Monthly Archives: January 2011

Scenes in search of characters

Visiting Dublin last December, I made sure to include a day at the National Gallery. There I made a new acquaintance – the paintings of Jack B. Yeats. Sure, I had seen some of his images gracing book covers and illustrating chapters on Irish history, but I had never taken the time to explore his images for themselves.

There were many different things that fascinated me about his images; fodder for far more than one blog post. What I want to share here is a series of Yeats’s paintings called Four Scenes in Search of Characters. I could only see one of them displayed in the gallery, and I’ve managed to find only one other online.

So unfortunately I have only seen two of the four paintings in this series, and yet I am very fascinated by the two I have seen.

According to the National Gallery online display linked to above, the images in this series were painted as stage sets. From that comes the name of the series – being intended for the theatre, they are backdrops waiting to be complemented by the characters of a play.

I live here now.I couldn’t help but see the similarity between Yeats’s images and my own experiences when travelling. What else is a hotel room but a blank canvas, a backdrop for the individual experiences of each traveller visiting?

Furthermore I began to wonder how to portray scenes in search of characters with my camera. My images feature people very rarely; my closest friends and family are very camera shy, and I am too shy myself to photograph strangers. So I wonder if I can turn the absence of characters into a photographic strength, into a storytelling feature, a trigger of the imagination?

One image that fits this idea is shown here. This is from my hotel room in Dublin, portraying the feeling I always have that I am more at home in a hotel when some of my things are scattered around, like a book on the nightstand, or, like here, a lipstick and some hairclips on the sink in the bathroom.

This image, then, holds strong memories for me of an interesting weekend spent in Dublin. However, I also see the absence of people and the seeds of a story in it, as if an unknown woman just exited the bathroom after applying her lipstick.

In sum, it all comes down to the ever-present desire to tell stories through photography, a desire I hope shall never leave me.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/85057042@N00/5246741717/&#8221; title=”I live here now. by jennifée {busy but trying to catch up}, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5245/5246741717_74be2ebef8.jpg&#8221; width=”333″ height=”500″ alt=”I live here now.” /></a>

Doors

God never closed one door but he opened another.

Picnik collage

Ever since my contract ran out and I didn’t get a new job at the same place, I have been reflecting a lot on this proverb. I have mentioned before that I am not religious, so I don’t believe in a higher purpose behind the fact that I couldn’t continue in my old job (however much I sometimes would love to believe so). That being said, the lack of religion does not make the proverb any less valid.

I do believe in my own strength and ability to make the best out of what comes.  I am learing more about myself for each day I continue to be unemployed, and I know that my new job, whatever it will be, will teach me something new about the world that I wouldn’t have learned in my old job. So while I regret it that the door to my old office is closed behind me, I will make the best of the path I am on now, and eagerly look forward to stepping through the new door I will come to.

 


Comfort

you are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie you’re in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort there, so tired of the straight line and everywhere you turn, there’s vultures and thieves at your back and the storm keeps on twisting
— Sarah McLachlan, Angel

{113/365} 'Man and Woman'


Eyeopening, part 1

I like to think that I’m a thoughtful person. That I think before I act, consider my options, make deliberate choices. And yet I’ve found, time and again when reviewing my written work, that it is very difficult to be completely aware of your own work when you’re in the process of doing it. Seeing my own writing in the light of a day or two since I first wrote it, always throws up not only typos but a sense of the pattern of the writing: this word doesn’t fit here, this sentence should be shortened, and this point can be made clearer just so.

I’m slowly starting to get a sense of the fact that the same thing holds for photography. I’ve been reviewing my twenty favourite images from the last few months, and certain patterns are emerging in what and how I shoot. This post deals with the more technical aspects – subject, light, exposure, elements of design. Then I hope later to get around to writing a post about the more emotional aspects I’m discovering in my photography – storytelling and so on.

What stands out as most obvious is the inclusion of visible light.  I’ve mentioned before that this is something I’ve been working deliberately to include for a while now, so no surprises there.

When it comes to the subject of my images, I shoot still lifes and details of things for the most part. I have two images of leaves from outside, and everyday items and food from inside. At some point I’ll probably want to expand my repertoire, but at this point, this type of subject is what I enjoy and begin to be comfortable with.

I’ve two images where I’ve experimented with exposure, one that is deliberately too light, and one that is too dark. This is very much something I want to work more with, perhaps especially over-exposure in combination with tangible light.

As for the elements of design, the main elements in my images are shapes and forms. This is not surprising at all, since it follows from shooting still lifes. I also seem to enjoy working with lines. Interestingly, texture and pattern are almost entirely absent from the images I’ve been reviewing – in other words, I really should go out and study these two elements deliberately.

And then – last but not least – there is colour. And there is a lot of it – red, blue and orange especially. I also have a few sepia and black and white images; I enjoy experimenting with monochrome tones when the image seems right for it.

The below image is one of the best examples I have for this post, since it shows much of what I’ve noticed: There’s a strong blue colour. The composition is based on horizontal lines, and the sun is clearly visible.
{94/365} Pic. Winter Day 2: Looking out

And the lesson from all this? Be aware of what and how you shoot. I’m becoming more and more so myself, and enjoying myself so very much in the process.


