Easter Sunday, 2011, and the day started with a beautiful sunrise. Appropriate, don't you think? The morning was spent in hot pursuit of leaves and brush, dandelions and clippings, topped off by a walkabout with the lawnmower.
Later, I was in the house, catching my breath and cooling off when I happened to look out my bedroom window...and what did I see?
Why, the lovely Easter tree, you see.
In that moment, all was right in the world, and I sent up a prayer of thanks for my good fortune.
I just finished a wonderful little book titled "The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers"* by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson was one of the founders of Magnum Photos and, as I found out, is considered by many to be the father of modern photojournalism. Personally, I knew very little of this until I read the book. The book itself doesn't say much about those achievements, but curiosity led me into some research.
That I did not know so much of his history turned out to be thematically linked to much of what I read. Much of what I read, in turn, gave me a much needed shot in the arm regarding my current state of mind on my photography.
I suppose it was confirmations of suspicions I had, or feelings and hunches, yet had no confidence to say them aloud or believe what I was thinking. The best thing I took away from Mind's Eye was a soothing of my fears relative to my own lack of technical education in photography. To wit, the very first sentence in the book:
Photography has not changed since its origins except in its technical aspects, which for me are not a major concern.
Bless you, monsieur.
I admit, sometimes I feel sorely inadequate when discussing or dealing with the technical aspects of photography. I lack depth when it comes to adjustments, metering, stops and most arcana involving developing and finishing prints. There is always more to learn. I know my finished product could gain some gloss and dazzle if I really studied the camera as object and the theory of light. Cartier-Bresson himself was a skilled technician.
But I think he knew deep down, that the essence of photography was not to be found in the science of the thing. It resides somewhere else, in a place I realized I have been searching for after seeing it framed thusly, in his own words:
My passion has never been for photography "in itself," but for the possibility -- through forgetting yourself -- of recording in a fraction of a second the emotion of the subject, and the beauty of the form; that is, a geometry awakened by what's offered.
Ah, satori. For someone who prides himself for skill with words and language, I have been remarkably unable to put into words just what it is I am pursuing with the camera. Even after reading that little gem, I'm still unsure I truly "got" it. What I do know is that reading it that way, I felt an internal "unlocking" telling me that I was on the right track.
It told me that the voices in my head, that mini-Greek chorus singing about art, were not just spinning me a tale; they were telling me that I could trust my instincts even if those instincts didn't appear to have a firm foundation in facts.
I say all this because in my other life as an architect, I placed too much credence on the technical and not enough on the art of it all. I didn't trust my instincts, and that led me to what amounts to a creative dead-end. I allowed 'technique' to become the end-all, be-all. The result is a severe case of impaired creative vision. Allow Cartier-Bresson to illuminate:
Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see. Your own personal technique has to be created and adapted solely in order to make your vision effective on film. [Emphasis mine]
This is my problem and my inspiration: to make my vision effective. After many years of slowly drifting off the creative track, I believe it is "making pictures", along with writing, that has inspired me to listen to my instincts, to trust my gut about truth and beauty.
I want to see all that I can, and make it vision.
*First edition US, 1999, by the Aperture Foundation. Please note that the above is strictly based on my own personal thoughts and observations, reflecting the overheated workings of my curious, restless mind. In other words, neither Aperture nor the HCB Foundation paid me or otherwise reimbursed me for writing this essay. Inspiration, pure and simple.