Untitled Document

Photogs, shoot from the heart.

I’ve been known to tell people that abstraction for abstractions sake is the manifestation of an artists’ self-indulgence. Randomly splatter painted wall decorations are nonsense. On the other hand, abstraction that grows from somewhere, from something — now that’s beautiful. I don’t believe this ends at the edge of a canvas. “The narrower and more clearly defined the subject matter at the start, the more quickly identified is the “direction in which to aim the camera,” says David Hurn in On Being a Photographer (p. 33). The question is, how do you find the precise, pinpoint focus from which to abstract? How do you settle on a subject? According to Hurn, “…the photographer is, primarily a subject-selector” (p. 31).

Hurns and Jay suggest that photographers carry notebooks in which they should compile an ever-evolving, unabashed list of interests, fascinations and obsessions with honest disregard for photography. I love this idea. Once this list begins to grow, the photographer should start the process of categorization — eliminate things that aren’t visual; eliminate things that are practical; focus on the remaining few that have wide interest to a mass audience. Here is where you find the gems of subject-selection.

Lamott echos this idea of free flowing thought in this week’s installment of Bird by Bird, however it’s backhanded analogy is more difficult than previous chapters to translate from writing to photography. She suggests writers spend time free writing — an exercise where a person writes for a set period of time without regard to particulars or details. Then, from this jumbled pile of gunk, you have this material to choose from, to work with, to shape, edit, highlight or toss. When free writing is associated with a photographer’s list of interests, this is a great idea. However, I dislike the idea of a “free photographing” photographer who arbitrarily makes frames of anything and everything in front of them waiting for the story “to emerge” — that gets you nowhere but the cutting room floor. Save yourself time and do some research—on yourself, on your surroundings. Then make frames.

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