SPACE AND SOLITUDE – BRINGING ATTENTION TO SPACIOUSNESS

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

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?

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

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.

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

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.

SPACE AND SOLITUDEBRIDGING 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.

MAKE FIRE – TURNING A PHOTOGRAPHIC SPARK OF INSPIRATION INTO FIRE

THE WALL  La Jolla, California

There we were on Shell Beach in Southern California’s “Jewel” – La Jolla.  If you consider shorts, t-shirt and flip flops ideal attire, then the mid-August weather was just perfect.  The sweet morning light was just beginning to show herself to those of us eager enough to be awake, which on this morning included myself and seven photography workshop participants who were joining me for one of my California workshops.  Shell Beach seemed like an ideal location to take seven passionate photographers for a sunrise – it’s small and intimate, yet contains many elements that can be arranged well for a diverse style of seeing photographic compositions.  It’s only as wide as a football field, yet both sides lead upward to steep cliffs that stretch out toward the sea, undercut with partial caves on the sides and a scattering of rocks throughout the beach, with a couple large rocks just offshore where pelicans and cormorants linger about.  Having photographed this spot many times before, I knew good compositional arrangements could be made, but of course, it is also quite easy to include too much or too little and fall short of success as well.  So, an ideal setting to place students – a place where they can make it work, or not, and then discuss the why’s and why not’s as to what is working and what is not working in real time.

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DARK COAST – A POEM BY MELISSA EGBERT

I realized today that a piece of writing that my sister had done for me several years back for the portfolio Dark Coast isn't currently visible anywhere.  Unacceptable!  I can't believe I hadn't realized this before!  She wrote me this beautiful piece and I included it in a Blurb book that I had made.  I wasn't overly pleased with the Blurb book quality so never did much with it, and the poem ended up kinda forgotten about.  Sorry, Moose! 

Without further ado...I'd like to present a piece by Melissa Egbert!


DARK COAST

My constant journey leads me to the edge of the shallow seas.  Time passes with each fluid motion of the water and I wait, for someone or something to capture a moment of beautiful illumination.

The dark coast, where birds settle on the guardrails of the pier, erected by ancient pylons, surrounded by crashing waves of salty water brought from the furthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean.  Waves, gentle and anxious, rhythmically invade the coast, then retreat from the sinking sands back into the flood.

I wander the coastline feeling the ocean air as the breeze cools my skin, tasting the salt on my lips.  I've wandered too close to the sea and it tries to pull me in, trapping my feet in the soft sand.  The ocean slips away and in that moment, I feel connected to the transforming world around me.  The world transformed by light and water.  But the moment escapes me like sandcrabs playing and skipping out of my fingers.

As I journey toward the sun, setting in it's night haven, the clouds have surrendered the last of their offering to the earth, and given way to a silent calm.  I walk the coast, ever nearer to the water, until it surrounds me, moving my body to the sway and rhythms it commands.  I feel the serenity of the world pour through me.

The light is leaving but the water remains.

Written by MELISSA EGBERT

SAN FRANCISCO PHOTO WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED

I have announced an “immersive” photo workshop that will be held in San Francisco this summer, August 10th and 11th, 2013.  San Francisco is one of my favorite places to photograph, and I am excited for this unique opportunity to work with 2-3 participants during an exciting photography-filled weekend.  We will focus our efforts on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, dramatic cityscape images, city night images, and more.  More information is HERE.

PHOTOGRAPHING LAVA ENTERING THE OCEAN AND THE VOLCANO IN HAWAII

THE BEING BEHIND  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

It has been on my wishlist for quite a long time to view and photograph the lava flowing into the ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, but for the past few years, the flow has not really been doing much.  A couple of months ago, it finally broke through and is now providing surface activity and ocean entry where visitors can get close and witness this amazing spectacle.  From the National Park side, it is a 6-8 mile hike each way across lava fields, which pretty much rules that option out.  From the Kalapana side, it is approximately 2 miles hike each way, but this side is private property and there is a certain amount of state and landowner control, preventing people from simply walking in on their own to view the lava.  So what is one to do?  Here on Maui, I heard through the “coconut wireless” about a travel company called Poke-A-Stick Tours, that took people out to the lava.  I called and spoke with Cheryl, owner/guide/host extraordinaire, and planned a couple of days with her afternoon sunset hikes out to the lava flow.

