-12 in the morning, going to work
We have another new writer for you today. This is an article by Jerome Arfouche, who has offered to give us a piece about how to deal with the long cold winter, that saps the creative energy from a lot of us.I hope it gives you all some fresh ideas on how to deal with winter.
So here it is, long nights, cold days, dull overcast skies, the light is poor and scarce, anything is better than freezing fingers and jammed shutters, right ?
I’m no stranger to long and bleak winters, but this winter I’ve decided to keep myself busy, instead of letting my camera collect dust until spring, so I hope some of these ideas will inspire you as well.
nicholas nixon exhibit, boston museum of fine arts
Good weather or a nice trip tend to make us trigger happy, it certainly feels good to burn through film and memory cards, but let’s slow down a little and take the time to review our output from the year. And printing is an excellent way of doing so, mainly for two reasons.
Uploading to the internet is quick and easy, but printing will switch on our inner editor and critic as we have to be much more selective. If you work in serie or with film, make a contact sheet and enlarge it, you will get more insight than you think into how you work, what you see.
By becoming a more discerning critic, you will better the photographer as well.
Second, printing is an inherent part of the photographic process, clicking is only one part of it. If you’re an analog shooter, you’re probably already sold on the whole physical aspect already, but here it is anyway: we are physical beings in a material world and there is something entirely different about holding the product of your creativity in your hands, holding it close, looking at details, holding it far, getting the big picture, walking by it, checking it from angles. Printing will make us see things we didn’t see before, even on the best 30inch monitor out there. Many photographers I know consider that the photograph isn’t “real” until it’s printed, that is until you have something in your hands to see and to show others.
If your main medium is digital, printing is very important for post processing and understanding how things go from the screen to paper and how they look in real life. If you’re a film shooter, printing yourself is a very rewarding experience, something I have yet to do myself, but it completes the cycle that began with an exposure, all made by you from end to end, it is immensely satisfying.
Just as there is no comparing your iPod earphones and the glorious sound at a concert, a few hundred pictures on a hard disk are nothing next to a print. I don’t want you to believe me, be skeptical and try it yourself.
rain and wind, montreal
Second point in the introspective section. Study the work of others, the great and famous, people you know or admire on the internet. Why is this important ? We live in a very visual world and everything we see, even without giving it deep thought will shape our eye in one way or another and I strongly believe there is no such thing as complete novelty in art (or creativity, call it what you like). We are always influenced by someone, even if by wanting NOT to be like them. Study the photographers you don’t like, exercise that critical editor I mentioned above. Why don’t you like it, what does it lack in your opinion ? It is by comparing ourselves and knowing who we are not that we first come to know who we are, and since photography is essentially a form of self expression, that is no different either.
Study your idols and favorites. What works, why ? Keep your favorite books at hand and review them often. Again, why is this important ? By surrounding ourselves with high quality photographs, our mind will absorb all those visuals, digest them and they will become part of our visual language. Just as, immersing yourself in a foreign country, you will start to pick up words and phrases, these will form the basis of our visual style, how we see things. Do not blindly copy, but absorb and recreate.
By getting to know the photographic authorities and references, you will be in turn able to determine where other photographers have found their inspiration and influence, which again benefits that inner editor.
There are numerous sources for suggested photographic books if you don’t know where to start, my latest acquisitions include Peter Lindbergh’s “On street” and Raymond Depardon’s “Paris journal” amongst others.
mount royal park, montreal
Ok enough of this philosophical babble, I’m getting this itch, this urge, I want to shoot something already. Why not start a project ? Bellamy has written an excellent post about this already, so I will just add a few points.
So what constitutes a project? it’s a long(er) term undertaking in which we attempt to tell a story, document something, or perhaps just shoot a coherent set of images around a particular theme. Seeing that we’re not spending most of our time on the street or doing landscapes, we have some more time for such a thing. Seen a place that interests you ? Is there a story you wish to tell and share with the world ?
Aside from the benefit and pleasure of having something to shoot, projects help us in many ways, namely with focus and patience. Pick a subject, one subject, stick to it for the duration of the project. By focusing our attention on one thing instead of doing many things, or rather instead of waiting for photographs to present themselves, we give it our undivided energy and efforts and that already will greatly benefit the quality the work. Patience is another, you will not finish the project in one or two sittings, and even long after you’ve shot what you wanted to shoot, the project continues with the editing process. Some days you will shoot nothing good, some days you will need to start over.
Why not try something you wouldn’t normally do ? Try portraits, or medium format. Start a small collective with some photographer friends.
So what are some ideas ? One photographer I know does indoor candid portraits of friends (and models), his apartment, his car, cafes, bars…any place is good. There are markets, some closed markets will run all year round. Pick a theme, perhaps you want to shoot a subject dear to one of your favorite photographers, like Erwitt’s dogs or Sander’s workers. Long nights ? Why not a special nocturnal theme ? If you live in a city, the nightlife surely won’t stop entirely. Last year’s Street Photography Now Project can also give you ideas, so could Kevin Meredith’s 52 project ideas book.
shoot the cold
This one’s for those looking for an extra challenge. Why not shoot the unshootable ? What is winter to you, long nights ? cold ? show us the cold. Snow ? people all bundled up clinching to their umbrellas ? Big storms ?
Facing the seasonal frustration and making it the very subject of your photographs could be a good way to put yourself out of your comfort zone, if that’s your thing. Last week I spent an hour and a half beating the pavement during a heavy snowstorm, and let me tell you, I saw some very interesting individuals, there is a surprising amount of people out during such weather and not the same type of people I see on a daily basis. On very cold days, the skies tend to be a lot clearer than usual so you get extra sunlight. Just hang the camera around your neck to keep your hands in your pockets, as you walk to work, to do groceries or to visit someone. It doesn’t have to last very long, but just that little something will keep you in contact with the act of photographing, looking around, seeing, coping with different light and weather.
Ok that last one was a bit extreme, unless you’re slightly insane like myself. All this to say that winters don’t have to be entirely dead. Sometimes a small creative vacuum is helpful, it does help to break from it, even while we’re not shooting our mind and eyes are still at work.
And for those living near the equator and wondering what on earth I’m talking about, just keep shooting