Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Encountering the Unfamiliar...and the not so Unfamiliar!

   I leave for France in a couple of days and I am very excited.  Part of this trip is a kind of pilgrimage...to the beaches of Normandy...to pay tribute to my Father's landing on D-Day, 1944.  I hope the emotions of the day do not keep me from making some photographs but that remains to be seen.  The various encounters one has with the unfamiliar when traveling will produce unforeseen consequences and the photographs one makes - or does not make - as a result will be affected by them. That is part of the excitement of travel for me.

   When you travel to a new place there are many opportunities to encounter the "unfamiliar" and if you are, as I am this time, traveling with other people you may not have the time to sit and listen to the landscape as I like to do.   I've had to develop a set of strategies for these kinds of situations.  Primarily it requires me to rely on my intuition as a photographer.

   In February I wrote a post on the concept of Wu-Wei.  A mind in the state of Wu-Wei "goes with the flow, reflects like a mirror, responds like an echo."  These are all necessary requirements for photographing intuitively.  The hardest part of the process for me is switching off my brain which loves to analyze, rationalize, and control everything.  It "knows" and therefore "anticipates". It will apply all sorts of filters to what I see which makes it infernally difficult to really "see" anything at all.  I've used this quote from Dorothea Lange before but it bears repeating...

"The best way to go into unknown
territory is to go in ignorant."

   I think one of my greatest challenges in this up-coming trip will be in Giverny when I visit Monet's garden with my friends.  They will go to see one thing and I will, no doubt, try to see an entirely different thing.  I have never visited the garden but after 30 years of teaching art I feel I "know" it...through the paintings of Monet and numerous photographs, mainly on calendars my students would give me for Christmas presents.  What I "know" is other people's view of the gardens. My task, before I set foot in the garden, is to try and "unknow" it.  I must try to make the familiar unfamiliar...to go in "ignorant" so I can photograph it through my eyes not theirs!

Impression - pond weeds, Isles of Harris, Scotland 2005
   When I arrive I will wander off by myself.  I will try to tune out the hoards of tourists and find a solitary place, if I can, from which I can "read" the landscape.  If I can't apply my visual listening exercise and sketching for lack of time, I can at least read the "text" of the landscape.  It will be like reading the Cliff Notes for War and Peace and not the novel itself but it will have to do.  I will read not only the literal and most obvious notations of water and plants but the more subtle descriptions of shadow and reflection...the softer echos of Monet's created world. I will attend to the adjectives and not just the nouns. I will then make what photographic impressions I can...as Monet did when he painted the light in his garden.  Photography too paints with light and the contemplative photographer can also create  meaningful impressions based on their personal and intuitive  response to the landscape.  The "reflections" will have to wait for when I return home.

      I hope to post several "photographic impressions" of France in the days ahead...the contemplative photographer "on location" as it were.  I've chosen several interesting venues for photographic exploration like Mont Saint Michel and the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris but who knows what other sites will peak my interest.  I (and you, all my blog friends) will just have to wait and see what transpires...

Au Revoir for now!


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