Wednesday, July 31, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 1

Welcome to the August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. An overview about the Book Club and the ideas behind it are in this previous post. If you don’t have access to a copy of the book, you can still join in by participating in the exercises and reflections below. If you do have the book, you’ll have a lot more material to draw upon and work with.

For week 1 (August 1-10th), we will focus on the first two sections: Barriers to Seeing and Learning to Observe. Below, I’ve provided a few quotations and exercises that struck me from these sections. (All page numbers refer to the 2011 edition.)

Barriers to Seeing
“The purpose of this book is to help you improve your visual thinking – to observe more accurately, to develop your imagination, and to express a theme or subject more effectively with photographs” (pg. 5).

“Letting go of self is an essential precondition to real seeing … As long as you are worried about whether or not you will be able to make good pictures, or are concerned about enjoying yourself, you are unlikely either to make the best photographs you can or to experience the joy of photography to the fullest” (pg. 7).

In the first section, Patterson provides several photographs taken in or near his home, as well as a description of that “increased sensitivity” feeling one has when returning home and temporarily seeing your familiar space in an unfamiliar light. This week, try to see your home or your everyday surroundings in an unfamiliar way and capture that seeing in your photographs. Or, if you are traveling, capitalize on the unfamiliarity of being in a new place to heighten your awareness.
I was drawn to the pattern and texture of this red chair on my deck, and I particularly liked how this perspective created the slight blurring as your eyes move towards the bottom.  Red Chair by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Learning to Observe
The second section is divided into two main ideas: thinking sideways and relaxed attentiveness. Try one or both of these approaches and share how it impacted your thoughts or photography.

An exercise in thinking sideways: “Draw up a list of some photographic rules; then go out and break them.” So, for example, if you come up with the rule “Always hold your camera steady,” then go out and “Jump up and down in a forest, and press the shutter release as you jump” (pg.27). See how doing something different can teach you something new. Remember that “Your emotional reaction is every bit as important as your rational response” (pg. 28). Or try one of the many other exercises in thinking sideways provided in the book.
While spending time thinking and photographing underneath a pine tree in the yard, I was struck by the patterning of this partially opened pine cone. I decided to try breaking the rule of keeping objects in focus and liked how this blurry view emphasized the patterns. Unfocused Fractal by Archaeofrog on Flickr 
An exercise in relaxed attentiveness: “Set aside a minimum of three one-hour periods this week for making pictures … Assemble your basic photographic equipment … Choose something around your home – inside or outside – that you want to photograph” (pg. 37). For each period, spend the first 15-20 minutes sitting down, relaxing your body, and emptying your mind of everything. Only then should you “get up from the chair, pick up your camera, and start making photographs of the object you selected earlier … Stay relaxed, spend all the time you want observing your subject matter, and make only two or three pictures, if that is all you feel like … Simply enjoy yourself” (pg. 37). If you want to push yourself further, try his additional suggestions of spending time focusing your eyes on different details each time or in trying to see thing as only base shapes.

“You will have more ideas for photographs than you ever dreamed possible, and be itching to reveal your new awareness of the world around you” (pg. 40). Do you find this to be true for you?

Multiple Ways to Join the Book Club
Want to participate? Post a comment with your thoughts or a link to a picture you've taken for the Book Club and an explanation of how the book influenced your image. Or, you can post pictures and contribute to the discussion by joining the Photography Book Club Group on Flickr.

Enjoy, and I look forward to seeing your thoughts and images!
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