Is it Photography or Not?

The Philomath Open Studios Tour wrapped up on Sunday, and participating as a studio this year was both fun and challenging. Talking to so many people as they came through, I got some interesting questions and comments. The only comment that really stopped me in my tracks came from a couple of other artists participating in the event. We do an artist “pre-tour” of all of the studios, so we can see each other’s work and be able to refer people to the right studios if they are looking for something specific. It’s one of the most fun parts of the whole event, and for me it’s been the way I really get to know the other artists.

“You should call your work something other than photography,” they said, “Your work doesn’t look like any photography I’ve ever seen.” They went on to explain: People may skip my studio because they have an impression of what photography is, and they aren’t interested. I’m losing the chance to get my work in front of them by calling it photography.

I found myself with a pretty strong internal reaction to their suggestion. As I tried to explain my feelings about this as photography, I struggled to find the words. My immediate reaction and inadequate explanation left me uncomfortable. Was there something to what they were saying I should listen to? These folks are my artist friends and peers, and they have my best interests at heart. They respect my work and want to see me succeed.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a renewed internal dialogue around this question: Is it photography or not? Should I change the way I position and market my work? I’ve answered this question before. But I needed to answer the question for myself, again, in a way I could confidently explain it to others, especially artists in other mediums.

My answer?

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Yes, my work is photography. I will continue to call it photography, even if there is some fallout along with that. Here’s why…

My work starts as a photograph. The seeing and framing through the lens of the camera is vitally important. My art wouldn’t exist without the starting photograph, and the capture of the starting image is one of my favorite parts of my process of creating in this medium. I spent years and years learning to coax beautiful images out of the camera, from the technical expertise of exposure to the creative expertise of composition, and I use that experience every time I take a new photograph. Even if I’m altering it significantly, it starts with the photograph. I want to honor that.

I also want to honor the medium. Photography has a rich and interesting history. It is a wider and deeper medium than the general public understands. Most people’s interaction with photography is from what they see in the media — photojournalism and commercial photography — or their own experience with snapshots. Mobile photography is even less understood. Most people haven’t necessarily seen or explored fine art photography. They don’t know the range of art that the term “photography” truly covers. Why not help educate them, just a little bit? Why not expand their definition? We are never going to get past the limited perception of what a photograph is “allowed” to look like, if some of us don’t stand out there and push those boundaries.

This is where I had to stop and examine myself closely. Am I hurting myself, my ability to get my work in front of people to connect with them through my art, through taking on some one-woman crusade to expand the definition of photography? Am I hurting my sales by sticking with the “photography” moniker? I don’t think so. I’ve had many photographers tell me in the past that you can’t sell photography. People don’t want photographs. Given my results as I ventured into art fairs this year, I’ve not found that to be universally true.

But that fundamental belief — people don’t want to buy photographs — must be a driving factor behind some of the practices I’ve seen a few photographers use. I’ve witnessed people who are using altered photography techniques selling their work as nebulous “fine art prints.” No acknowledgement of the starting photograph. It’s not a lie, per se, because they truly are fine art prints, but it’s an omission that leaves the medium up to the imagination of the viewer. Let the viewer think it’s a reproduction of an original in another medium; what they don’t know doesn’t hurt them. That may be ok for other artists, but it would feel dishonest for me. Almost self-negating, as if I need to hide my medium in order for the work I produce to have value. And also not respectful of the artists who have spent years to hone their craft in other mediums. My work may end up looking a bit like a watercolor or some other medium, but it’s not. I don’t want to claim it is.

I want my work to stand on its own, for what it is. A photograph. An altered photograph, sure. But it starts as a photograph.

My art is a piece of me that I put out in the world. So when I make a sale, I want it to be an honest and heartfelt transaction. How I put my work and myself out there really matters to me. I want to connect with people openly and with integrity. I want to have a dialogue about what I’m creating, how I’m creating and why. I want to hear what the viewer has to say, how my work makes them feel. I want to honor all of those who came before me, who taught me, who paved the way for me to create in this medium, too.

So I will continue to call my work and my medium photography. I’m a photographer, and I’m proud of it. I’m happy to have the dialogue about what makes it photography. I relish a good discussion about the art of photography, and like the idea of opening some minds to new ideas about what a photograph can be.

And the folks who aren’t interested, who chose not to come to my studio because of their preconceived notions of what photography will look like? It’s their loss, not mine. They don’t know what they are missing.

How do you Honor the World?

Of course! The path to heaven doesn’t lie down in flat miles. It’s in the imagination with which you perceive this world, and the gestures with which you honor it.
– Mary Oliver in her poem, The Swan

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Last night, I gave a talk for the Corvallis Art Guild. Preparing and giving a talk is always a good opportunity to pause and take stock. As I decide what to say, I’m deciding what’s important to me. If you have a limited time and few words, the ones you choose have import.

I spoke about my creative journey to discover mobile photography as my medium and my process. I spoke about why photography is my medium. What inspires me and why I love it so much.

I talked about how photography, for me, is about lines and light. I love how I can take something out of this world, and transform it into something new — a piece of art — by the mere act of framing it with my camera. I see capturing an image as honoring the beauty and grace of what exists.

Photography is how I honor the world. It’s my perception and my small gesture of gratitude.

How do you honor the world?

Photo-Heart Connection: October 2014

It starts with seeing.

