Scotland : Senses & Perception Kickstarter Project

Today I launched a Kickstarter project to create a photo book (and other rewards) about how our senses & perceptions influence our photography and art (not just for photographers), showcasing the stunning and mysterious landscape of Scotland, which I’ll be visiting this summer.

Rewards for backing this project range from postcards mailed from Scotland, photographic prints, one-on-one photography instruction time with me, an 80+ page signed and numbered limited edition hardcover book, to a 4-day Idaho photo trip.

Please have a look at the project and support it if you can, at whatever level. If you can pass it on to your friends and any others who would be interested, I would appreciate it. Thank you!

Project Backers to date

A thank you to the supporters of this project. Unfortunately, it did not get fully funded. I initiated a second round at Indiegogo.com, and set it up to receive all funds contributed. I’ve detailed that effort in another post.

Steve
Michael Rolig
Barbara McClain
James Bishop
Betty and Ken Rodgers
David Young
Robert Vestal and Jyl Hoyt
Ben and Marcia Cartledge
Michael D. Margulies
Linda Lantzy
Marcia Morris
Bader Alawadhi
Diane Ronayne
Shari Hart
James R Cummins
Connie Gibbons
Kathleen Fitzgerald
Clarence H King III
Leslie & Gary Green

February – May Workshops

This is the year to dive deep into your creative process, to explore and discover what makes you tick and what excites you as a photographer. 2015 is the Year of Why. I’ll be offering a series of what I call Why Workshops where we’ll explore how we use our senses to be more aware of and find meaningful subjects to photograph, how our senses and perception affect what and how we photograph, and what it is about us as individuals that inspires us to create what we do. Join me for one or more of these workshops for February – May. More information and registration on my Workshops page:

Practical Smartphone Photography
January 31
February 9
February 21

Basic Photoshop & Bridge
February 6

Senses & Perception: Portland, OR
March 6 – 8

Central Oregon Coast Workshop
April 14 – 21

Senses & Perception: Oregon Coast
April 22 – 24

Senses & Perception: Columbia River Gorge, OR
April 25 – 27

Senses & Perception: McCall, ID
May 8 – 10

Fall 2015

Scotland: Isle of Skye & Highlands
October 5 – 17

Upcoming Photography Workshops

These upcoming workshops are as much about helping you think about and consider your subject, yourself, your goals, as they are about technique and camera operation. I’m going to encourage you to push yourself, extend yourself, challenge yourself to do something different and interesting, to explore for yourself what it means to you to be a photographer. Join me and let’s see what happens.

Workshop Details and registration

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HDR Photography: Idaho City, Idaho September 20

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Senses & Perception: the Alvord Desert of Oregon September 27 – 29

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Long Exposure Photography: Payette River October 11

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Landscape Photography: Stanley, Idaho October 18 – 21

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Oregon Coast (optional Columbia River Gorge extension) November 7 – 14

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Senses & Perception: Isle of Skye August 3 – 9, 2015

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Senses & Perception: Highlands & Skye October 5 – 17, 2015

Scale in Photography: Space

This is part one of a two part discussion of scale in photography, starting with Space.

First, let’s define scale. For this discussion, scale refers to the relative size of things and the perception of detail. A pencil is a small scale object while a car is a relatively larger scale object and a tree on a larger scale still, etc. As with a map, small scale refers to a greater perception of detail (the stamens and pistils within a flower) while large scale refers to wider coverage and less detail (many flowers within a patch in a meadow).

When Space is mentioned and we’re talking about photography, we usually think of how elements are arranged relative to each other in a composition, and how that arrangement creates the illusion of depth. We might also consider negative and positive space. But space is more than what appears in our photograph and the methods we use to manipulate it in a two-dimensional image. Space encompasses us, our movements, our perceptions, our actions, and influences our photography. In this newsletter, I’m going to describe space in terms of our body and our senses.

We generally live within a small space (our individual body, our house, neighborhood, city) relative to all possible spaces (our state, country, continent, planet, solar system.). The activities of our lives are also contained within a certain space, with more specific activities (more influence) occurring at the smaller scale (body, family, home) and becoming more general and less specific (less influence) at larger scales (city, state, country, world). It’s easier to contemplate a smaller space because there are fewer and more familiar elements and interactions to consider. Though, think about some specialists, like physicists, architects, and astronomers who look at and understand their (our) world differently from most people because of their familiarity, knowledge, and experience with spatial scales very different from everyday life. These specialists even view the world differently from other specialists, based on the space occupied by their subject of interest; physicists with subjects measured in billionths of an inch, architects in hundreds or thousands of linear, square, or cubic feet, astronomers in millions and trillions of miles. Our understanding and perception of our personal relationship to the space around us, often called our environment, helps influence how we create our photography.

