SILVERSWORD – REFLECTIONS ON A PHOTOGRAPH

SILVERSWORD  Maui, Hawaii 2015

The sun lowers into the ocean and the sapphire blue sky soon revises itself, deepening in shade first to lapis, then navy, and furthermore to an indigo blue with a deep purple influence.  By this time, my focus was no longer on the atmosphere above, but rather on the volcanic cinder underfoot.  My descent into the depths of the dormant volcano, the Haleakala crater of Maui, was underway.  Beginning from the summit, an elevation of over 10,000 feet, my attention was now solely focused on the few feet of area ahead, being lit by my headlamp.  Of course there was still some attention lingering with the atmosphere, but now it was focused on the cool, dry, crispness moving in and out of my lungs.  “That’s reason enough to hike on a mountain – it results in further attention to breath,” I think to myself, as I navigate my way further down the crater interior, nearly 3,000 feet below.

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PAINTED FOREST – THE RAINBOW EUCALYTPUS TREES – VISION TO EXPRESSION

PAINTED FOREST  Maui, Hawaii 2013

A number of years ago, I decided I wanted to make a successful image or two of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees.  I am aware of a few small groves of these trees here on Maui, and I had my sights on one of them in particular.  These trees are extraordinary.  Beautiful.  Perhaps the most stunning tree on the planet!  Well, no matter – one of the most stunning anyways.  Really, they look as if they were hand-painted by Salvador Dali himself!

As a subject to a successful landscape photograph, this can be very easy to bugger up.  How?  The most common mistake would be to include too much in the scene, allowing these other elements to take away from the trees.  Another aspect that I was hyper-aware of is that these trees have been photographed once or twice before.  Okay, many times before.  I didn’t want to just go out and do the norm, the expected.  I wanted to do something special, something different.  So, I waited.  I resisted doing the norm and getting the standard shot to include into my portfolio, desiring something more expressive and personal.

A couple of years ago, the vision became clear in my mind’s eye.  I visualized a way to capture these trees in a way that was different, personal and of-my-own-style, while bringing the viewers attention solely to the beauty of the trees.  I’d shoot them at night! – while introducing my own light source.  Now, with the image clearer in my mind, it was just a matter of doing the work.

On a few separate occasions, I recruited a friend to journey to the other side of the island, in the dark of night, to assist me in my attempts to bring vision to expression.  On each of those occasions, I came close to my vision.  Sometimes very close, making it difficult to decide whether the images were worthy of releasing into my portfolio and to the world, or if I should work harder and try again.  Each time, after living with the images for some weeks, I ultimately determined that they did not live up to the vision I had.  The work was not done.

My energy waned some, and nearly a year passed before I returned to give it another go, but the idea and vision stayed with me, and I trusted that it was simply a matter of time before it would happen.  Early 2013, while driving home from a shoot, I get to thinking about the trees.  It’s nighttime. I’m in the neighborhood. I’m feeling motivated.  But, I’m alone.  The thinking-mind tries to start talking me out of it:  It’s totally dark.  The shoot will be too tough with no assistance.  What if zombies get me.  And on it went.  As I approached the trees, I was still 50/50 whether to stop or B-line it home: I am kinda hungry.  I still have an-hour drive home.  A glass of wine would be awesome right now.  As the trees neared, the will to shoot won and I pulled the truck over, geared up, and headed out to shoot the trees in the dark of night.

For the next 90 minutes, I worked through the process of making the images, with a goal of making two successful photographs.  From my earlier experiences, I already had a good idea of the look that I was after, and how to achieve it with my painting-with-light techniques.  Nearby cows roaming about in the surrounding fields sure did sound like zombies coming to get me, but I stayed focused and remained mindful to the myriad aspects that would make this work, or not.  Once I felt that I had successfully captured good strong foundations in-camera, I headed home, anxious to see if they would translate to print.

I am happy to say that they do translate well to print, and do represent my initial vision very well!

RAINBOW TREES  Maui, Hawaii 2013

I often speak with my Maui photo workshop students about how to make personal-expressive work, and working through “the process”.  It is important – recognize the path as a process and do the work.  Allowing yourself to have a vision in your mind, and then working backwards from there is an exciting way to work!  Vision to expression.  Working this way, the process of making photographs is very rewarding and the path is a joyful one.

As the world of photography and image making is proliferating, so is the behavior of seeing-and-repeating.  In recognizing and bringing awareness to this, continually look to create work that is more personal, more expressive, and more communicative.  Pass on the obvious photographs and delve deeper.  Ask continually:  What am I feeling?  What am I wanting to communicate?  What do I want to express?  It has been very exciting working with workshop students in regards to this, and bringing it to the forefront of our attention.  Activating the right-brain and bringing balance to the overactive thinking-mind.  It is important to remember – artwork is feeling based, and it resonates (or not) with people on a feeling level.  The more you can approach the work from a personal feeling based place, the more likely you are to communicate that.  The more you are able to communicate that, the more compelling your photography is bound to be.

I look forward to delving even deeper into this with workshop participants in a La Jolla photo workshop I have just announced for August!

