INTERSECT Maui, Hawaii
If you close your eyes and visualize your living room and the various elements within the room, what do you see? A sofa, a coffee table, an entertainment center, a TV, art, and probably quite a number of other elements. Now, let me ask you – which element is the largest in the room?
If you are like most people, your response might be – the sofa, the TV, or the entertainment center. If you think a bit more cleverly, you might say – the walls. What most people don’t recognize is, there is much more “space” than anything else, by far. Physicists tell us that 99.999% of the universe is space – no-thingness. Oddly, science can be so much more bizarre than science fiction! If you removed all the empty space from the entire human race, leaving only electrons and the other subatomic particles, all seven billion human bodies would fit in the space of a sugar cube. That’s just mind boggling stuff, right? But that gives you a sense of how much space there is in relation to form – yet we rarely bring our attention to the space.
With the living room exercise, it points out how we as people are living primarily form-based. That is to say, our attention is always going from one form to the next to the next – whether it be the external forms of the world, or the hyper-active thought-forms continuously flowing through our minds seemingly on auto-pilot. We are form-conscious beings, but is this our natural state? Isn’t it odd that 99.999% of everything is space yet we hardly bring our attention to it?
LONE KIAWE Maui, Hawai
Since I began teaching photography workshops two years ago, I have been working in some of this discussion regarding form/space consciousness, and admittedly, I find it very fascinating. And, relevant to photography! Photography is part science, part art; part technical, part creative; part thinking, part feeling; part form, part space. If you only develop one side of this, then your work will never develop fully, never sing and resonate with a viewer like you may wish. You can see how the typical form-based mindset will focus on technique rather than creative perspective, on thinking rather than feeling. But when someone resonates with a piece of art and is truly moved by it, is it something that the thinking-mind is responding to, or something else? I believe it’s not the mind at all. At this moment when the viewer is moved by a piece of art, the mind quiets and something else is awakened. I call this the “feeling body”. We all have one – it’s that part of us moved by something beautiful or inspiring – a magical sunrise, an epic movie, a fabulous musical piece – it renders us still and quiet-minded. It is within this state that we appreciate artwork, and it is within this state that we make artwork! This is something that is not widely recognized, which is exactly why there is so much photography in the world right now that may be technically sound, but does little to move the viewer to emotion. This becomes one of the primary most important things to recognize in creating evermore dynamic and expressive work – that you have to delve deeper than the technical, thinking, scientific, form-based nature of things and activate your inner creative, feeling, artistic nature.
Elliott Porter said, “The essential quality of a photograph is the emotional impact that it carries, which is a measure of the author’s success in translating into photographic terms his or her own emotional response to the subject.” This sums up much of what I’m pointing at. You can not expect to evoke an emotional response in a viewer when you are not connecting emotionally to your subject. Once this is recognized, then the obvious question to explore deeper becomes – how do I connect more emotionally with my subject? How do I quiet my mind and activate my feeling body?
Compositionally, the technical-seeking form-based mind would love to sit down with a 473 page book discussing every possible rule and theory regarding photographic composition throughout it’s sixty-something chapters. I am sure there are many books like this that you can read and feed your mind with more more more. The mind loves it – form devouring form. It’s important to recognize that this aspect of our selves, the form-based thinking-mind, is never satisfied. It will never get to a point of having enough information and being satisfied with what it has consumed. By it’s very nature, it wants more food for thought.
TWO TIMES Paris, France
Edward Weston said, “To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.” He’s poking fun at the analytical mind that wants to theorize every little minute aspect to composition. Composition isn’t technical – it’s creative. It is not form – it’s space. I definitely come from the same camp as Weston here, and therefore minimize my discussion points on composition to a handful of important things to be mindful of, and to bring greater attention to – not to necessarily think about. One of these primary points is – give equal attention to the ‘space’ and the ‘form’, within a composition. You can see how our tendency is to look at the sofa, entertainment center, TV and other physical elements of our living room; or to look at the palm trees, beach, rocks, and other physical elements to the scene which we are interested in photographing, and to never pay any attention to the space surrounding it all – but, what happens when you give equal attention to the space and the form?
To recognize the space between the hanging branch of a tree and the horizon, or between the line of this rock and a distant mountain – moving your camera position subtly up-down, side-to-side, mindfully making the space around the forms balanced and optimal, clear and concise – is very powerful. The space within our compositions are of equal importance to the forms, and when our attention is equally with both, compositions naturally become more dynamic and successful.
Perhaps it started as space-awareness in my compositions, but it has since spilled over into the rest of my life and I would like to share an illustration. Imagine that you have a negative emotion building within – say, for example, a frustration that arises from being behind a slow vehicle and being unable to pass. Without awareness, the frustration is likely to build and build and before long, is all that matters. You are focused on the frustration and nothing else. At this point, you’re so frustrated that you are murmuring aloud, perhaps to the extent of cursing the other driver. Sound familiar? I imagine we can all relate to feelings similar to this, in one form or another. That feeling of being taken over, where your attention is solely on a thought/emotion and nothing else. This is having a thought-form with no space around it. Imagine that frustration as a grain-of-sand, that has been put so close to the forefront of your attention that nothing else is visible – there is no space. Now, if you take this grain-of-sand, this frustration that is now affecting personal behavior and which holds your entire attention, and you simply start to put space around it – or, in other words, you bring awareness to the space around the thought-form – then you immediately see the energy dissipate. The more attention you bring to the space around it, the more it dissolves. It’s as if you are pulling the grain-of-sand back from being so close to your attention and can now see it as a small little speck of sand, whereas a moment earlier, it was all that mattered, all that your attention was on. Paying closer attention to the space within a photographic composition, or to the space around a thought form – there is no difference. A deepening of attention to space in one stream is a deepening of attention to space in all streams. Space is space.
BRIDGING SPACE San Francisco, California
While technique, camera gear, scientific equations, and 473 page books on compositional arrangements may have their place on the photographic path, it makes up only half the equation. Delve deeper into both sides of making images – the science and the art, the technical and the creative, the form and the space. From here, you may just find that you make images that truly sing. You may just find that the lessons learned in making more expressive, more compelling photographs, are also lessons toward living a more fulfilling and joyful life. Could it be that the no-thingness of empty space holds the most powerful truths for us to learn? What happens when we bring equal attention to the space and the forms of the world? Is stillness found in the space? Is solitude found in the stillness?
This freshly heightened sense of space is presented in my newly released portfolio titled SPACE AND SOLITUDE. This collection of images was made over the past year in locations spanning Hawaii, California, New York, Maine and Paris.