In the last letter, the vision of Galen Rowell reminded me of a worthwhile exercise. It’s for “toning up” the creative spirit. To make it happen you need a fresh roll of film in your camera, twenty minutes, and an attitude. Before you start out, try to sit quietly, breathe deeply, close your mind to dull thoughts, and think intently on the words: “Observation mode.” You may smile, but this preparation is taken with the solemnity of a monk. For twenty minutes, come hell or high water, you are going to be a professional looker.
Step out of your familiar space and try to take a path not previously taken. Be on the very tips of your senses. Look for patterns, designs, juxtapositions, angles. Every time you see something — frame, compose and shoot. Pay attention to the small-at-hand. You are a professional catcher.
A doormat, a downspout, the remains of foliage, a fence, a wall, the reflection in the window of a car. Snow and sub zero? Not to worry. “An inconvenience is an unrecognized opportunity.” (Confucius) Snow on holly, road-grate, tire tread, tree-side, around and about the remains of a child’s summer toy. Blown snow on a windshield. Be a gathering snowball.
Faces, gestures, grimaces, portraits of the first twenty-four people you meet. Anything goes.
Fruit, vegetables, groceries, cans, bottles, boxes, seals, ships, sealing-wax, cabbages and kings. Anything goes.
The distance traveled is not important. Speed is irrelevant. Shine up your brain as you go. Drink the air of visual opportunity. Thoughts, ideas, insights, puns, wonders, metaphors. Be patient with your path to the end of your roll.
Creative futures are built from spaces such as this. The human mind is its own Nikon. Its shots are to be rethought and bred again. We do not run out of images. Images breed.
PS: “You need to create pathways in your consciousness through which the creative forces may operate.” (Julia Cameron) “In solitude, where we are least alone.” (Lord Byron)
Esoterica: This is a small commitment and a doable exercise that builds a habit. What you make will differ from all others. What you put into the can need not be brilliant. It is enough to be on the path. If you feel like duping or jpegging your experience please send them to me. Give us the date and time. We will archive here, maintain the integrity of your set, and figure out a way to publish a selection on line.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
A camera without limits
by Michael Chesley Johnson, Timberton, NM, USA
A digital camera is an excellent option for this exercise. A digital camera frees you from the intimidation of the costs of film and development. I use my digital camera just as you suggest: “Today, I am going to take photos. Nothing but photos.” I’m limited only by the capacity of my memory chip and, ultimately, by the 40 gigabytes of my computer’s hard drive. I go wild.
How piqued were our senses!
by Disa Hale
In Kauai my friend and I booked into a photo workshop. Two photographers, both professors from the U of Honolulu, were doing a one-day workshop at a local resort. We did that very thing. Right after lunch, we “meditated” for about 15 minutes, quietly picked up our equipment (they provided an instant type of slide in black and white, which we could each develop like a Polaroid the same day) and went individually, not talking or communicating, into the gardens and down pathways. What pix we came up with. How piqued were our senses! When we put our slides up for viewing, everyone was ooing and awing. It was great. Glad you reminded me, I will do that again soon.
by Bill Rinck, Independence, MO, USA
On the subject of changing perception: Arthur Deikman is a psychiatrist who has been working with meditative-like exercises for about 30 years. People looking at a blue vase repetitively over time reported that color became more vivid and perceptions were altered. His experiments are listed at the site below and are well worth reading. http://www.deikman.com/experimental.html
Looking in the right direction
by Thomas Luckwaldt
Indeed, your bit on “observation” is indeed the way of the camera/photographer. I spent three days on Hornby Island, on Canada’s west coast, combing the beaches. I went through several roles of film, with both cameras. I believe the ratio, for me personally, is about one interesting and outstanding picture for every 20 photographed. Although I have at least 10 photos which I am proud of, out of everything “observed” and shot on that island, I have only the one that I recognized the moment my eye caught the shot. Enclosed is a result of my opened mind, at the right moment, looking in the right direction.
by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada
A small digital camera is something I have in my purse or pocket at all times. The camera is a Canon digital Elf S300 and measures about 2″x3″. I recently took it into a bookstore and found so many images everywhere it was quite overwhelming! I asked the owner’s permission before I started shooting but sometimes I secretly photograph all sorts of things in a variety of locations.
by Larnie Fox, San Francisco, CA, USA
A Dicewalk is a way of moving through an urban or town environment in a random way. The randomness allows for movement through areas that one would ordinarily not venture into and surprising discoveries.
The basic premise is that you roll a die each time you come to an intersection or side street or byway. You must have a clear idea of what your options are before you roll. If the die brings you into someplace that you would rather not be, or if you are satisfied with your walk ~ put the die in your pocket and go home.
(RG note) You can find out about Dicewalk by going to http://www.infoflow.com/larnie/dicewalk/index.html
The family you might never meet
by Julie Thompson, Spanaway, WA, USA
I know of many people who treasure the artwork created by family members who have passed on. I’m certainly one. My great-grandfather’s avian watercolour paintings are my pride and joy. They were painted more than a century ago, and they hold places of honour on my walls. I recently re-matted and reframed them, putting them behind UV protective glass to preserve them even further. I know the stories behind some of them, what inspired them, how and why they were created. It was his artwork hanging in my Grandmother’s home that inspired me to art when I was young, and now they inspire my own children. Sure, paint for the moment, paint for yourself, enjoy what you do… but don’t discount the significance of your artwork and what it may mean to your loved ones. Those paintings could very well be considered treasures to family you might never otherwise meet.