WHY MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS? & MINDFULNESS

Winter is my favorite time of the year on Maui.  The weather is perfect, the whales are here in full force, and it’s the busy season!  With that, I’ve been filling up my calendar and keeping very busy and working with many photographers through my Maui photography workshops (Maui Photo Expeditions).  This weekend I had a full day one-on-one workshop with Jim, an IT-guy from Cali.  As a PhD intellectual-thinking type, initially I was concerned.  Could I get all techie for 10 hours?  I wondered, worriedly.  Thankfully, in our first half hour he expressed how he wasn’t looking to get techie, he was looking for assistance on the creative/artistic side of things.  He was looking to me to assist him in activating that other side of the brain that’s not based in thinking, but in feeling.  I could have hugged him!  I mean, it’s not that I couldn’t talk about the technical/craft side-of-photography endlessly with a willing comrade, but I suppose I would rather not.  I find the creative/artistic/feeling-based side-of-things much more interesting, and much more important toward creating more dynamic and expressive work.  With the technical aspects – you learn it well enough to get past it in order to focus your attention on what is going to make your work more personal – mindfulness, presence, space.  And where these topics may at times seem esoteric, especially (I imagine) to the “PhD intellectual-thinking type’s” out there, I strongly believe that it is not the topics of f-stops, depth-of-field, pixel pitch and the like that make images dynamic, but rather the depth-of-feeling, the mindfulness and presence felt through the image that the photographer is communicating, having made the work out of that state.  This is the state out of which images that can move viewers are made, and it is this that I most like to focus on personally, and pass on to others.

Eliot 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 own emotional response to the subject.”


In preparing some of my thoughts before the workshop, I began with a question, and with a look at what I believe to be the foundation to all good work:

Why make photographs?

If you choose to make photographs, then it seems a valid question to look at – Why make photographs?

Whether it is conscious (yet) in you or not, as photographers, we make photographs to express and to communicate.  Once that is acknowledged, then look at that question – What are we wanting to express? ~and~ What are we aiming to communicate?  The more you look at this, the clearer it is seen.  The clearer it is seen, the more personal and expressive the work.  The more personal and expressive the work, the more dynamic it naturally becomes.

As a photographer, you look at things.  You not only look at the world – at the skies and the seas and the forests and the fields and the cities, you look at your self too – at your thoughts and your feelings and your emotions and your tendencies and your habits.  Being a photographer is being one who mindfully looks at things.  Therefore, being a photographer is as much a personal inner journey, as it is a worldly outer journey.  The more one looks at this, the more compelling the work becomes, and the more rewarding the process is.

It is with this mindset that I’d say that mindfully looking at things, or simply – Mindfulness, is the primary most important aspect that we can bring to our photography.

SPEAK TO US OF BEAUTY

  • And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty.
  •    And he answered:
  •    Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
  •    And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

  •    The aggrieved and the injured say, “Beauty is kind and gentle.
  •    Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.”
  •    And the passionate say, “Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
  •    Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.”

  •    The tired and the weary say, “Beauty is of soft whisperings.  She speaks in our spirit.
  •    Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.”
  •    But the restless say, “We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
  •    And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.”

  •    At night the watchmen of the city say, “Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.”
  •    And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, “We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.”

  •    In winter say the snow-bound, “She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.”
  •    And in the summer heat the reapers say, “We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.”

  •    All these things have you said of beauty,
  •    Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
  •    And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
  •    It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
  •    But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
  •    It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
  •    But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
  •    It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
  •    But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.

  •    People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
  •    But you are life and you are the veil.
  •    Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
  •    But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

-Kahlil Gibran.  The Prophet

FIELD NOTES
ISO: 50 @ 1.60 Seconds
24mm @ F/13


THE BEACH

THE BEACH  Maui, Hawaii

“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”

-Rainier Maria Wilke

TIME EXPOSED = 90 SECONDS

 

NATURE – WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Last week I received an email informing me that I was a finalist in an outdoor photography contest, and that they needed the high-resolution image file along with some other information.  Included in this, was the question: why is nature important?  Of course I know why nature is important to me, but I pondered the question further as I was driving up Haleakala to go backpacking overnight at Holua camp, inside the crater.  I was having this overnight getaway primarily for what nature offers me, peace and solitude.  As I made the couple hour drive to the trail head, I listened to Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks, and my thoughts went back to this question when Eckhart spoke about nature, as one of his topics.  Here are some of his thoughts, that resonated deeply with me:

NATURE

“We depend on nature for not only our physical survival, we also need nature to show us the way home, the way out of the prison of our own minds.  We got lost in doing, thinking, remembering, anticipating – lost in a maze of complexity and a world of problems.  We have forgotten what rocks, plants and animals still know.  We have forgotten how to be.  To be still.  To be ourselves.  To be where life is – here and now.

“Whenever you bring your attention to anything natural, anything that has come into existence without human intervention, you step out of the prison of conceptualized thinking and to some extent, participate in the state of connectedness with being in which everything natural still exists.  To bring your attention to a stone, a tree, or an animal does not mean to think about it, but simply to perceive it, to hold it in your awareness.  Something of its essence then transmits itself to you.  You can sense how still it is, and in doing so, the same stillness arises within you.  You sense how deeply it rests in being, completely at one with what it is, and where it is.  In realizing this, you too come to a place of rest deep within yourself.”

From Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle