Creative Display

I’m always looking for creative and easy ways to display 2D art. For many years, above my computer I’ve had multiple magnet boards to hold art cards, postcards, tickets, receipts… any little bits and pieces I wanted to see regularly or keep handy. Every so often I would clear off the magnet board and start with a clean slate, but most of the time it was a messy mismash of stuff. Kinda like life, huh?

Over Spring Break we stayed with some family in Washington, DC, and our cousin Kate, an artist herself, had an awesome solution for displaying 2D art. After arriving home I found myself looking askance at my messy magnet boards, dreaming of a solution like hers. So I emailed for the scoop on how she did it, and was extremely pleased to find out that all I needed was a trip to IKEA!

IKEA DIGNITET RIKTIG Kat Sloma Photography Postcard Art Display

I bought two sets of the DIGNITET wire hangers, along with the RIKTIG hanging clips. The primary purpose for these items is hanging curtains so you’ll find them in the drapery section. It was approximately $30 total for two sets. It’s a perfect way to cleanly display a lot of paper items, especially POSTCARDS, don’t you think? It would work great for photographs as well, and I think our holiday cards will have a new place for display this year.

Right now, it just feels nice to not have all of the magnet board clutter hovering above me at my keyboard. My husband told me it looked waaaay too neat for my studio. I’m not quite sure how to take that comment. :)

IKEA DIGNITET RIKTIG Kat Sloma Photography Art Postcard Display

Next, I just need to clean off my desk. But that’s a project for another day…

Photographer by Choice

How many of us have heard the phrase uttered one place or another: Photography is not art. I have, many times in the past. Surprisingly, most often from others who consider themselves artists.

Or if it’s not explicitly stated, the non-art of photography is implied in some way. Even by the photographers themselves: I can’t draw a straight line, but I can photograph. As if photography is the also-ran art form, what you turn to when you have otherwise no artistic talent. I can imagine an ad: Don’t worry if you can’t paint or draw, you can be a photographer!

Those of us who practice photography know these statements are not true. Photography is art and photographers are artists. I’m not going to belabor or try to prove the point here. Whether you believe it or you don’t, that’s your concern.

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But what I want to point out is that being a photographer, being an artist who practices photography, is a choice. It’s a first choice.

It’s not a runner-up choice. It’s not what you do if you can’t paint or draw. It’s not what you do because it’s easier, or cleaner, or cheaper, or more accessible than your first choice art form.

Photography is what you do when you can help but see the details of the world. It’s what you do when the beauty of the lines around you takes your breath away. It’s what you do when you realize that you can frame things, things that everyone else might walk by everyday, and express yourself through them.

A photographer is an artist who can’t help but speak through the visual language of the lens. We are compelled to see and share the world this way. Those of us who have a deep heart and soul connection to the medium know this. There is no need to prove or justify it to anyone else.

I am a photographer by choice. It’s a choice I make, every day, as I continue to pick up my camera and seek to express myself. It’s a choice I make, as I continue to learn and grow my artistic vision.

But there are moments….

Moments I wonder if I don’t have it the wrong way around.

Moments when the need to create and communicate through a photograph is so powerful, I ask myself…

Did photography choose me?

Carleidoscopes

I never thought I would see the day. I really didn’t.

I never thought I would see the day my son asked me about photography, wanting to learn seriously. But it happened. Last weekend I found myself supplying him with my old camera body, a starter lens, camera bag and manuals. After reading for a while he asked, “What’s ISO?” and out comes my Digital Photography Basics eBook. Fun.

Sunday when my son suggested a drive to go take pictures, I couldn’t say no, could I? Not only for the photography, but I was dying to drive my just-purchased car a little bit. I wanted to see how my dog Zoey would do riding in the hatch back, since she was a good part of the reason I switched cars in the first place. Turns out regular hiking + exuberant dog + sedan with cloth seats = a giant mess of a car no one wants to ride in, no matter how hard I’ve tried to protect the back seat.

