Col Mist over Warm Water
Each season of the year has it’s own beauty. Finding that natural beauty in the seasons is no different than trying to find the unique beauty in different size, age, and shape people. All of the components are the same. Every photograph is the same: line, light, texture, composition, however you categorize the elements they are always the same.
A picture is a picture is a picture
A Promontory of Pelvis
Before retiring I decided to spend several years shooting humanscapes: the landscapes we live in. I mostly took a break from landscapes and turned onto the human form those skills I had developed shooting natural scenes. While doing so, the challenge was right in front of me. How do I reveal unique beauty in someone skinny or overweight, athletic or out of shape? That beauty is present – no matter how society stereotypes beauty and ignores those who don’t fit it’s definitions. I enjoyed both the work and the reactions of people who never thought they could look as amazing as the images I created of them. Happy clients are always a good thing. 🙂
The Gift of Sight
photo credit: Scott Sternbach
What amazes me is that people pretend that there is something different about shooting people, or about shooting landscapes, or architecture, or sports. And yet, the challenge is always the same. FIND the image from amidst a cacophony of irrelevant details. Cull out the irrelevant, focus on the beauty, find a way to accentuate what you really want to say.
I have heard lazy photographers justify their lack of discipline or passion or skill by pointing to the words of Brett Weston. Weston used an 8 x 10 view camera for most of his work. This Scott Sternbach image gives you an idea of the size and cumbersome nature of a 8″ x 10″ view camera. It is easy to see why some might think he advocated the lazy approach to photography:
“‘Anything more than 500 yds from the car just isn’t photogenic.” – Brett Weston
If you are lazy, or if your images are ordinary, and an expert tells you it’s ok not to drag your equipment out to every beautiful panorama, then it’s easy to be satisfied with your own work. But, Weston wasn’t lazy. He had a wonderful eye for images. He made extraordinarily beautiful images of very common place things. Of things right outside his door, right alongside his trunk, right around the corner. How convenient to have an excuse from a master for not improving in a very un-Weston-like way.
Finding something special in a scene right in front of your eyes takes a better set of eyes than finding something beautiful in a panorama everyone agrees is beautiful. If everyone is telling you it’s beautiful then why not trip the shutter. Shooting the same sights everyone else shoots is an easy excuse for mediocrity.
Trying to see beauty in something other people have passed by is quite a different challenge. When I first started pursuing such images I felt completely out of place. There’s nothing here worth shooting I would say to myself. Until I started looking closer — and that has often been my salvation. When you can’t find anything worth shooting — GET CLOSER.
A single leaf on a bed of snow
I don’t know whether I always realized it, but I looking back at my images now I see that Ihave always looked at the seasons as a metaphor for life. I like metaphors. When I create an image it’s not just about the form, lines, and color. On some level I see plants and situations in terms of their stage in life, just as I might view a nude model in my studio. Making average people look extraordinary has helped my landscapes by helping me fine tune my ability to find greater beauty in commonplace items.
A bonsai in winter
Like most Mid-westerners I get antsy about this time each year. After being buffeted by wind and snow and howling cold for a while, any exuberance for changing seasons takes a back seat to the desire for a little sun, a little warmth, and a chance to pull on my shorts. With no leaves on the trees I find myself looking at nothing more than the form: the lines of a scene before me. I get closer. I have no choice. Where someone else sees a “dead tree” I see the hope of renewed life, the symmetry of growth, the regularity of science. These are things I taught myself — a photography class doesn’t teach you to see.
I have a secret to share. As a guy who makes a big deal about not liking large crowds I have used my aversion to crowds as a way of learning to see beauty.
The biggest crowds seem to like to go places when the scenery and weather are at their best. When I choose to travel where the crowds aren’t, I am metaphorically enforcing my own sort of 500 feet limit to my car. It’s sort of the anti-social way of searching for beauty: I’m looking for a way to show something uniquely beautiful in an object or scene that anyone else might pass by unnoticed. In fact they find it so uninteresting as to avoid coming to see it. An empty park right after a snowfall. An empty bench in a park. Trawler booms. Incomplete construction, abandoned construction, derelict construction. Blemishes and bulges.
Central Park Bench
Take time to look around. You don’t have to go far. Start at the tip of your nose.
People have asked where we plan on going once the house is sold and the truth is out destinations don’t matter. Making a life is just like making an image. And extraordinary beauty is right there in front of us — no matter where we are — if only we will look for it. Anything over 500 feet away just isn’t photogenic.