Thomas Heaton Asks a Question
Today I want to discuss these two images and I want to do so for a couple of reasons.
First and Foremost, I actually started writing about them yesterday of my own accord. The images were originally captured approximately one year ago and I've worked and reworked them until I finally came up with this version of them a month or two ago. Their journey, and the lessons I learned from making these photographs, were noteworthy for me and so I decided to write out my thoughts.
Second, and more importantly now, I am writing about them because of a video I watched. I often watch Thomas Heaton's photography videos. He makes beautiful photos and has a way of discussing them and his journey in such a way that I not only enjoy doing so, but I also learn from him. Today, I watched his video, "Photographing the Dead Forests of Patagonia," and in it he asked a question about one of the images he created. This post is my answer to that question.
So, what was Thomas's question? Why are my images relevant to answering that question? And what did I learn along the way that is so important to me? Let me answer all of these questions for you.
What was Thomas' question?
To answer that, the best thing to do would be to go watch his video, but in lieu of that, let me explain briefly. While on location he framed up a potential photograph and over the course of about twenty minutes he made two different captures and didn't feel great about either. He continued on with his day creating other photographs and then, at a later period, had the idea of compositing the two images to create an image he felt was up to his standards, but in doing so he experienced a "conflict."
(From here on forward I am, unless otherwise quoted, interpreting what Thomas was trying to convey.)
Thomas felt he had somehow cheated. That the image he created, without "intention," was nothing but a "pure accident" and therefore he couldn't accept it as something he had created.
He goes on to ask his viewers, "Do you need to have an emotional connection with your images?"
Why are my images relevant to answering that question?
My images are relevant to answering that question based on the psychological journey it took for them to become what you see here. Let me tell you what I mean.
These images are not real to life. There is one major difference any visitor to this location would immediately notice. In real life, the bus is not as flat gray as it appears here. It is a vibrant teal. The entirety of the bus is, but that did not lend to the image. It caused the entire image to fall into a convoluted mess of noise and too-similar-colors.
How does that relate to Thomas' question?
Although his image and mine differ in many ways, the journey to get to them was similar. I took the photos, and on the day of making them, as well as bringing them home, I was disappointed with them. They didn't meet up with what I envisioned in my head. I even went so far as to make several variations of them in an attempt to satisfy my desire.
The truth is, I couldn't make the photos work. As I said earlier, it has been almost a year to get these images to where they are today. All of that being said, I still feel as though I haven't answered how my photos relate.
The final stroke needed to make these images "work" for me came through much trial and error and the final result could easily be considered an accident. I didn't know what I was doing. I only knew what I was trying to accomplish and, in the end, I did finally accomplish my goal. I created an image I was happy with and that is where Thomas' experience and mine intersect. That is where my image becomes relevant to answering his question.
What did I learn along the way that is so important to me?
Well, yesterday I would have told you something akin to:
"A photograph does not always come together as you envisioned it. Sometimes, the elements, the timing, a composition, the lighting, or any number of other things can interfere with your 'creative intention.'"
I would have gone on to tell you:
"Photography is a process and sometimes you don't know what is wrong with your image or how to fix it. You might decide to give up on it. You might even delete it forever. And that would be a waste because sometimes all you and your image need is time. You need something to come along that revitalizes your vision and shows you new ways to make it come alive."
But today I want to answer Thomas' question. I want to tell him:
"Yes. I do need to have an emotional connection with my images but my journey has taught me to appreciate that photography, much like life, is a journey. Not everything comes together in a single moment. Sometimes I lack the know-how, or the perceptive qualities I need to 'make an image.' That process, that journey, no matter what course it takes cannot discount the fact that 'I created.'
"On the day I capture an image is not the end all be all of an image. For me, it is a continuous process of learning and adapting to accommodate what it is that I am trying to accomplish. It involves processing, editing, learning, and relearning. It takes time, knowledge, know-how, feelings, and intention but I do not always have all of those things in the same place at the same time.
I would remind Thomas that he did have intention. He intended to make a photograph. He framed his shot, adjusted his camera settings, and attempted to capture his vision. The result was underwhelming. He later attempted a second capture and again came away unsatisfied. Even later yet, he brought those photos "home" and in review figured out how he could satisfy his inner critic in regards to the image he was attempting to create.
To paraphrase, he applied his feelings, knowledge, and know-how to create his intention and the only reason he is conflicted with the result is because it didn't occur all occur at the time of his choosing.
To him, I would say:
"Thomas, you created another wonderful image and although it's journey was not what you envisioned, you adapted to your environment and continued to interpret it with your creative abilities and ultimately walked away satisfied."
To him, I would say:
"Mission accomplished. Stop feeling conflicted. Whatever feelings you have about the image and its journey to being made need to be put in their proper place."
Are you truly happy with the image?
Does it meet your standards as an artist and put to rest your inner critic?
If the answer is no to either of these questions then it is your right, as the artist, to set the image, and your feelings about it, aside.
If you're able to say yes to both questions then it is your right, as the artist, to display the image as a part of your journey and to be content in doing so.
I would say all of that and then I would go on to tell him that I appreciate his work. That he has been influential in my journey toward photography and he has taught me much of what I know based on the simple fact he decided to share his work and in doing so he has inspired me.
I would tell him thank you and that there is little I could ever say or do to repay him for all he has done for me.
Okay, enough gushing for now. I hope you found something useful in what I put together here today. I know I enjoyed responding to Thomas' question and further reviewing my art and the journey that it is.
Until next time, stay safe and for your own benefit explore your feelings, where they come from, and how they're impacting you. Are they true to you? Do they belong? And are they guiding you to who you want to be?