Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Thinking Outside the Proverbial Box

I've been taking pictures most of my life. Starting with a Brownie, then an Instamatic. Purchased my first SLR in 1978. Make my living working with photo-manipulation software. I go to galleries and museums and pour over monographs. But still I take classes in photography. Usually I don't learn much new about technique or photographic history, but what it does for me is require me to do projects. Classes force me to pick subjects the teacher wants me to shoot, and shakes me out of my usual fascination with landscapes. It is so easy to get into a rut as a photographer, just shooting the subjects that have always appealed to you, or using the media that you usually use.

Currently I'm taking a class titled, "Exploring Visual Expression". While some of the class is the usual review of photographic history and basic technique, the bulk of the lectures are on visual perception. The text is "Perception and Imaging" by Richard Zakia. Zakia taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology in all aspects of photography. In this book he focuses on the visual processes of how we perceive pictures. While he uses photographic terms the concepts apply to all of the visual arts. You could call it a class in the Gestalt of Photography.

We are also required to do a series of photographic projects using color transparency film. Not my usual medium, and the projects, for the most part, are subjects that I would not normally choose. Yet some of my best work comes when I am forced to think outside the box and start looking at my surroundings in a different way. For example, one of the projects is to find a subject that illustrates the Japanese concept of Notan, or the harmony between dark and light. Think the yin-yang symbol.

Speaking for myself, when given a project like these, I start looking at my surroundings differently than I normally would. As a photographer, I am always viewing the world looking for a good composition, striking light, color and texture. But I'm not necessarily looking at the form of negative space, as these exercises require me to do.

Certainly some of this work will be worth photoblogging here. Maybe some will be worth having a more permanent home at Most importantly, these projects will inspire me to try new things as an artist, and continue a life long learning process.

An Old Dog with a New Trick!

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