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Context and Ambiguity

This summer, I set out to develop a better understanding of creativity as it relates to entrepreneurship, but also to my own photography.  So naturally, I’ve probably been less creative. Ironic I know.  I have been reading, a wonderful way to spend the time.  Most recently, I’ve been working my way through Brooks Jenson’s The Creative Life in Photography.  Brooks is the publisher and editor of LensWork Magazine, one of the most important outlets for good fine art photography. I had the pleasure of doing  a portfolio review with him last year, and I’m still working on the lessons gleaned from the experience.  In his chapter on Photography and the Meaning of Life, he rants as I believe he would say about trivial photography, photography that emerges from the psyche of the photographer and more importantly does not involve an effort to say something that will be meaningful to others.  He then offers a simple, but incredibly powerful exercise:  If you had five minutes left on the earth, or five minutes to talk things over with God, what would you say?  (This is a Kindle book, so the page numbers are strange, this “at” Location 1247.)

That’s quite a challenge.  The point he is trying to make regarding photography, I think, is that when an image is displayed, we’re asking someone else to stop and look at it, to take their precious time and give it to the artist.  Is it worth it?  He feels that too often, it is not.  Time to look in the mirror I suppose.  What would I say?  As a trained academic, I would probably try to take up as much time as I possibly could, so I’d probably want to make quite a few points.  One in particular though, is that things are not always as they appear to be.  That we need to stop and look more closely.

It’s rained quite a bit recently and we’ve gone out to photograph regardless.  Once you get used to it you quickly see that the rain causes the greens and reds to appear deeply saturated.  No Photoshop necessary.  The stand of trees here was beautiful. (Click on the images for a better view, particularly if your on one of the retina displays.)

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However, the graphical pattern that makes this stand of trees so beautiful is the result of unwise forest cultivation.  The trees are dead, from Pine Needle Scale, a problem I’ve discussed before.  In reality, most of what we see is actually fairly ambiguous.  Which means that we can interpret things anyway we wish.  Frightening, isn’t it.

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This beautiful country road is the back side of Winsor dam, a massive expression of the sheer will of humans to overpower the forces of nature.

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The boulders along the shoreline are yet another manifestation of engineering prowess, not millenia of tides and waves, at Goodnough Dike.

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And this little guy was hiding out right in the middle of a 2500 ft long dike.  How did he get there? Great question.  And he was not alone.  He had friends as well.  I think he knew what he was doing. Perhaps these images trivialize the point but to state it more clearly, they remind me that we are intimately connected with our environment, an environment that we have shaped and continue to shape.  Everything you see here has in some way been influenced by humans.  It is interesting that a great deal of beauty has resulted from that influence, at least as can be seen at these locations, after a nice rain.  Of course, that’s not always the case, regardless of what some might think.  It is important to understand the context of what we see in our environment.   That’s our job.  Thanks for listening.  I think my five minutes are up.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Nice thought provoking post, James. I’ll have to take a look at Jensen’s book. I’ve often thought about the premise that good photography must have something to say and wondered to what degree that is true. Can the message simply be that an object is beautiful or must there be some deeper meaning? If we are trying to convey something in particular, say the destruction of an algal bloom, yet viewers simply see the beauty of the algae without realizing its destructive nature, have we failed even though our image brought pleasure? Does the viewer’s lack of knowledge regarding pine needle scale mean that the picture fails as they only see the beauty?
    I like the way you have depicted both the country road vision of the back of the dam and the rocky shoreline which is, I think, my favorite (not that there needs to be one) of the four. Tough choice too as I am always frog partial and your pickerel frog is a cutie. 🙂

    August 12, 2013

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