  How is that going to make my work less?

Lets get down to the technical stuff.  I am only too happy to share any technical knowledge I have.  There is a joy in mentoring fledgling photographers. Watching as they develop and learn.  Seeing the excitement when they master a new skill or find a way to create what it is that has been making home in their mind for so long.  The only reason you would not do this is because you are insecure about your own creative ability and if this is the case then sorry for you. Then you probably suck at your art and seriously need to take up a new creative outlet.

There is immense joy in sharing and teaching but here is what is the most important thing in all of this.  When you teach you learn.  You learn about yourself.  You find new ways to express yourself.  You sometimes even acquire new technical skills.  No one knows it all and we all, however skilled we are at our craft, have something to learn.  Every sweet encounter with teaching is a lesson for you.

Go ahead and share your locations.  Share your skills and mentor and encourage someone who wants to learn.  You will, in all this, not only improve your own art but you will find great joy and freedom.  Be secure in your own skills and find your own growth in the process.

If you seriously want to become a master at your craft you need to teach.  It is an essential part of growing your own knowledge and skills.  Through teaching you will learn.  You will learn of yourself.  What moves you and what doesn’t.  You will find new inspiration and stir the flames of your own creativity and best of all teaching encourages you to unlearn what you think you already know.

You are going to fall…do it anyway!

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Yesterday  I was working on a yoga pose called Scorpion ( Vrischikasana).  This is a very challenging inverted pose.  It involves balancing on your forearms, head raised and a strong backbend so that your feet touch your head.   This pose requires strength (particularly in the upper arms and shoulders) a supple back, a strong core and a great sense of balance. When executed properly this pose is like a work of art.  It has a beautiful flow.  It has curves and balance and is exquisitely beautiful to look at.

Before I attempt an advanced pose such as this I spend a few moments finding my breath and my centre.  It requires all my concentration to find my balance once I am inverted and before I move into the backbend.  I know that it is going to take me many many attempts to master this pose and that before I do I am going to fall, and fall again, and again.

There are so many beautiful parallels between yoga and life and the lessons I learn on my mat I transfer to my life.  I am going to fall in life too. Again and again, but thats OK so long as I keep trying.

I was alone in the studio at the gym on a quiet sunday afternoon.  I don’t suppose anyone even knew I was in there.  There was no one to catch me when I fell…but I faced my fear and did it anyway.  It took a huge dose of courage and intense concentration to even get myself inverted as I am not used to balancing on my arms in that way. It took an even bigger dollop of courage to bend and lift my head.  There is an immediate tendency to fall down as you lift your head as your centre of balance has shifted.  The only way to stay in balance is to bend in the opposite way to that which our bodies are used to.  I concentrate on my breath.  If you don’t breath you won’t have the strength to stay inverted.

Some people use props when trying a new and challenging pose like this.  Support from a wall or perhaps a block or a strap to keep the arms in the correct position.  Personally I don’t like the use of props in my yoga or in my work.  I like to just go ahead and fall, over and over, tumbling about in all my beautiful ridiculousness until I find my way.

So how does this pertain to life and our work as an artist.  Well it’s pretty simple really.  You are going to fall.  Probably a lot of times and if someone is always there to catch you then you will never really master things.  It’s OK for a bit but eventually you just have to go ahead and do it on your own.  You are going to make mistakes that’s for sure.  You are going to mess up and and look silly for a while but guess what….no one is watching.  They are all too busy messing up and falling over themselves.

You need to keep doing it until that sweet moment arrives when you find your balance and your work of art is finished. If you don’t keep trying you will simply never master it.  Go ahead and fall.  It doesn’t matter how many times.  Take a thousand photographs before you find one that has all that perfectly balanced light.  Write a thousand pages until the one before you has all the right curves and sweet spots.

You are all alone in your studio and no one is watching.  Go ahead and fall but but please just do it.  Face the fear and fall because one day you will master that art and the world will gasp at it’s beauty.

 

 

 

Let’s get vulnerable

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Why do we have portraits taken?  I believe it is because we want a witness to our lives.  As proof that we existed and that we were here on this earth, even if just for a short while.  There is a vulnerability in the very idea that we want witness to our physical experience of an impermanent life.  It surely won’t matter once we are gone but we feel a certain security in thinking that our children perhaps will show their children or grandchildren a photo of us.  That they will tell stories of our beauty perhaps, or our courage or whatever part of us we want the world to most admire.  It makes us feel a little immortal. That a small part of us will stay here and be remembered.  That we will still be talked about and mentioned in occasional whispered conversations on a starry night.

In truth we are all a little frightened of being insignificant, that our lives will have been pointless sequence of breaths, devoid of meaning and all too quickly forgotten.  So while we are here, bound in our earthly bodies, we take photographs.  These photographs witness our daily existence.  They mark our happy occasions and show the world the part of us that we want it to see.  We are reluctant to reveal any part of us that we feel is not perfect, or in our tender eyes what we presume others want to see of us.  People are afraid to show their vulnerability, perhaps in fear of being judged, but we are all vulnerable to some degree.  Even the most confident of us.

There is sometimes a moment, when taking a portrait, when the subject has relaxed and has formed an easy relationship with the lens.  That that need for proof subsides and they go somewhere quiet and shake hands with their soul and suddenly there is all their beautiful vulnerability in your viewfinder.  It is usually at a time when they think you are not looking, when you as the photographer make a play for time and lay claim to changing your ISO or getting your focus right.

This vulnerability often presents itself in the beginning as nervousness. Tap into it.  The art is in allowing the subject to loose the nerves but retain the vulnerability.  It is so extraordinarily endearing when people are vulnerable, when they show a little more of themselves,  a little of their shadow self.  These are the portraits that turn my head and make me linger.  Our social media is awash with photographs of people showing their superficial selves.  It’s boring!  Give me a portrait that has humility and vulnerability.  Show me something of the subject that I don’t normally see.  Present me with a glimpse of their shadow self and make me gasp at the beauty I see there.

Find a way to make people linger over your portraits.  Make them want to stay awhile and pause there. Make them curious about the subject and most of all show them the unexpected.



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