Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I am unsure how to start this blog post. It's been a while since I wrote something meaningful. I don't know if this post is going to be 'it'. But we will see where this goes.

I've been working hard on the logging series. Since spring came along, I've driven to quite a few locations in the foothills to witness, first hand, the devastation in the headwaters of our rivers. Sometimes it depresses me so much, I need to get away from it all and photograph something pretty.

So let me ask you this: "What is beauty?"

To me beauty goes far beyond the sensible image. Beauty is a combination of excellence in shape, form, colour, tone. But also a combination of feelings, emotions, reactions, concepts, philosophies and a number of other things. At least for me. The subject I photograph doesn't need to be beautiful perse to be beautiful to me. Beauty is, an inner, mental awareness of something or someones qualities and not a pure physical, outward thing. It's funny. Years ago I photographed nothing BUT beautiful postcard scenes. If you'd ask me how I feel about that work today, I would answer that with words like 'empty' and 'superficial'.

Take this photograph for example.

I made this a few months ago but just developed it on Sunday. To me this is an absolutely gorgeous scene. How the light reflects of the top of the sand bluff. How the shadows reveal their secrets on a second look. How soft the edge of the hard shadow is on the eroded sand on the bottom. The play of light and shadow basically throughout this photo. The little sand fall on the left that you only notice when you go in deep. The ripples, the textures, the form and shapes, cracks and fisures. This has to be one of my favourites of this year so far.

And yet. Nobody sees it.

You know why? Because it is a quiet photo. It doesn't blast you in the face with 'look at me'! It requires a kind of acquired taste. Like either you love or you hate blue cheese. I am in the last category by the way. No correction, I am worse than that. I haven't even tried blue cheese. Not one hair on my head (there aren't many left) thinks trying blue cheese is a good idea. I mean, if you think of what blue cheese is! It just grosses me out. But then again, maybe I am missing the beauty of blue cheese. And that's my point. You can't dismiss something because you haven't tried it.

99% of you will walk by this and simply don't see the potential. But when you are curious enough you will start to see and discover different things. More and more my work is starting to be a reflection of the inward me. And producing meaningful work, other than showing beauty, has become a very important and new goal in my career as a photographer.

Like I said in my first post of 2015 (the post about my 2015 goals) I am spending less and less time on social media. I've unfollowed ALL but a few photographers. Heck, even writing this post right now feels like a cop out to that goal. But thanks to that inward reflection goal and wasting less time on social, I see the world around me a little bit clearer through MY sunglasses. Not yours, not your next social media master photographer, but mine.

Art is about self expression. As I stop following the masses and carve out my own path, it sometimes feels like a very lonely road. A road where nobody understands what I am doing. And why I am doing it for. Sounds dramatic doesn't it? But it is the truth.

Let's go back to beauty. As photographers or artists, we have the ability to show a selection of the world in the way we want to portray it. That is the so-called vision. The above photo is by definition a sad sight. It is a place on the Ghost River that was heavily impacted by the 2013 flood. The protective land tongue that was once there and that housed trees on top of it was washed away. All that is now left is the unprotected sandy soil that was underneath that tongue and that is now quickly eroding away too by the prevailing winds in the valley.

To the untrained eye, this looks like ugliness and not beauty. But as a photographer I saw potential. Standing underneath this bluff (which was about 30 meters high and 70 meters long) I felt the power of the wind and I saw it's devastating effects. I decided to make a more graphical selection of the scene and ended up with a photo that approximately covers 10 x 13 meters.

If you can't find the beauty around you at first sight, create your own version of the scene in your head. That is what vision is. You can say, in this photo, I found that beauty in the ugliness. But to me, this was beautiful to begin with.


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