A few years ago, the person who founded MetroWest Camera Club in the Boston area asked me to go beyond taking “pretty pictures”. I took up his challenge and have been exploring the medium of photography to find my voice in the world of creative art. A recent lecture by a famous photographer Guy Tal provided me with the vocabulary to express what I am doing.
Guy Tal does not consider himself to be a photographer who makes art, but a self- expressive artist working the medium of photography. In other words, he has successfully moved on from taking pretty pictures.
A stepwise progression of what one needs to go through to attain that level can be found by studying what Minor White, another great photographer, has written. He classifies photographic images in four categories:
· Informational: This is — -and how the camera saw it.
· Documentary: I was there — and this is what I saw.
· Pictorial: I saw this — and here is how I feel about it.
· Equivalent: I feel this — and here is a symbol for my feeling
Most photographers stay within the first two categories. Those pictures of flowers, landscapes or family document what they saw. When you move to the last two categories, you enter the zone of creativity.
The question is: why do it?
The answer can be found in what a guy with an unpronounceable last name, Mihaly Csikszentmihaliy, has written (as per Guy Tal), “Most of the things that are interesting are the results of creativity…. The reason why creativity is so fascinating is that when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. The excitement of artist comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life and rarely do.”
He calls “Flow” as the state you are in when creating art. “…the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
That’s why. You do it to get into Flow.
Personally, as I attempt to progress in the Pictorial and Equivalent categories of photography, I have experienced that zone of excitement, and I like it a lot.
My version of using photography as an art form comes in several different varieties:
· I like the concept of minimalism — -to express what I am seeing and feeling with very few objects, sometimes just a few lines or shapes.
· Minimalism very often that leads me to convert color pictures to black and white. Removing the distraction of color makes one focus on shapes, textures, shades, lighting and composition.
· I try to find beauty in small things. A flower is interesting but a petal with backlight is more so.
· I enjoy converting photographs into images that are impressionistic. Instead of realism, I try to distill the essence of the experience using Photoshop techniques such as creating composites of multiple images, and applying various layers and filters.
· I create abstracts that are nothing but colors, shapes, and lines arranged to my satisfaction. (There are ways by which a photograph can be distorted into abstracts using Photoshop.) I cannot articulate how I conclude that an image is acceptable…I just feel it in my guts.
· I combine slideshows of images (real or abstracts) with music, generally Western Classical compositions. I am exploring the connection between visual and aural experiences and feel good when they complement each other.
Here are examples of what I create: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ashokbo/
Now these are the areas to get my fix of excitement through creativity that Mihaly talks about. Different photographers pursue different avenues in their attempts to go beyond taking pretty pictures. That is if they feel the urge. Many don’t and that is totally their prerogative.
As for me, I thank the founder of that camera club for pushing me into this quest.