After several years of drought, we are finally having a normal winter in the Bay Area. Rainy weather moved in last week and the sky has been a cauldron of murk ever since. Between storms I took Holden out exploring. Trying to catch a little sun, we drove up one of the steep hills on the edge of town and then took a walk on a ridge-top fire road. We climbed above the fog and stopped to watch the bands swirling mist float across the valley — or more accurately, I took photos of the wind-blown fog while Holden threw clods of dirt.
I think this quiet photo does a good job illustrating what my photography is about now. This photo is Dave’s photography late 2014.
1) Referencing other art — When I can, I use techniques perfected by painters or other photographers. This picture borrows from the tradition of Chinese landscape painting. Like Chinese Scroll Painting I use the fog to create a feeling of depth. Mount Diablo looks all the more substantial and serene because the fog creates a strong figure ground relationship. Foggy landscapes naturally lend themselves to this ancient technique. In other situations I will borrow the techniques of different artists. With my street photography I emulate everyone from Atget to Winogrand. If I’m taking landscape photos on a cloudy day I think of Andrew Wyeth, on a dramatic day I look to Ansel Adams. When I take architectural photos I reference Shulman and Sheeler. And, if I’m taking engagement photos, I might reference a Disney princess movie. Good artists borrow and great artists steal (quote stolen from Steve Jobs, who lifted it from Picasso, who lifted it from TS Eliot, etc…). Do I worry that I won’t have a unique voice, that my photos will all look derivative? No. I’ve found that my personality, for better or worse, can’t be pushed out of my photos no matter how hard I try.
2) Ambiguity — Photography has a special relationship with reality. On a basic, subconscious level most people feel that photos represent reality, but our thinking brains know photos lie. We know photos don’t tell the whole story yet there’s still that persistent feeling that photos are real. This foggy hillside photo dances on that fine line of reality. Every mother’s instant reaction to this picture is, “Oh my god, he’s going to fall!” But no, that feeling of danger is a trick of perspective. That’s not a cliff. You can’t see it from this angle but there is a flat berm just below the edge of the road, and then below that, the hill gradually recedes. My son wasn’t in danger, but it certainly looks that way. Adding another level of ambiguity to this photo is the way the road climbs into nothingness as it moves out the right side of the frame. Like a late expressionist painting, the perspective of the road is slightly warped giving it a feeling of floating in empty space. And the biggest ambiguity, without that introductory paragraph, we wouldn’t know what’s going on here. Why is this little kid standing alone in the middle of nowhere? Without any context, this photo could be fit to many different stories. I enjoy making pictures that remind the viewer that maybe they don’t always know the full story, maybe photos aren’t all that trustworthy.
3) Strong Composition in a Snap — I’ve been practicing photography for twelve years and the skill I am most proud of is my ability to recognize a strong composition almost instantly (plus, if I miss one who’s there to tell me I missed it?). This photo, like much of my recent work, wasn’t planned. With my son busy playing with rocks and dirt I climbed up the hill next to the road to see if the view was better. I kept a close eye on the boy, and even though I wasn’t thinking of making this photo, the second he moved into place my subconscious knew the shot was a winner. I lifted the camera to my eye and “snap”. I couldn’t improve the composition if I tried. The tree on the lower left and the storm drain form a visual seesaw with my son as the fulcrum. This creates some tension in the frame and the road acts like a support beam holding everything together. The fog and distant hills add a sense of enormous depth. Noticing these compositional elements was strictly an unconscious act. My lumbering, conscious brain doesn’t think that fast. Only after the photo is snapped does my conscientiousness catch up and I realize what I have. This unconscious, instant recognition is the reward for years of practicing and studying the work of masters. Now, I trust my instincts. Most of my best shots are taken by feel more than thought. It wasn’t always that way. This skill only developed in the last couple years. Training the unconscious brain takes 10,000 hours they say.
4) My Core Philosophy — If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to visit my photography manifesto, my core philosophy. This photo complies with most of what I wrote. There are details, a time stamp, and thoughtful framing. I won’t bore you by repeating everything I wrote there. Go check it out.*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!