Sail Away

I’ve been taking photos on and off since I was a kid, first with film cameras and then later digitally. Why have I kept coming back to it? Why do I take photos now, and why has photography become such a big part of my life?

I believe the short answer is that I have always been fascinated by how the medium of photography translates the world around me into a flat image.

As a teenager and in the first half of my twenties, my main motivation for taking photos was to preserve memories, from my travels as well as from important and ever-day occasions at home.

At some point, without really noticing it, I became concerned with the stories my images could tell. Nowadays, the main goal of my photography is to achieve exactly that – images that tell me a story, that, crucially, trigger my imagination by being more than snapshots, more than representations of what I saw.

I’ve always been concerned with stories and storytelling. I learned to read very early, my parents always read me stories at my bedside before I went to sleep, and I have been a voracious reader ever since. As well, I have a huge interest, professionally as well as on a hobby-basis, in mythology, medieval sagas, folklore and fairytales.

From time to time, I come across a story that touches me deeply. As the romantic teenager I was, I got the idea that I would like to repay the world for all those special stories that mean so much to me, in the sense that I might produce something that may affect other people as much as I am affected by the stories I read. This idea has stuck with me throughout the years.

Now, I will probably never be a fiction writer myself. What I have found, however, is that photography may serve the same purpose. So I have an external motivation for taking photos as well, namely the hope that other people will find their own stories in the images I shoot.

Having got a scanner for Christmas, I am in the process of digitalising my old prints. Many of those images are nothing more than snapshots. They are valuable as a reminder of how the world looked back then, but I don’t often bother to scan them. Sometimes, however, I find images that do tell me a story.

I’ve included one of these images below, as an example. This is from the last day of a tall-ships festival in Oslo, probably about ten years ago. I was watching the ships leave the harbour, which is exactly what the image shows. However, this image also speaks to me of departure, of the sadness of those left behind, as well wanderlust, the excitement of setting out on a journey, of sailing away to explore foreign seas.

If my future images speak to me like this ten years later, I know I shall have achieved something.

Sail away


Seeing light

I’m following an online photo workshop at the moment, called Find Your Eye with Kat Sloma. For the first lesson she asked us to shoot an object in different types of light – daylight, sunlight, lamplight, artificial light, and so on, using the camera in auto mode. An interesting exercise; I have experimented with various types of light before, of course, but never in such a deliberate way.

I’ve had confirmed for me two main conclusions:

First, the lighting conditions in this country are difficult in winter.

Shooting in lamplight or candlelight in the evening in my apartment requires a tripod; I need at least 800 ISO to get a non-blurry shot without a tripod, and my camera is old enough that I get a lot of noise in my images very quickly.  We’ve had brief moments of sun this week, but I was not able to seize the moment and do this exercise then.  I love shooting in direct sunlight during summer, like I did for instance here. Shooting in daylight on an overcast day turns out okay if a bit flat.

There’s an interesting mindfulness exercise here as well. I’ve mentioned before that my New Year’s Resolution is to focus more on light. Not only does this resolution make for better photography. Also, I am better able to fight the touch of seasonal affective disorder that always creeps up on me when I get up before the sun and go to bed long after the sun has set. I love the synergy effect here – essentially, getting better at my hobby makes me happier!

Second, I would love to experiment more with flash, on- and off-camera.

The two images I was the most happy with from this exercise are shown below. In both of these I had to adjust the exposure, since the camera underexposed them probably due to the fairly bright paper I chose as background. I have also increased the colour saturation, but not changed the colour otherwise, since the camera reproduced the colours fairly well.

The left-hand image shows the one where I used flash directed towards the necklace; the right-hand image is natural, overcast daylight. I really like the crisp shadows to the left, as opposed to the vaguer and more undefined shadows to the right. The flash also seems to bring out more details and make the image pop in a different way than the more flat image to the right.

All in all, I can only conclude that the key here is experimentation – to continue to be aware of the light and keep in mind which type of light works for what I want to achieve.

Seeing light and correcting colour


Elements of design

Lately I’ve been reading up on the elements of design. My interest has always been with words and writing and language rather than on the visual arts, so this is rather new territory for me. In other words, I have a whole new world of learning waiting for me, which is a glorious feeling indeed.

My first introduction to the elements of design came from Bryan Peterson’s Learning to See Creatively. He distinguishes between six elements: line, form, shape, texture, pattern and colour (others would name other elements). At the moment, these six elements seem to make so much sense to me; the more I look, the more I realise that most of the visual input from the world around me can be broken down into these six pieces.

So far, my understanding of each element is something like this: Line is the most basic. Form is two-dimensional, typically silhouettes. Shape is a form with three dimensions (i.e. the form of a square vs. the shape of a cube). Texture covers shapes and forms; lines, shapes and forms are furthermore repeated in patterns. Colour is everywhere.

And then of course, last but not least, I would include light. Light ties everything together and brings out the visual interest in each of the elements.

I have recently noticed that many of the images that I consider to be my strongest, are photographs that focus on one or only some of the elements of design. As a consequence I plan to continue focusing on specific elements when I shoot. Fence Friday, for instance, is all about lines and patterns. Still lifes are all about forms. Lights out of focus make for gorgeous patterns of circular shapes. And so on.

Some examples of my own favourite photos using (a) specific element(s):

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