Somethin’ Else

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During one of the latest photo conversations in John Cornicello’s ongoing series (see a list of upcoming and previous conversations here), Toni Lovejoy brought up an interesting question:

When Toni came off the road she wasn’t editing from a technical standpoint just because she didn’t know too much about Photoshop and such, she edited from such an emotional place trying to replicate what she felt on location. Now knowing all those technical skills, she knows she can now go back to those images and make them better. She becomes somewhat emotionally detached from them in the process though. So the question was how do we process our images? Do we start from an emotional place or do we start from a technical place and then move forward to an emotional aspect as we finish it off?

She then refines her question:

“I think about Mac Holbert and his process going from global to localized, so I think I’m thinking best practices, or are you trying to stay as close as possible to when you shot it? I feel I got to control myself from the emotion of it. So I flip-flop back and forth between kicking a couple of things in saying that’s how I felt and then reverting to what I call Mac’s process and going down this checklist sort of thing.”.

I had been just listening in on that evening but for that question, I broke the silence and typed the following:

“I would like my editing to be like what the great jazz musicians do. There is emotion, there is skill, there is technique, but it is all there at the same time and everything dovetails into everything else. I don’t have to switch from one thing to the other.”

Toni was questioning whether it was still possible to have that emotion and aesthetic in the process and therefore in the image since we are all on those computers now and not in the darkroom anymore which seemed to allow for some mystique and romance.

Well, I don’t think the magic is gone and I for one feel those emotions all the way from clicking the shutter to hanging the print on the wall. Which doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong if you don’t. Let me just explain what I mean so you can reflect and evaluate.

First off I am a very emotional person. I do cry. Sometimes I do feel more than I care for and can explain. For everything I see, hear, touch, taste, for everything that enters my consciousness this way or another there is an emotional reaction. Which sometimes is not a good thing. Anyhow this is why I can’t switch to unemotional matter-of-fact working on an image.

I don’t engage in pre-visualization, at least not consciously. I think it was Ernst Haas who said: “Don’t take pictures. Be taken by your pictures.” I think being taken by my picture instead of taking it is when I look at something and I feel the need to raise the camera and photograph it. At that moment photography becomes meditational to me.

I don’t think about it. Not then. All that thinking has been done before. I don’t see. I perceive. A truth that is very personal as everything I ever did, felt, saw, read, loved, hated, my whole life is there with me deciding when to click the shutter. And if I get it right I feel the excitement. That I got it right, that this is a keeper. Still, I don’t see what I am going to do with it later. But I don’t worry. It will all be there when I need it.

So I come back home. Sometimes I work on the photographs right away, sometimes later. I still find images from years ago on my drives and sometimes it is then that I finally understand or can feel them, so I start working on them all those years later.

So this is when the jazz musician kicks in. In music, you learn the theory, scales, phrases, and such to build the base for that moment on stage when you interact with other musicians. This is not the time to think about what you learned, it is the time to use it. In reacting to the musical statements by the other musicians you use all those skills you learned to create something beautiful. You can always hear the player who is just repeating patterns, who is very aware of what scale they are using right then. Forget all that and a magic moment might happen where you are lost in time and music and talk to the other musicians on the stage in another language.

And that is pretty much what it is. When you have learned a language well, you respond without thinking and you can convey what you feel and think in a very personalized way so people not only understand the information you want to get across but also the way I and only I want it to be understood.

So back to editing. About 30 years ago I shared an apartment with my best friend who was photographing film back then. He had a makeshift darkroom in the bathroom, developing his photographs there. That would have been the perfect time for a good story about how I got into photography. But it wasn’t. It had to go digital for me to be interesting. So I disagree that computers remove emotion and aesthetics from the process.

I like using Lightroom and Photoshop. And even that is causing emotions. I have written about how my feelings change depending on what cameras and lenses I use. It can even be that way depending on what software I use. I feel different using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS5 as opposed to the latest versions. And when I use them I want to be that jazz musician who can’t be bothered to think about processes, best practices, which values to use, or checklists. I want to have all that internalized so I just do. So that I just react to what the image tells me it needs. To what I feel it needs.

And that may change every moment. This is why I re-edit images ever so often. At moment of capture, the image represents not only what was in front of my camera, but also everything that happened in my life up to that point. So a day later, a week, years later, I might and probably will feel very different about some of my photographs and would edit them in a new and different way.

Another point proving that I feel something during the entire process is the prose I write. If you have followed me for a while you have realized that I write something for pretty much all of my images. But it is never at the same point of the process. Sometimes I have something in mind when I am out there. Sometimes I come up with it when I listen to jazz, having a glass of french red and firing up Lightroom. Sometimes when I wait for the printer to finish the first print of the photograph. Those words are heavily emotional and since they can pop up at any point in the process I conclude I am feeling those emotions all the time.

Again, I am not saying that this is in any way the one way one should approach this. As with my prose, I give these thoughts to you. Now go and find your own answers to Toni’s question. Being aware of what one does and why will allow for a sense of direction and therefore personal development. Which of course will mean better photographs in the sense of being more interesting. Just as you are.

P.S.: If you’re asking yourself why this articel is titled “Somethin’ Else”. This was the title of the album by Cannonball Adderley I was listening to while writing.

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