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PHOTOGRAPHING ACTIVE LAVA ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII

NEW EARTH  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

It’s 4:30am.  Crazy to think that I’ve already been awake for over an hour – not that I’m thinking, and not that I’m really awake!  But here I am, at Isaac Hale State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii with 20 other walking zombies that look a lot like sleepy tourists, all anxious and curious by the adventure that awaits us.

Captain Shane Turpin and crew of two pull up alongside our gathered group of sleepwalkers in a big truck, towing an awkward looking passenger boat hitched on a trailer.  After some curt dialogue about the what-and-what-not’s to our impending trip, we climb a ladder and board the boat.  The driver then drives us down to the boat ramp, backs us in to the water, and before we know it, we are free from the trailer and moving out past the breakers into the dark sea.

I have my pack full of camera gear with two layers of water resistant protection at my feet.  I’m wearing a fleece and and a raincoat, which keeps me warm in the surprisingly cool morning and does well enough keeping me dry against the waves that are continuously splashing and blowing into the boat and in my face.  My shorts are soaked.  I feel like a Navy Seal going out on a special night mission, but keep getting pulled back to reality by the chitter-chatter of over-talkative tourists.  Isn’t O-dark-early a time for quiet?  I wonder to myself, curious as to how some people can never be still and silent.

45 minutes-to-an-hour later, we arrive at our destination – New Earth, in the form of hot molten lava flowing steadily into the Pacific Ocean, splendidly steaming and smoking and wonderfully beautiful.  Captain Shane maneuvers the boat with effortless ease, to within yards of the lava.  I feel the radiance on my face and legs, and within minutes, the glowing heat dries my wet shorts.  The lava meets the sea at a number of different spots along a 1/4 mile stretch of coast. In some spots, the thick fiery substance slowly drops into the water, and in other spots it’s gushing, as if it is being pumped out of the earth.  It is totally awesome to view this spectacle in the dark of night!

As wonderful as it is to the eyes, attempting to photograph hot molten lava in the dark of night from a moving boat in a rough sea, is completely futile.  I practice patience and wait for the light of a coming sunrise to illuminate the scene while enjoying the moment – which to my delight, has proven to be so powerful of a scene that it has rendered some silence from the tourists.  Amen!

Before too long, the light of day takes over the darkness and I am able to start working with the camera.  The Captain slowly runs the boat parallel to the coast so the passengers on one side are able to view and photograph, then turns back the other way allowing the others the spectacular view.  With this method, you are face to face with the amazing sight, or looking out to sea and the setting of a crescent moon.  During the 5-minute periods of looking out to sea, I review my images and quickly adjust my settings to better capture this dynamic scene.  In the end, there’s probably not more than 10 minutes of optimal light to shoot images while being face to face with the lava.

One aspect of concern is that half-a-dozen times, we are completely immersed in the gaseous fumes spewing out of the planet.  Just 2 days ago, I was told by a guide while hiking into the lava flow on foot, “Don’t breathe that smoke and gas – it will kill you.”  I also remember reading online in my research that it is very dangerous to breathe.  Apparently, I am the only one on this boat that has been told this or read this in my research!  The Captain obviously does not seem concerned, and every time we are immersed in smoke and gas, I am the only one aboard that responds by burying my face and eyes into a relatively protective cocoon I’ve formed inside my fleece and raincoat.  On the occasion I peer out, my eyes burn and I quickly burrow back into my cocoon.  These periods are fleeting, maybe 30-45 seconds at a time, and it’s easy enough to cover up, but it still leaves me wondering, how harmful is this?  If not for me on this one-time experience, then for the Captain and his crew who do this multiple times daily?

