Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Stretching our abilities

"Eye of the Beholder" - my image for the South Shore Stories exhibit at the Margaret Hennigar Library, Bridgewater during the month of May
Learning any type of craft is good for the mind, and can be a lifelong learning journey. For me, a love of photography started early. I'm not sure whether I loved it more for the documentation process or to help cover up my shyness. For years, the only photos I took were what I would call documentary, chronicling life with my family and friends. Looking back, I think one reason I did this was to help with my memory, which has always been bad. 

When I was in my late teens, I was talking with my friends and reminiscing about early high school. They were laughing about something that happened and I didn't remember even being there. No, there were no drugs or alcohol involved. Forty years later, and I am still taking pictures of everyday life with family and friends. I make annual books, and often look back at them to jog my memory. Oddly enough, I can remember that I have a photograph of something even if I don't remember the actual event. Weird, I know.

The other thing about carrying a camera and documenting things is that you can keep yourself a bit removed from what's going on, hence helping someone who may be a bit shy. Over the years, I have met a lot of photographers who you might classify as being introverted. It is a usually a solitary pastime, so I guess that makes sense. I had a recent conversation with a couple of people who could not believe that I am a shy person. It is true, although I have had a lifetime of learning to hide it from others. A couple of hours of conversation with someone can leave me exhausted and I usually plan for a quiet morning to recuperate after a social evening, the result of being an introvert. 

In order to stretch our abilities, we need to give ourselves little challenges. Belonging to a like minded group is a good way to start, and I have learned a lot since joining my local photography club. Sharing my images with a group of like minded people has helped me gain confidence in my abilities. It has also made me a better photographer, and moved me away from simply documenting events to trying to capture more artistic images. Seeing other people's photographs is also a good reminder that we're all on our own learning curve. There will always be people with more skills, and with different interests. Being exposed to a wide range of abilities helps us progress and increase our own skills. 

Sharing our love of photography with the public can benefit all of us, and members of the Bridgewater Photographic Society will be exhibiting "South Shore Stories" at the Margaret Hennigar Library during the month of May. Images, together with brief story cards, will show how life on the South Shore inspires and sustains us.

Exhibitors include
Darlene Awalt, Trevor Awalt, Brenda Bancroft, Don Barnes, John Burnett, Dave Collins, Derek Johnston, Mary Ann Massey, Charlene Morton, Richard Novossiltzeff, Karen Parnell Herrick, Kathryn Price, Gary Smith, Kas Stone, Peter Zwicker, and myself.

From the Drowned Forest at The Hawk on Cape Sable Island, wildlife on the shore at Baccaro Point and Crescent Beach, tree farming in New Germany, and everywhere in between, these images and stories will illustrate the wide range of photographic opportunities on the South Shore. 

As part of the exhibit, there will be a presentation "A Picture is Worth a Hundred Words" at 7pm on Tuesday May 16. Professional photographer and author Kas Stone will explore the connection between words and images, using examples from her own portfolio, as well as others, for illustration. Words and images are two different ways of telling stories and expressing our feelings about a subject. One appeals visually, the other linguistically, to different areas of our brains to get their message across. However when words and images are used effectively together – pairing a compelling photograph with a clever title or interesting backstory – their impact can be truly inspiring.
The presentation is free, but seating is limited. To register for this talk, please visit the Margaret Hennigar Library or call 902-543-9222.

I hope you will visit the library in Bridgewater during the month of May, or join us at the presentation on May 16. Come and share our joy of photography and the South Shore, always something good to focus on.

Published in the South Shore Breaker, Bedford & Sackville Observer, Dartmouth Tribune - April 26, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reality versus illusion

If you are of a certain age, you may remember the advertisements with the tag line "does she, or doesnt she?", referring to hair colour. For the record, I dont, and am naturally "silver". It amazes me that young women purposely dye their hair grey. Does that mean I am fashionable? I doubt it.
These days, sometimes its difficult to tell if something is real or manufactured.
You can build decks from manufactured materials that are guaranteed to last years longer than real wood. We can purchase rocks for our gardens that are made to look like the real thing. There are porcelain tiles made to look like marble. I could go on, but this is beginning to sound like one of my favourite shows on HGTV.
Lets get back to the first point I was trying to it real, or just an illusion?
Recently, I have been experimenting with creating images using several photographs. This image was created using elements from three different pictures – the shadows created by my bedroom blinds, a self portrait, and a picture of a crow from my backyard. I hoped to convey a feeling of sadness in this image called “One Crow Sorrow”.
That question pops up in photography more often than you might think. These days, more people than ever have a camera that they carry around constantly. Cell phones have created more photographers than ever before. And "real" photographers debate about what makes a "real" photograph. As in many other forms of art, there can be a snobbishness to photography that is a little intimidating sometimes, especially for people lacking a bit in the self confidence department. As a matter of fact, some people think that photography is actually not an art, but thats yet another debate.
If you snap a photo with your phone, is that photography? If you use a point and shoot camera, are you more of a photographer than someone who uses a phone? And if you use a "professional" camera, does that make your images better than the ones people take with compact cameras? The advance in technology has made it possible for more people than ever to capture stunning images and also to manipulate those images either with preset effects available on our phones, or more sophisticated editing using computer software.

Some argue that it isnt true photography if the image is edited and adjusted afterwards, and I have to admit that I used to be one of those people who carried that belief. But isnt that what the pioneering photographers did in their darkrooms? Sure, their processing techniques were not as sophisticated as the present day, but they did manipulate their images to create the vision they wanted.

Now in the digital age with software that is more and more complex, there is a genre called conceptual photography where images are created that might be a whole made up environment.

What makes a beautiful image? I would say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you are documenting the world around you, or making art combining images and software manipulation, does it matter what other people think as long as you are happy with your results? Its a different story if you are trying to earn a living with a camera, but if you are an amateur like me, I would say that its our own satisfaction that should drive our pursuits.

For almost forty years I used my camera to document my life and the world around me. A couple of years ago I listened to a presentation called "The Great Reality Debate" by Dublin Shore photographer Kas Stone, where she discussed the ability to use sophisticated software to shift images from the "good" pile and create photographic art. That opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and I started experimenting with my own photography.

This has taken me down an unfamiliar path, which has often been frustrating. I wanted to label myself as "artistic" and was trying to force something which didnt come to me naturally.

I studied conceptual photographers and sketched plans for creating my new images in a notebook. As my husband will tell you, I can be a bit intense and single minded about things sometimes.

Then, as I was talking with my granddaughter about life choices she will be facing in the coming years, it hit me. I should be giving the same advice to myself. Dont try to be something youre not, be true to yourself. Do the things that you are truly interested in, and the rest will fall into place.
Documenting life with photographs doesn't have to limit artistic abilities. This is just an image of sand. With a little help from nature, not photo manipulation, the patterns in the sand look like trees.
As a result, I am trying to be more comfortable with the fact that I enjoy documenting things, but that doesnt mean I dont have an artistic eye. I see things in a different way. And if other people look at the same scene and dont see my vision, thats okay. We are all different, with our own interests and talents. And thats something good to focus on.

Published in the South Shore Breaker - April 19, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Repetition Doesn't Mean Boring

Going back to the same location time and time again can lead to a series of interesting images with quite different results. Timing is everything – a few hours after this photo was taken, the hay rows were gone.
Have you ever found yourself doing the same thing over and over again, expecting the result to change? Of course, doing the same thing countless times without variation leads to the same conclusion, even if we continue to hope for something different.

As so often happens to me these days, my mind goes back into the past and remembers long forgotten details. Many years ago, when we purchased our first computer we had one of those frustrating experiences that new technology often brings. Back then, setting up a new computer was a lot more complicated than it is now. We painstakingly followed the instructions and had no success. Over and over, line by line,
we completed all the steps on the sheet. Finally phoning our son for help, he walked us through what needed to be done. After a while, he patiently asked if we had hit "enter". No, we hadn't, because that wasn't detailed on the instruction sheet. His reply was that "everyone knows you have to hit enter". Well, we didn't know that. We expected the instructions to tell us everything we needed to do.

I recently purchased some new equipment and was quite proud because I was able to set it up all by myself, without depending on a phone call to my son to help install it. The process even entailed going into the garage and finding a button to push on a router in order to get the equipment up and running. Honestly, I think my success had more to do with the progress of technology than with my increased skills.
I frequently run into frustrations when I'm working with my camera and trying to figure out something new. Who am I kidding? These days, sometimes I have to reacquaint myself with things that I've already learned but forgotten how to do. It doesn't always have to be learning a new skill to seem new to me. But I digress.

As with many other skills, taking photographs with something more complicated than a point and shoot camera requires lots and lots of repetition in order for the skill to become ingrained so that we can accomplish it quickly and without thought. Practice might not make perfect, but lots of practice can help our skills to become something so natural that we don't have to think about it when we're doing it. Knowing our equipment makes it easier to capture that spur of the moment picture that rarely happens.

 The same two trees with a much different feeling, taken on a mid winter's day with a flock of birds soaring high in the sky. 
Repetition does have other benefits. If you're anything like me, you might have your favourite coffee shops or restaurants that you like to visit. Some people might find it boring, but there is something comforting about routine. You get to know the servers. You might have a favourite place to sit with a special view. Maybe you know the daily specials or often order the same meal. Adventurous? Maybe not. But repetition doesn't have to mean boring.

The same theory can be applied to photography. Some of the best images are taken when a photographer is familiar with the location. Going back to the same area time after time can yield very different results. Four seasons, changing weather, or various times throughout the day, can make very different images. Familiarity can blind us to the beauty around us, but making a conscious effort to see something new in a place we are intimate with can create some spectacular pictures. 

The same trees, on a winter's day with a stormy sky. A flock of pigeons took flight after a helpful neighbour waved them away from nearby hydro lines.
By revisiting the same location, we become aware of subtle changes too. It may seem that everything is the same, but when we take the time to look at the details things may actually be quite different. My husband can tell you a story or two about that. Several years ago, it took me two days to realize he had shaved his beard. Oops. Sometimes I'm not very good with details. I can be out all day with a friend and my husband will ask me what kind of car they drive. Usually I can remember the colour, but rarely know the make and model.

The same trees taken from a different angle on a gloomy day, and “two” become “one”.

With a camera in my hand, it's another story. A change in light, a lovely shadow. Shimmering reflections, subtle colours. When I hold a camera, I notice inconsequential details that many people wouldn't give a thought to. Maybe I should photograph my husband every morning. I bet he wouldn't be able to shave without me noticing if I recorded it with my camera. But there are other things to focus on.