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Every photograph, every finished image, they all start with that spark of seeing.

Seeing beauty. Seeing possibility. Seeing whatever it is I see in life.

Whether or not I take a photo, whether or not I process a photo I’ve captured, I’ve still seen. Borne witness. Captured a moment in my minds eye.

No matter how busy we are, no matter how much of a hurry we are in, we can still see and acknowledge the world around us.

That’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.


One of the things I am most grateful for is how photography has taught me to see. I notice things that others don’t notice. The curve of a branch, the color variation in a leaf, the impression of a heart in the empty space. Amazing, beautiful things fill the world around us and we just have to open our eyes to see. I’ve been reminded of this as the last few weeks have been busy. Rushing to and from work and evening activities, Philomath Open Studios (come by this weekend!) and short days have meant little time for photography. But I’ve still been seeing.

My Photo-Heart Connection is a reflection of this month’s seeing, from one of the times I did have a few minutes to spare as I walked to my car in the parking lot at work, pulling out my camera and exploring the lines and colors of the autumn trees. I had been seeing them all week, and finally got that chance. The seeing for myself was enough, but capturing and sharing it with you makes it even better.

What is your Photo-Heart Connection this month? What have you seen, how has it touched your heart? Share it with us here.


Empty Space

I love open space. That’s no secret, huh? My art has lots of it…

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It’s just a little weird when the empty space is where where my kitchen used to be…

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Our kitchen remodel project started on Monday with demolition. We now have an empty room instead of a kitchen. It’s the beginning of the end of our kitchen story. Three months of waiting, now one month of construction to go.

Our refrigerator is in the garage, our sink is in the bathroom, and we’ve created a little kitchenette in the dining room. I see lots of microwave and crockpot meals, and likely takeout, in our future.

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It will be exciting to see daily progress. I can’t wait to have a fully functional kitchen again!!

Photo-Heart Connection: July 2014

Heat. That’s what I feel in this image. The heat of summer, direct sun, scorching and uncomfortable.

And yet… the promise of coolness. Once you get away from the edges, move through that heat, there is a deep relief.

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There is a saying people use where I work: “Run to the fire.” It speaks to the idea that you shouldn’t run away from challenging things, but run to them.

This image speaks to me of running to the fire. Of running to the heat, dancing at the edges where it is uncomfortable, seeing how far you can go. And knowing, always, there is a retreat to come back to. There is relief away from the hot edges.

I think you can’t fully enjoy the delicious respite of that cool retreat if you haven’t felt the heat. If you haven’t pushed yourself into the intensity of it, seen how much you can take, you can’t relish the contrast. Cool becomes cold quickly when you stay too long in the deep shade.

Run to the fire. Feel the heat. Relish the cool. It’s the contrast that makes life interesting.


It’s no surprise to me this would be my Photo-Heart Connection for July. My life is on the busy side lately, between taking on new challenges at work, in my photography world and a kitchen remodel. I’ve definitely been running to the fire, and, knowing what I have lined up, I will be hanging out near the hot edges for the next six months or so. There is a small part of me that views everything with trepidation, worried about my stress level and whether I can do it all. But there is a large piece of me that says, “Bring it on!” I know I love a good challenge and will rise to the occasion. In the end, I’ll be able to look back and see what I’ve accomplished, truly enjoying the respite of the cool shade. I am encouraged; my Photo-Heart Connection tells me I can do this.

What is your Photo-Heart Connection telling you this month? What message do you find in your images? Share it with us here, and then visit others. We all have much to learn through our photography.


Photo-Heart Connection: March 2014

It’s all in the light. Beautiful, heavenly rays of sunshine through the blossoms.

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I photographed a lot of tree blossoms in March. As I looked through the photographs, I realized the photographs were of the blossoms, yes, but they were also of light. Sunlight in the evening, sunlight after rain. The sunlight created the beauty, as much as the blossoms on the tree.

So many of these images were taken in what now seem to be fleeting moments. A chance encounter: Me, my camera, and the right light at the right time. A week or two later, the blossoms are now fading and the rains have returned. As I look at this dazzling beauty from a couple of weeks ago, I am full. Full of gratitude, for that brief moment in time, I was able to be fully present. Full of awe, for what I was able to create out of the experience. Full of hope, the hope that spring always brings along with it.

This is what life is about, isn’t it? Brief moments of time, lived to their fullest. Noticing the sunlight on the blossoms, when it is available. Being present and active and engaged in what life offers up, every day.

This moment in time is all we have. It’s where we choose to be; what we choose to see, to capture, to do with the moment that matters.


 
This month’s Photo-Heart Connection brings me an important reminder. I so often live in the future, asking myself, “What do I have to get done next?” No matter what I’ve completed, there is always, always something else on the list. But this morning I’m reminded by light on blossoms, blossoms and light now long gone as I write this, that I can’t always be thinking about what’s next. I need to be present in this moment, living fully in the here and now, to appreciate and see what life is bringing me. This is hard for me. So very hard. I think I’ll print and hang this image of light on blossoms in a prominent place to remind me of this month’s message: Be present.

What is your Photo-Heart Connection this month? Have you been seeing the light on the blossoms, or are you struggling through some darkness? Whatever the message, it’s important to listen to your heart — it’s speaking through your art. I hope you’ll share what you find with us.