Morning has broken, the sweet light is fading, and we make our final pass by the lava before heading back to our starting point.  The seas are a little rougher now, but no one seems to mind much, buzzed with the high of a spectacular experience freshly emblazoned in heart and mind.  To see Mother Nature creating more land, New Earth, right in front of my eyes…what an insanely incredible experience!

EARTH BLOOD  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

HOT WATER. STUDY 1  Big Island, Hawaii 2013

The photo workshop side of my business is growing all of the time and Maui Photo Expeditions has been a lot of fun so far.  I am looking to expand some trips outside of Maui and would love to get over to the Big Island more, so will be actively planning group trips over there.  In the meantime, if you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and would like to discuss a personalized one-on-one workshop like I provide here on Maui, please Contact Me.  I am happy to island-hop over!  See details to my Maui Photo Expeditions HERE.

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.

BIG WINTER SURF HITS NORTH SHORE MAUI

Big-winter-surf-north-shore-Maui-Hawaii

We had our first big winter surf of the year hit the north shores of the islands and here on Maui this week, which inspired me to pack up and get out shooting.  I headed first up to Honolua Bay and explored some possible compositions, while watching the many surfers position for the double-overhead waves that were consistently rolling in.  After checking out a few less-than-inspiring possibilities and feeling a bit crowded with the many spectators, I decided to head south a bit – away from the larger sets that were hitting the north shores.  I stopped at a nearby pullout, jumped the guard rail and headed down a steep slope to the lava rock shoreline and was immediately sparked with some possible compositions.  I stood and watched as a large set came in and definitely knew I could do some work here, so I headed back up the slope to the truck to retrieve my gear.  Over the course of the next hour and until the light had left me in darkness, I shot 32gb worth of images with a couple different compositions.  I kept my exposure times to around 1-4 seconds in order to maintain enough clarity in these 5-8 foot faces, but while adding enough motion to create a more intense dynamic.  With this type of imagery, you really have to shoot shoot shoot, which kinda goes against my style of waiting for the sweet moment and getting the shot in fewer frames.  With that said, you do what you gotta do to get the shot you’re feeling at the time, and in the end, I’m happy with a couple of captures from the night – enough so that I think they may have to be part of my portfolio-in-the-works titled Boundary.

The lesson here – work with your conditions and with your feelings.  It was very dynamic with these big waves crashing against the rocks and making huge splashes 25 feet into the air.  You could feel the impact and were covered by sea spray.  I could have made a 2-minute long exposure and created a more peaceful and meditative feeling image, but that wouldn’t have translated true to my feelings, and to the conditions presented to me.  So, next time you head out to make images, don’t think about it.  Quiet the mind.  Explore around until you find a place that you’re responding to, on an inner/feeling level, not on a mind/thinking level, and then get in touch with your feelings and with the conditions being presented to you.  Then, photograph accordingly.  With this approach, your images will become stronger and more feeling-based, and you will enjoy your time in nature much more than when you’re in-the-head.

MAUI SUNSET PHOTOGRAPH – WORKING WITH THE D800

ABLAZE  Maui, Hawaii

Here on Maui, we have had our fair share of amazing sunsets over the past few months, but it seems I’ve been in a bit of a shooting-slump and have watched most of them without camera in hand.  It’s tough to watch stunning sweet light form in the sky without being out in a position to try and capture it photographically.  The stirring inside murmurs to itself, “should be out shooting…could be getting a great shot…who couldn’t make this light work well…Wow!  this light is friggin’ epic!…why aren’t I out shooting!?“  Continue reading

THREE NIGHT DIVERS IN LA JOLLA

THREE NIGHT DIVERS  La Jolla, California

I was heading out 4 or 5 nights a week into the dark cool evenings of the La Jolla night and photographing with little or no light.  On this particular occasion, I was heading down the street and saw three divers having just loaded on all of their wetsuit and scuba gear, heading for the water’s edge.  I was curious to see what I might be able to capture. Continue reading