Monday, September 7, 2015

A LESSON IN COMPOSITION

It has been some time now since I posted in B&W, so I thought I would share this image that has been sitting in the 'waiting room' for several months now. Made back in May when we experienced all of the Spring flooding, the image has been patiently biding its time in a folder.

I found this pump jack, or iron horse as some call it, situated not far off of a county road close to my home. As you can see in the image, the jack is isolated on a small mound of earth surrounded by flood waters. Based on its condition, I am guessing that either it was shut down to prevent electrical damage to the control panel, or it succumbed to the flooding and shorted out. Regardless, the jack made an interesting subject isolated near the small lake you can see in the background.

I originally shared a vertical color version, with the jack seen from the other side, back in May. From experience I knew the contrasting moody skies would make for a good black and white conversion, so I saved the landscape orientation for this one. As can be seen, there is a great deal of detail evident in the scene, from the drowned weeds and grasses in the foreground, the pump jack and its immediate environs, the surrounding countryside and lake in the middle ground, and finally the great swirling clouds of stormy weather of the sky, all coming together to create a balanced landscape.

The only thing out of sync here is that the jack is looking off to the near right edge of the frame in the image. Ideally, one would place it on the left looking into and across the scene, but there were some trees in the scene off to the right that I did not want in the image that would detract from the jack itself. This forced me to move the jack to the right to keep the trees out of the composition. We are often times confronted with situations like this where we must make compromises in composition in order to achieve our the vision we have for the image.

In my mind, despite its one flaw (or is it really a flaw?), the composition works. All of the elements combine to make a pleasing photograph that looks great hanging on the wall, especially if you work in the petroleum industry, or happen to be a former oil field hand, or maybe you are just an aficionado of this sort of 'Americana'.

Even the ordinary everyday things we pass by on our way to work, or when out running errands have potential as photographic subjects. So don't overlook them. Take the time to stop and make a few exposures whenever you cross paths with them. Most often, you will be rewarded.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

EMOTION & ART

'Time waits for no one, but grants to those who truly live their lives more than they could have hoped for in one lifetime'

The remains of the cut summer wheat have been plowed under and the seeds of winter wheat have been planted. Late summer winds have blown a fine red silt into every crack and crevice, even forming little ridge rows on window sills where it creeps in. Plants with large leaves cup small quantities of the red stuff, and everything in sight seems to have been dusted by pixies on a rampage.

I am out wandering the fields around Indian Woman Mound for no other reason than to see what there is to see, and to get out of the house after days of blowing winds. I have photographed much of this area before but only in a superficial manner, not really seeing the essence of the place. What is it that I have been trying to say here?

I eventually end up near this short section of old fence, all that remains of what may have once been part of a corral. This relic, along with the windmill that no longer brings water from the depths, speak of a time past, when living life was different, and possibly even more challenging than the world we live in today.

There is history here in this place. Long before the coming of the white man the Plains Indians called this area home. A few small mesas dot the landscape and one in particular, Indian Woman Mound, is reported to be the final resting place of a revered elder. Though evidence of this 'burial' has never been found, it does not lessen the possibility of its truth. It may in fact just be a legend, but the natives considered the mesas to be holy ground, so in my mind there is a kernel of truth here that transcends skepticism.

When the white man arrived and displaced the natives (I am being kind here in my use of the word 'displaced'), they changed the landscape into another history. Trees were removed to make way for acres of farm land and the grazing of their livestock. An old hermit carved a hole in the mesa rock and called it home. I reach down and pick up a handful of this red earth, searching for my own connection. It seems to me little has changed since then.

And so now I have come. Knowing all of this history, what am I to make of this place? How do I tell a story in a photograph that reveals both the emotional context and the essence of this place, a story that the viewer will see and feel what it is that I see and feel?

A well known artist/photographer that I admire writes that he does not make photographs because of the intrinsic beauty of a scene, although he could and they would be better than any of my puny efforts, but because it is a memory of the experience. The image therefore distills the experience for him on a personal and emotional level. He will tell you that sometimes the experience is more important than making a photograph, because for him the experience is retained in memory, whereas the photograph will fade with time. The photograph becomes secondary to the experience. When he does make a photograph it is because he is sharing the experience, not just the intrinsic beauty. And so he is asking for an internal emotional response from the viewer when he shows us an experience, that 'frisson' one feels that is not unlike a lovers kiss. That warm and fuzzy feeling for those of you who do not speak French.

It is easy to make a good photograph, even a great one. All one needs are the technical skills, an eye for composition, and a little cooperation from one's subject. But all too often the emotional aspect is lacking. I see it everyday ... images that are technically excellent but lack the aforementioned emotional context, failing to impart how the artist felt when creating the image. Without this purely human aspect, the image falls on blind eyes and is nothing more than another pretty picture.

So how does an artist/photographer convey this emotion in their work? Can it be learned or taught? It cannot. It is the combined experience of truly living a life with purpose and a sense of personal fulfillment as an integral part of our environment and surroundings, rather than separate from and on the outside looking in. Only then do we succeed in imparting the emotional into our art.

I now share with you one of my 'experiences' with the image presented here. It is up to you, the viewer, to determine if this photograph reveals more than just a pretty picture. To determine if I have succeeded in telling a story as well as eliciting an emotional response.





And so you may ask me personally after all of this rhetoric, "Have you succeeded in this quest for more than just photographs Thomas?" Let's just say "I'm working on it" :)

You can see more of my work at www.holoceneimage.com 

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