exploration with a camera

Always . . . I find that I have to make a conscious and concerted effort to prevent perfectionism from blocking my work by locking me in place. I love to research and learn and practice and plan, but these actions are often forms of procrastination that keep me from the heart of the real work I long to create.

Such is the case with my recent study of the book Zen Camera.

The assignment, in lesson two on awareness, Try: Mirrors and Windows, challenged me to use my camera with different kinds of subjects in order to discover something of my own approach to photography and process of making images.

In this exercise, I am directed to make two complimentary sets of photographs.

Use the camera as a mirror of yourself.

“In the first set, make a self-portrait without using yourself as the subject. You may use concept, metaphor, allusion and suggestion, symbols, or deep resonances with particular subjects. In this part of the exercise, your subject conforms to who you are: your attitudes, values, beliefs, experiences, psychological dynamics, your deep interests, your overall sense of character.”

And in the second set of photographs, use the camera as a window to the world.

“In the second set, the task is to get beyond yourself and make an earnest effort to suspend your attitudes and opinions in an open process of discovery. You want to make a photograph that speaks of the thing itself apart from your opinions . . .”

On balance my images are mostly reflections of me. It’s not that I don’t use the camera as a window, but I typically position that window based on some bias I have as to which subjects are worthy. Here’s where the perfectionism comes into play. I sometimes don’t want to “waste” my time taking a photograph that I am pretty sure isn’t going to be successful. And yet, here’s the rub . . . how can I learn without making mistakes, without exploring, without curiosity?

I jumped in to the second set of images, using the camera as a window to the world. Trying not to overthink the assignment, I gathered a few plants from my yard. This time of year, the gardens have been mostly put to bed, with only the dried heads of coneflowers still standing. The yard is blanketed with early falling leaves, acorns, pine tags and cones. These pictures would be botanical studies, using minimal styling and dramatic light to focus on shapes, forms, and textures of the subject.

As I culled through the photographs, I observed the pictures with a different frame of reference.

How deeply have I penetrated my subject?

Was I able to represent something outside of myself with the camera?

Did I view the subjects as something infused with their own being and integrity?

Can I see the truth of what is through a lens?