Comments Comments Off
Thoughts & Theory
Meaning, Story, Emotions…
It’s now only 53 days until the Lumen Dei tour in Kashmir. As I plan out the curriculum I’m back to thinking about the elemental stuff, the cerebral theory stuff which is usually the stuff no one seems to want to talk about.
So, because writing is an actual thinking process and not just a way to record thoughts already thunk, I thought I would put some of my thoughts into ones and zeroes here. If you benefit in some way, more’s the better, as they say.
Much of any aesthetic process is intuitive and comes from the heart, not only the head. Or it does so in the case of good, compelling, true, and beautiful art. The crap that’s out there might come from all kinds of places other than the heart. I digress. However just because a compelling image comes from the heart it does not therefore follow that the head is not involved. In fact the more you consciously understand your medium and are aware of the things you want your photograph to speak about, the better you will be able to employ your camera to capture that vision. The heart dictates the WHAT – what kind of image you create – the mind determines the HOW – how you effectively translate the vision into a still image in the way the heart sees it.
Matt Brandon and I were talking about story this morning and how you begin to capture the elements of story in a still image. When we got down to the basics it was this that stuck with me – every story has a theme, it is ABOUT something. When a friend sees a movie and you say "what was it about?", they generally give you a synopsis of the plot and the players. But they’re wrong. Plot and players are not what a story is ABOUT, they are only elements of the telling of the story. The movie was ABOUT one or more of the themes of our existence – about love, betrayal, justice, anger, jealousy, suspicion, intolerance, hope, beauty, faith in the unseen, loneliness, confusion, loss, grief, the list goes on…
The moment you can identify how you think and feel about a place, a person, a context, and event – whatever it is that you are photographing – the more able you are to begin making a compelling, intentional image. You can then chose your tools – the right lens, the right combination of shutter and aperture, the right camera angle, the right light, the right relationship of subjects to each other – all these things are a means to an end – they are the tools to help you tell your story, convey your feelings about a moment in time and the players that find themselves within the plot at that moment.
There exists, in a photograph, nothing but what is within the frame. Without the frame there is nothing – so the profoundly difficult task of the image-maker is to put as much story, conflict, and emotion into the frame as possible while at the same time removing as many elements as possible in order to tell that story with total clarity. It is to order the elements so the eye of the viewer reads the image in the right order. The task of the storyteller is guide the reader, the viewer, through the image and to come to a sense of those great universal themes. Most of us will only do this well, and consistently, when we begin to think more like a storyteller.
There’s more to a discussion of narrative/story than I want to write here and now. I just wanted to throw this out there. I believe that your photography – no matter what the discipline – will be improved by a conscious examination of the kind of themes you feel most deeply about – the kind of things that make you cry in a movie, that’s a good place to start. It may be told in the glance of a woman in the frame, the empty eyes of two once-lovers, the giggle of an infant, or a solitary tree on a horizon. Once you know what story or theme you want to tell, you’re better equipped to chose the right tools to do the telling.
If you have anything to add to this discssion, feel free – the comments are open.