So off we went… Brandon, Zoey and I. With no real destination, we drove for a while, stopping for a break in the woods to let Zoey out a bit and to photograph. And what did we photograph? The new car, of course.

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Brandon is obsessed with the show Top Gear lately, so he worked on getting some of the interesting camera angles they always use on the show. (The show has quite good photography, if you’ve never seen it.) I played around with capturing some abstracts of the forest reflections in the shiny red body. Carleidoscopes, I call them.

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A sunny afternoon, a beautiful drive, a happy dog, sharing time and something I love with my son, and a few interesting photographs. Does it get any better? Why yes, it does. There was no dirty, panting dog at my shoulder, mucking up the back seat. Absolutely lovely!

The Whole Truth

The camera never lies, right? I wonder where we came up with this idea that the camera always captures truth. Where we picked up the idea that a photograph represents reality.

Maybe it’s because the camera gives a representation that seems like reality. Maybe it’s because the edges are sharp and the likeness to what we are looking at is closer than most art brings us. But what we what the camera captures is not truth. A photograph is not reality.

Reality encompasses a much broader range of the senses than a photograph can. Sight and sound and touch and smell. Reality encompasses a three dimensional world that is experienced with more than just the eyes. Reality is everything, everywhere in the moment. The whole truth.

A photograph starts with the photographer. As humans we can’t handle the whole of reality, so we filter. We filter based on our interests and our knowledge and our experience. We decide where to look, what to experience, out of everything that is available in our environment. So right there, we start to alter reality.

Next, we alter reality with our cameras. Think about it, we are taking a three dimensional world and collapsing it into two dimensions. We take the whole of the sensory experience and collapse it to visual alone. That’s a drastic alteration right there. Not only that, but as we study photography, we learn the camera itself is an imperfect tool for capturing even visual reality. It can’t capture the range of light and dark we see with our eyes. It can’t capture the form and the depth that we experience. So we learn to adapt through our exposure and optics and techniques. We make choices about the lens we want to use, the aperture and shutter speed, and what is in or out of the frame.

The photograph, as captured by the camera, is already significantly different from reality. The viewer can’t turn their head left or right and see what is happening beyond the edges of the frame. They can’t walk closer or further away. They can’t reach out and touch. They only see what the photographer has chosen for them to see. A slice of the photographer’s reality; a partial truth.

Then, we get into post-processing. It’s funny that this is often maligned as the part of the photographic process where reality is removed. In my view, post-processing is only a continuation of what we started with our cameras, since the as-captured image is not reality either. In post-processing, we can further adjust the photograph, to try to shift it to what we perceived as “reality” visually or to better express the feeling we had at the moment it was taken. We can create a new feeling with it, if we so choose. We can create an experience that is completely unrelated to our own experience when we took the photograph.

The “reality” that is presented in the final image is all in the choices made by the photographer, from the moment of capture to completion. It is not reality at all.

Take this photograph of light on the leaves in the forest, for example. The camera could not capture the shifting range of light and dark that I saw in those leaves. It could not capture the feeling of the breeze cooling my sun- and hike-warmed skin. It could not capture the rustle of the leaves, or the sound of my husband and son playing with the dog down the trail. It could not come anywhere close to my reality, but I did the best I could at capturing one thing: The light filtering through the canopy of leaves. I could find a scene that framed one single leaf in the light, and filled the background with the repetition of leaves in light and shadow. In my post-processing, I could add warmth through the tone, softness through a texture, and depth through a vignette. I could express my feelings about this one particular piece of my experience of that moment and that day. Beyond that, what you feel as you look at this photograph depends on your own reality and experiences in the past. Your filters and perceptions kick in, altering what I’ve presented further.

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Is this photograph the whole truth? No.
Is it reality? No.
A photograph never, ever will be.

I think it’s time that we leave behind the idea that the camera never lies. It’s time to shed the idea that in photography, alterations to reality come only in post-processing. The alterations to reality start in the photographer’s mind, and continue from seeing to camera to post-processing.