Two types of spatial perception are proprioception and exteroception, terms defined in 1909 by Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, a Nobel laureate neurophysiologist, histologist, bacteriologist, and pathologist. Proprioception, which means “one’s own individual perception”, is the small scale awareness of our body movement from the actions of muscles, tendons, and joints, the sense of the relative position of the various parts of our body, and their position/orientation in space; whether your body is moving or still, which body parts are moving or still, where your body parts are in relation to one another, and the strength of effort necessary to move or be still. Our brain constantly monitors our muscles consciously and unconsciously (mostly unconsciously and automatically), adjusting their position, tone, and motion to maintain balance, grip, support, and movement. One example of proprioception, or body awareness, is learning to drive a manual transmission car. At first, we are very conscious of our body position – feet, legs, hands, ears, eyes, arms, head – as we try to coordinate the movements of clutch, gas, gear shift, with our ears listening to the engine and/or eyes looking at the speedometer or tachometer, while maintaining awareness of the road ahead. At first, the operation is clumsy and we wonder how we’ll ever be proficient. But, after practice we eventually perform the relatively complex movements automatically. Our body is aware of its position and the actions needed to perform the task. We reach for and move the gear shift without looking at it, and our feet find the right position on the gas and clutch pedals and know how to operate them in sequence, often even in cars we’ve never driven before.

Exteroception, meaning external perception, is the large scale awareness and perception of the outside world through stimuli originating outside the body. Exteroception is accomplished through our primary receptive senses such as sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Through these senses we gain awareness, understanding, and experience of the environment around us – the temperature of the air, the texture of the ground, the smell of a marketplace, the colors of fabric, the metallic taste of ozone in the air during a thunderstorm.

An example of proprioception and exteroception working together, using the car example, is how we’re able to know where the boundaries of our car are, even when we can’t see them. We instinctively know where the front bumper or rear bumper are relative to our position in the driver’s seat, how long our car is and how wide, even its maneuverability. We visualize the space it occupies on the road and can judge fairly accurately whether it will fit between two lines or two objects or not. We’re able to manipulate the controls of the car easily without thinking of hand and foot positions, and maneuver the car through sensing it’s position in space. This type of awareness is sometimes referred to as body thinking.

How does this apply to your photography? Increasing your awareness beyond your immediate surroundings, beyond just what you’re looking at, beyond the elements you’ve selected to compose into a photograph, you stop simply viewing and begin experiencing. You begin purposefully monitoring where you are in space, in your environment, instead of cruising through on autopilot. As with the car example, your body awareness and external awareness merge, you know how to manipulate the camera controls instinctively, you’re aware of your surroundings, you stop being a photographer documenting a scene separate from what is occurring and become part of the composition itself. Photographer Sebastio Salgado describes it as “There comes a moment when it is no longer you who takes the photograph, but receives the way to do it quite naturally and fully.” Zen and Taoist practice calls this a part of Great Understanding, which is different from, but related to, other “modes” I’ve covered such as Flow and Being in the Zone.

It all comes down to being more than a spectator, more than simply an observer or recorder of things we find in front of us, more than the knowledge of aperture and shutter speed, depth of field and perfect exposure. It’s the combination of all these things not in a confined bubble closely surrounding our body, but in a limitless space in which we move and think freely and are aware of our environment. When I’m standing in the forest looking for a subject to photograph, I sense the ground under my feet, the air moving across my skin, the light entering my eyes, the sounds coming from near and far, the movement of trees, grass, shrubs, the texture of mountains and clouds, the sound of water in a stream or river. I imagine how the trees and rocks are rooted into the ground. I sense the distance between myself and my car, other people I’m with, the nearest town or city, and road. I may not see anything interesting right away, but I might hear something interesting in the nearby stream or river, the rushing of rapids or banging of rocks, and go investigate.

Everything exists in space. We continually expand and contract our awareness of what exists in the space around us, sometimes contracting space to the point of becoming completely unaware. Through practice, you will arrive at a comfortable awareness space you can maintain all the time, and expand or contract it at will. I’m pretty certain when you become more body and world aware, you’ll experience more enjoyment in your photography (even if you aren’t “successful” in getting that great shot) and get better shots. Try it.

Creativity

fertilityV.jpgCreativity: So, where does it come from? Is it inherent or learned? And, if it is learned, can it be taught or is it merely discovered and nurtured through guidance? I lean toward creativity being inherent, only most of us tend not to notice we have it. Creative inspiration comes from many sources though primarily from our own experiences, past, present and future (future experience being what we hope/dream/plan. How we perceive our future impacts how we feel and what we do in the present). We’re certainly influenced by what we see others do, adapting someone’s perception to our own, sometimes outright copying or “appropriating” (what a nice word that also means “plagiarize”). Mostly, creativity seems to be an internal force, maybe a 7th sense. It’s definitely a means of communication different from sound, sight, taste or touch, yet incorporating elements of each as well as something more.

