April 12, 2011

Learning to Multi-Media-Task

The photos on this blog are about to take a rocket ship to the land of better.

I convinced Jacob recently to let me use his super nice camera every once in awhile (if I took really good care of it -- which I don't do for most things, other than say, Willa).

I've always been a terrible photographer and I'd chalked it up to bad timing, a bad eye and a general lack of patience in getting to know a piece of machinery like a fancy camera.

But, Jacob's camera -- a Canon EOS 20D -- is sparking a hope that all this time, I've been a rotten photographer because I've had sub-par equipment. A girl can hope, anyway.

Everyone has a particular mode of creativity that suits them. I've always been a writer, or at one time, a singer (I started college as a vocal performance major, but that's another story). With either singing or writing, there is nothing between me and the expression. It's pure words or pure voice. There is little technical knowledge, like say, learning notes on the saxophone, or the ins and outs of aperture and F-Stops, to filter the expression.

Funny, then, that I've always been attracted to photographers and artists. It's an admiration, I think, of people who can find beauty and emotion and capture it with a tool or a process or material.

Jacob is an amazing photographer, artist and guitar player and his artwork is almost always material- or process-driven: printmaking and sculpture, for example.

In 2008, Jacob put together an incredible show of sculpture for an exhibit he called "Prairie Stories." (Here's the announcement from the show. So very cool.) Each piece was crafted from parts of life on the farm that had "gone back to the earth" -- you might say.

OK, it was a bunch of dead stuff that he dragged home from his seasons farming in Big Sandy and put in our garage. I wasn't happy when I saw it all coming into our yard. A partially mummified coyote? What did I get into here?

But what came out of that garage that winter was truly beautiful and truly inspired. Each piece needs some form of manipulation to experience -- like real live artist books. So, with the shadowbox with the coyote inside, you pulled off little shutters on little windows to reveal pieces of the coyote underneath. This one, which I call "bird" has a long crank in the center that when you move it, the feathers twirl.

Watching Jacob work over the years has pushed me to find a tangible form of creativity that works for me. Writing just doesn't cut it all the time.  It helps me sort through things, good things, complicated things, tough things, sometimes impossible things. But, because of that, it can be emotionally labor intensive and it's really a solitary act. Also, once I started doing it for a living, my relationship with it has proven to be, well, complicated to say the least.

So, I'm loving playing with this camera.

For one, It's something I can do with Willa and is especially enjoyable with Willa in front of the camera. See here:

For two, I like that I don't have to create an expression from scratch. I have light and shapes and colors and timing to guide me.

But most of all, I like the perspective it has revealed in me. It seems to be helping me to see what's in front of me, instead of what's just inside me.

And sometimes, I think, you can learn a lot about what's inside of you by what you see in front of you.
In fact, maybe you can learn even more.

Also, now that I understand depth of field, I can take photos inside my house without you seeing the holy shitshow of clutter and dog hair. If I focus right, it all just gets turned into a lovely background glow.

See that black smudge behind my impossibly cute child? It is actually a pile of potting soil and dog dander. You never would have suspected.


  1. Beautifully written. That bonnet is killing me. Killing me! With sweetness, of course!
    I want to learn photography too. . .I have also recently felt that all of this tremendously appealing material around the farm is poorly served by my skills. And my junky camera.

  2. Thanks Claire! I *know.* That bonnet kills me too. She's going to wear it every day until she's 10. In fact, I have a whole new set of photos with her in it that I'll share later this week.

    Junky camera or not, I love your photos. :)

  3. I'm not sure why, but when I saw that photo of Willa in her bonnet it made me think of this depression era photo. My mind works in mysterious ways.

    You'll have to copy and paste.


  4. Oh Dear, Lydia. I can see the resemblance. It's the forehead. Is it possible this kid is already worried about the worsening economy?

  5. Nah. That's totally a look of chagrin. If there were a thought bubble over her adorable head it would read, "Really, Mom? A bonnet?" ;)



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