Instead, let’s focus on the one truth that we can express with photography: The truth of the experiences, feelings and emotions of the photographer.

Expressions of the artist, practicing their art.

Possibility in my Pocket

Three days a week I get up in the half-bright morning, slip my iPhone in my pocket, tie my hiking boots on my feet, clip the leash on the dog and head out.

Every time I get out onto the trail, as my body and brain begin to wake up, I think, I’m not going to photograph anything today. I’m just going to walk. And every time, at some point, I reach into my pocket for my iPhone to take a photograph.

You see, like a child collects stones or leaves or twigs along the path, I collect photographs. Even with no intention to do so, inevitably something comes into my awareness that needs to be collected. I need to pause and revere the scene, the moment, as I frame an image.

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Why does a child collect the stones or leaves or twigs? I’m not sure I know. Maybe because they are pretty or interesting. Or maybe because each one is different. “Look at this one, Mommy,” he says, holding out his hand. Look at this one, I say, taking a photograph.

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Each one is a marker, a reminder, a special moment to later be pulled out and cherished. Each one has the possibility to be compared, contrasted, transformed into something new. Or, as is the case most times, to be filed away, like so many child’s rocks pushed into the corner of a drawer. Coming across them later I might think, Huh, why did I collect that?

Even so, I capture them and I keep them. I can’t seem to stop. I don’t want to stop. They are my collection, the possibility that I keep in my pocket, just in case.

The Vancouver Gathering Report

Wow, what a weekend. My head is a-jumble with thoughts and ideas after The Vancouver Gathering workshop with David duChemin. I’ve been jotting notes and journaling the last couple of days to sort things out. A few things are becoming more clear but I think it’s going to take a while for all of the ideas to settle.

A few first impressions…

First off, David is as personable and fun in real life as he is in his books. His teaching style is casual and engaging, leaving room for discussion of other points of view. I loved that. I would much rather be challenged to think for myself than to be told, “This is the only way.” While I started the weekend nervous to be in the same room with him, seeing him as this person I’ve looked up to for so long, by the end of the weekend I felt like I could sit down and converse with him on any topic that might come up. David offered portfolio reviews the day before and after the workshop. I didn’t elect to do it this time, but if I ever do another workshop and go for the portfolio review, I would definitely do it on the day after the workshop instead of the day before. I would get so much more out of the focused time after letting my nervousness subside.

The group interaction and dynamic was fabulous. I met so many interesting people with a passion for photography. And surprisingly, not one of the people I talked to were practicing photography as their full time job. Most of them were like me… people with other jobs that pay the bills. Some of us do have photography-related businesses, but we primarily practice photography because we love it. And because we all resonate with David’s writing, we start with something in common in terms of looking at photography beyond the technical details. We all want to get better at what we do, creating images that express ourselves and resonate with others. Through the workshop we learned together and discuss how to do that. I hope to stay in contact with many of these folks on into the future, learning through their work too.

Finally, the most surprising thing I realized this morning is that I probably learned more about myself from the workshop than any of the specific topics David covered. He talked a lot about inspiration and creativity. He covered vision. He talked through the visual language and how we can use it, using the material from his most recent book, Photographically Speaking, as the basis for discussion. But what surprised me the most was how incredibly validating it was to have him teaching us things in this workshop about vision and inspiration that I already have incorporated in my Find Your Eye courses. Things I have learned for myself and shared on the blog. Um, wow. There might be something to these things I share, if someone else, someone with much more experience and knowledge, is sharing them too. I was also surprised about the passion I felt in some of the discussions that came up throughout the two days. There is more for me to learn through exploring my personal reactions to certain topics that sparked a strong response in me.

There is much, much more about this workshop that will come out over time. Until then, I’ll just say it was a wonderful weekend and I’m so very happy I went. If you ever have the opportunity to do a workshop or a trip with David, snap it up. It’s time well spent.