At the end of the easy path…keep going

Common

June 6, 2014

The sub-title to David Duchemin’s recent article in the June/July issue of Photo Life magazine reads “Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind”. The path David describes includes learning to use your gear but know when to stop, read what the masters had to say, but most of all be open and receptive – I believe he is referring to the world around us, to change, and to new ideas.  

I first became aware of David Duchemin’s books and his blog around 2009 at a time when I was learning to use a DSLR and wanted to learn more than how to use my gear. I liked “Within the Frame” and certainly agreed that “Vision matters”. after a year or two I found I need more and eventually took my education further than David’s path. My journey introduced me to the artists (painters and photographers) that came before me, and helped me realize how important it is to say something new in my own voice. It’s this other path that I believe new photographers need to explore.

David has it right in his article,  when he describes the temptations offered up by photography media and those who package Do-it-like-me tips as photographic education. Early on I too fell for the sales pitches because when you’re staring with your first camera, those tips are an easy way to see results.  Don’t get me wrong,  “pro-tips” do have a place in the early stages of learning about photography; they make it easy to get good images which in turn is motivating and builds self-confidence. The key, however, is recognizing when to stop replacing gear and when to walk away from the recipes to better pictures.

I eventually reached a kind of fence on my own path. I could carry on to the other side but the path there was not as well worn. It was difficult to know where it was headed. The easy thing would be to head back down the familiar path and buy some new inspiration. But  heard a friend calling from the other side of the fence and so I climbed the barrier.

That was three or more years ago and my only regret is that more people didn’t come with me. So here’s the point of all this; to really cultivate a new photographer’s mind, it is essential that they learn these key concepts:

1.  The important painters and photographers who who came before us matter much more than any gear or pricey weekend workshop. Those masters understood light and form, what to include or exclude, and which moment to capture. Spend time exploring their work and I venture you’ll learn more in a few hours than you would in a weekend away listening to someone.

2.  It is essential that you shoot with a purpose. Random photo walks won’t cut it; they may inspire you to explore an idea but for the most part the work that matters has some degree of thought behind it.

3.  It may take time but you will find your Visual Voice, and once you do, use it to add to the Conversation that started long ago with the first painters and early photographers.

The obvious questions are how do I know who was important or even why? What is a Visual Voice and a Conversation? Once on the other side of the fence, then what. You’ll need a guide, someone or a group of people who are further along on the journey. I was fortunate to find a mentor I trusted and through him became part of a small discussion group that meets every two weeks. A good starting point is to look outside your current circle, speak with someone who has a mentor, at the very least make it known that you want more.

Where the first part of your journey was expensive in terms of gear, books and courses, this second part will require an investment of your time spread over years. The benefits, are worth the effort.

If there’s an interest, I can share more about my own journey. I encourage you to leave a comment or question, I’d love to hear from you.

Ken

2 Replies to “At the end of the easy path…keep going”

  1. The next step beyond the path can be scary and amazing. Deciding to take it, and the one after and yet one more can lead to confusion, fear and wonder. GO KEN!

  2. Your three points are right on point, Ken (sorry!). I would go even further on them as I know you have outside of this post. Too many people stop at the composition when looking at the masters. That is not enough. It is important to study those that came before us to understand the context of their art. It is not enough to just look at their form and how they used light; we need to know why these were significant for their time.

    With purpose, it is also critical to be specific. Some people think to photograph “beauty” is enough purpose. Not so. Burtynsky is a great example of why we need to go deeper on purpose. His is a terrible beauty explored in great depth and with critical thinking.

    Of course you already know this because you have been participating in that ongoing conversation that is art. I share these things for the people who come to your site in the hope that they too will jump the fence and join us for more meaningful expression through photography.

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