When I first started getting serious about photography, my mode of thinking was like most everyone else in that same situation. I read several articles and books that differed in their response to the question “where do I get my inspiration from?”. Many of them recommended looking at what others were doing and either to emulate them or take their vision and modify it. Very few said “do what comes natural” which is what I really wanted to do. After more thought I decided that doing what came natural to me would be both more personally satisfying and open up more avenues to be truly creative rather than just mimicking what was already out there. I have to say that I’m not there yet, it’s possibly a longer road than emulation, and along the way I’ve probably copied several artist’s works without realizing it. mystery.jpg I used to not read art books or look at what others were doing, just so I wouldn’t be unduly influenced. By not looking at other stuff, I could be assured that what I was coming up with was not based on something I’d seen, but on my own creativity, my own vision. Eventually, though, I started looking at magazines, books, the internet, not so much to get ideas but now to compare what I was doing with what was out there. I saw, and still see, quite a bit of work that blows me away. Dedication has a lot to do with creativity. Time and effort spent experimenting, technical knowledge, life experiences, simple contemplation, all come together like a recipe made from scratch, sometimes appearing easily, other times being forced out or dragged out then hammered into shape. 6681.jpg

Creativity has everything to do with how we see, perceive, and experience the world around us. Our vision, a biological process involving photons of light energy refracted and focused onto nerve endings then decoded by our brain, is selective. Millennia of evolutionary change has not completely dulled our visual perceptions, but our lifestyle has. Our brain is more or less hardwired to respond to situations that might either pose a danger or benefit to ourselves.

Back in the day, our simple lives were centered around eating or being eaten. We tended to be more aware of our surroundings, paying attention to subtle clues and cues, always vigilant for predators, prey, or food. Our current lifestyle (at least in developed countries) does not necessarily require us to take advantage of any situation. We are not always looking for food or running away from being food. We have jobs, supermarkets, traffic lights, fences, policemen and military, government, tailors and seamstresses, butchers and bakers, auto repairmen, plumbers, pilots, and preachers all taking care of us, helping us cope, doing some of the work needed for our individual selves to survive. That leaves us to daydream, worry about relatively insignificant things, listen to music, get into a routine. That routine, traveling the same path day after day, passing the same buildings, driving the same streets, encountering the same people, becomes familiar. Familiarity leads to complacency. We stop noticing what’s going on. nevadayellow.jpg

In the present day, we tend to only notice (or be aware of) those things that are a holdover from the tundra, those events that effect us directly in terms of food or being food (or personal danger). Lights and sirens, smoke, loud bangs or shouts, bright colors, someone standing too close or staring, certain smells, certain types of touching, certain movements of things, like trains, cars, airplanes. The rest of the environment is ignored. Common things, cars, people, buildings, weather, all meld into the background noise of our routine. Our senses are dulled, our awareness is stifled. Consider the nightly news and other television entertainment. Shocking stories, outrageous acts get our attention. The Discovery Channel used to be about education and learning, now it’s about celebrity and extremism. Creativity can be stifled by too much information, too much going on. We are inundated by new technology, iPods, Tivo, cell phones, email, the internet, natural disasters, the economy, digital photography, Photoshop, instant gratification, short attention spans, terrorism, urban growth, the list goes on.

Sean Kernan, in the January/February 2006 issue [Vol. 47 No. 8] of Communication Arts says “Right now we are all like seasick passnegers on an ocean liner who just want the damned boat to stop rocking. There is too much that is new in our lives, and little of it is good. Stiil, instinctively, we know that the only way out is forward. And this stasis will end thanks to something new that stands out against the field of the familiar…the way to move forward is to be new ourselves, to free up our seeing and thinking so we will not miss the turn on a new road forward.” BPI201.jpg

Creativity can be learned, I believe. It’s the individual that needs to make the first move, to regain awareness of yourself as well as the environment around you, and how you fit into, relate to, and move around in it. Doing that requires some amount of work and effort. Look at the bottom of this post for a short list of good books. Take a workshop not on technical aspects of photography or art, but purely on creativity. Take a workshop for an artform you don’t currently do, like acting or painting or pottery. Expand your horizons. Read, fiction, non-fiction, trade magazines, popular magazines, comic books. Go to museums. Visit your state capitol and other historic buildings and actually look at the architecture. Listen to your family. Go to the mall and just sit and watch people interact with one another, watch their behaviors and gestures. Go to the woods, desert, ocean and just sit quietly alone, listening, opening up your senses to your surroundings. Imagine.

Photography (art in general) can be a limitation to awareness. When you’ve been looking at the world in snapshots (“That would make a great picture”, “That’s the painting I’ll do next”) we, like the camera, eliminate what is going on around us. Sometimes it’s helpful to put down the artist tools, put away the artist. And just be.

References:

Phillipe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro. 2001. The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing. Ten Speed Press

David Bayles and Ted Orland. 1993. Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking. Image Continuum Press

Andreas Feininger. 1973. Principles of Composition. Amphoto Press

Ansel Adams. 1983. Examples: The making of 40 photographs. Little, Brown & Company