I can do it
I am an oil painter at heart and for thirty years but am now into the digital world. I have many digital photo manipulations I have done this past month. I put everything together from a series of photographs. I get so frustrated on trying to find work, that I went this route. The world wants photo-realism which is why I started the venture. I have been a photographer for 20 years also. How can you be an artist and not a photographer, kind of goes hand in hand.
Do you know anyone who could use my talent? And, do you know what I should charge per picture manipulation for someone when done with their request? I can put anything together from you on the moon, with waterfalls, it is too numerous to mention. Whatever one can think, I can put together with taste and professionalism.
Where do I want to go?
by Bruce Meisterman, Germantown, TN, USA
I realize I have been chained to my work: promoting, taking commissions, networking and often losing sight of my work. I need the stimulus, the mental incentive to get off my butt and shoot. That usually translates to new environs to explore. Insight can only come after outsight and exploration happen. Surrounded by what is familiar and safe dulls me. I think that as a species, both artist and human, we need to experience the new, the foreign, that which makes us uncomfortable, to receive that mental incentive that provides our inspiration to create. Unlike a company that offers incentives to employees to perform to a desired level, we must build ourselves through experiences to create the need to understand and then ultimately achieve more insight. So, I will get in my car with my equipment and a lot of CD’s and go. It is and will be as much an artistic journey as it is spiritual. I need to look outward so I can look inward again. The question is not so much what do I want to learn, but where do I want to go?
Mailing list stolen
by Sandy Wisecup, Spring Glen, Utah, USA
My mailing list was recently stolen by another artist. There are many names on my list of people who do not have their private addresses publicly available — doctors, lawyers etc. I have been contacted by some already who are curious as to how the other artist has their address. I feel violated and feel I have violated the confidence of my collectors. This was done without my knowledge or permission in a very underhanded intentional manner. I’m not seeking legal advice. I suspect it is only considered an unethical situation. I am in need of suggestions how I should approach him and the gallery he has also given the list to?
(RG note) “Sharing, sharing, sharing,” is a Cub Scout motto in these parts. In the case of mailing lists sharing has to be on your terms. Artists can spend a lifetime building a list, and to have it taken and used without permission is not playing by the rules. A list such as yours is actually private intellectual property. While it’s a bit like bolting the barn door after the horse has taken off, you might try an honest up-front approach to the artist and the gallery and ask them to cease and desist, give it back, etc. This could be in their long-term interest as integrity and decency go a long way on the jungle telegraph. It’s remarkable how gallery dishonesty, when it occurs, gets out and around, can haunt a gallery for years, and make potentially lucrative artists wary.
Your experience is further evidence that all artists ought to guard their connections to prevent them from slipping into the wrong hands. In aiding some galleries at showtime, for example, it’s a good idea to send out invitations to your own people yourself. Unless it’s your willing, it’s quite easy to let your precious list be used for other purposes. When I have lent my lists to artist colleagues I have clearly stated that this is a one-time use only. I get them to swear on a stack of early National Geographics. No one has ever let me down.
Insurance on artwork
by Rita Walters
A local gallery owner is interested in my portfolio and would like to meet with me on Saturday to sign a contract. This is the first time that I have ever had my paintings represented in a gallery and I want to make the right decisions. One thing that I have been struggling with is the issue of insurance for my paintings. The gallery owner told me that he expects the artists to be responsible for their own insurance… is that the norm? My insurance company will not extend my home insurance under any circumstances and suggested that I get business insurance separately. This seems to be a very costly move and I was wondering if most artists experience this, and if there are any other ideas/suggestions that you could offer for this dilemma. This being the very first time I have shown my work… I have no idea if I will sell anything. I feel lost! I am tempted to make the deal minus the insurance. What should I do?
(RG note) Put the whole idea of insurance out of your mind. When they start selling for big bucks you can consider it. Insuring a moving inventory of paintings is tricky, expensive, worrisome, and not much fun. Besides, even though you put your heart and soul into them, they’re not worth a plugged nickel until somebody buys them. You should see if they’re salable first. Let the gallery’s customers do the insuring after they have them on their walls. In the meantime concentrate on your work. I would be much more nervous about any contract you might be going to sign.
Teaching the joy
by Penny Soto, Pollock Pines, CA, USA
I love teaching art. All my happiness comes out through my private students. All my excitement shows through and with them. All my worries come out through them. All my future success, happiness, trials, errors, education, and their success are so important to me. It is part of my being an artist. I don’t think I could be happy if I just painted. That’s why I went through the torture of Art School and illustration. I look at my future being able to learn more and more, and I want my students to do the same. I want them desperately to become great artists and have satisfaction for themselves. The ups and downs of painting are hard for them to conceive. I want to teach them that, but I also want them to enjoy the process — every day.
Unpleasant personal remark
by Nancy Gould, Prince Rupert, BC, Canada
I confess I didn’t go to the “erotic art show” until after I read about readers dropping your email letter. After all, I too wanted to know what all the fuss was about (you did give everyone fair warning). Now I’ve witnessed the topic of concern first hand and the only thing I have a problem with is not the art show at all. I do however have a problem with your white socks. Now please don’t drop me for having said that. Thanks so much for keeping us thinking and feeling.
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