I’m not sure how this applies to actually Making the photo, but it reminds me of something I noticed when a powerful jazz sax musician in Wilmington, Larry Price, “hit” the first measure in a performance in what was a hub of creative interaction at that time, the Caffe Phoenix. As usual, the room was abuzz with people trying to be heard over each other. Larry’s first musical exhalation dramatically Raised the energy in the whole room, and No One could speak for several beats. It wasn’t because he was loud, though he had plenty of volume, nor was it because the piece was intrinsically punchy, though it was; it was because he Meant it, I think.. because he Breathed authenticity, passionately and humbly. Those qualities made the moment, the music, and Larry noticeable and unforgettable to me.
Photographer, Paul Tornaquindici, quotes mentor, John Paul Caponigro :
“This is the most important thing I will say all week… Notice [that] when the energy is in the photographs being shown, it gets quiet in the room. When there is little energy in the photographs we have to create it.“
I’ve noticed two things about Tornaquindici, as he presents his galleries of work:
a) each body/location of landscape work was made in a concentrated, intentional foray. He went “there”, intending to find his authentic views of the place and time, yet open to what the place would show him.
b) he credits the people who served as guides for him, both photographically and geographically, as well as “spiritually” in effect. He doesn’t seem to have gone there full of himself. Yet, to me, his images seem filled with his particular vision, born of his openness to seeing freshly.
Maybe that’s the key?
When one is on a personal frontier –vulnerable, appreciative, sensitive, enthused, curious– the work one does can carry that sense of Being Alive.
Maybe one doesn’t even have to be as experienced as Paul Tornaquindici for his/her work to transmit WhatEver energy one has brought to the process of photographing.
I was fortunate in finding Sean Kernan’s workshop, years ago, now. For me, he exemplified some key qualities as a teacher. Foremost, for me, was that he approached us with a kind of quiet openness to who we were and what we might be about. Then, with respect to our “come from’s” and “go to’s” (and also properly disregarding them), he guided rather than directed, suggested rather than taught, nudged rather than “ruled”. His suggestions as to how we approached each others’ work, during the class, gave us each and all room for what he called for in his workshop descriptions, “We’ll work deep, wake up, and have fun and we’ll prize audacious failures over small, safe successes.” We were asked to see what we see and say what we see in any of the photos up for feedback, each day. Feedback is the key word, not Critique. Anyone can trash or praise a photograph, but to actually read it, see what’s there, simply report what we see, so the artist can make choices based on what the image is communicating/representing? That’s Powerful.
In a world where everyone has native opinions, finding simple reflections for our visions was like breathing fresh air together, instead of braving the hot stale draughts of “my way is better”. Giving feedback like that was not only refreshing to do, but was Great practice at seeing; we could approach making images like a mirror as well as a window.
What a great way to photograph, yes, maybe life, too? At least as a powerful option.
Sean’s recent blog post includes a few images that he says “…just don’t fall into categories easily…except maybe the ‘Look at that!‘ category.”
They Do fit into a category of mine, though; they exemplify images that start out as a kind of discovery and (my bias, here, maybe) Transmit a sense of discovery to the viewer. Their call to look a little deeper can easily fall on “deaf eyes”, but the opening is there to appreciate more than a viewer’s first presumptions. I find that Sean’s sensitive work –also wonderfully crafted– makes this easy.