Sunday, April 5, 2009

97 Silly Rules - #33

Silly Rule #33. Don’t use red, because red means anger.

My answer – Red CAN mean anger, but it can also mean a thousand other things. I have red library walls, and sure, I get angry in here occasionally. I’m angry right now (guess why!). But that isn’t why I made them red, and red is NOT what made me angry.
If red means anger, then why do so many temples have big red doors? Why do rooms made for contemplation have so much red? Why do so many museums have red walls? Why do so many homes have red doors? And restaurants? And brothels (so I’ve heard). Superman’s cape. Cincinnati Reds.
They all have their reasons for their reds. Red can mean energy, enthusiasm, appetite, and 997 other things. A good photography judge won’t be as narrow-minded and simplistic as the one I quoted here.

Adina St John's self-portrait with red

Here’s a Facebook dialog between a photographer, pictured above, and me:
(Fred) ...Before we go further with my critique, since you are one of the few worth saving, you need to answer a question: talk to me about your state of mind as you set up the red shot - step by step. ...I don't do casual glances at images. Neither do I do casual critiques. I have nothing to gain by this except to give back to a profession I love, a profession I wasted a lot of time and energy learning and following some silly rules.

(Adina St John, here using the speedy Facebook style of writing): i was thinking about this all night and all morning.
regarding the red...after high school, when i moved back to the city, i stayed with some family. from there, moved directly in with (future, at the time) dh. so really have never lived alone. the studio is the first space i've had that is just for me. and i wanted it red. talked with some friends about it, was cautioned against the glares and color casts i would have to deal with. figured who cares, and did it anyway. i painted the wall in the office area, and a half wall that goes around a sink and minifridge.
my point...i that the studio is my own space, my happy place, or whatever you want to call it. my space that is just me. not wife/mom/pta/taxi driver or any of those other labels. and red makes me happy. thus the wall is red.
the actual photo...i'm calm here, relaxed, the only thing to focus on is work. i've got 4-5 hours a day, a couple days a week, that are photography driven. most people find it contrary, but the red soothes me, because it's me. i wasn't sure exactly what i was going to get with the photo, but i knew i wanted the red, and i wanted the calm.

Adina, I couldn’t have said it better.

Even the red bullfighting capes that the matadors of Spain use does not mean anger. Yes, it may INCITE anger...among bulls. And I will certainly keep that in mind the next time I decorate a corral.
See, red means many things to many people. To some it is simply a very pretty color. Red poppies in my terraces are certainly not angry. The red poppies in Flanders Field have become symbolic of a great sadness there. My Red Horses have nothing to do with anger, but rather the Will.
Don’t use red in a picture because it means anger? That’s not only silly, it’s simple-minded, simplistic, and wrong. Grrrrr! Now I’m getting angry.
Besides, getting rid of that color would leave an obvious gaping hole in your box of crayons.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making a Portrait: The Creative Process - Part One

Making a portrait. Sounds simple enough, right? This one won’t be, though, for reasons that will become obvious as we go along.
People have asked me along the way, “How do you think up some of your images?”
“Show us how your mind works.”
“Talk to us about the creative process.”
When they come to a workshop, there will be someone who always says something to this effect, “I don’t care about how to take another dang picture, I came because I want to watch those gears turning inside your head.”
“I want to watch you think.”
Apparently, to some, I’m something of a curiosity. Anyone who’s seen the movie “Elephant Man” should know that I watched it with more than a nodding acquaintance.
When I do a seminar or lecture, lots of people don’t seem to mind if I never get around to photography per se; it’s all connected anyway. Deal with the photographer, and the photographs will come. "Feed a man a fish...." You know the rest.
What I’m about to do here, I don’t think has ever been least not to my knowledge, and it certainly won’t be done in the way I’m about to do it.
I’m going to document the process of going about the creative process, culminating in a photographic portrait.
This is not about taking a picture - it will be about making one. A very specific one, and only one.
This is the first installment of that process.
In truth, the process has already been underway for about a month, so let me bring some of you up to date.
About a month ago, someone asked me to become a Facebook friend. “Don’t know if you remember me or not, and there’s no reason that you should, but we met perhaps fifteen years ago through a couple who happen to be mutual friends.” That was all she said.
I accepted, and when I clicked the “accept” button on Facebook, a feeling suddenly swelled up in me that had not occurred in over a dozen to fifteen years. I heard myself say aloud, “I have to do another portrait.” WHAT????
Then I said, "Oh, my!" (or something to that effect)
For those of you who don’t know, I retired early from a professional photography career in order to find out what else was in me. I set the date for this retirement when I was sixteen with the goal of then spending a year of solitude in some wilderness, somewhere, as the “intermission” between the first and second halves of my life on earth.
Knowing that date so far in advance, I was able to do, in photography, all the things I desired to do. Many people, not knowing how long their careers or lives will last, will procrastinate and find themselves coming up short in the end. Having achieved my goals, I was able sell my business, all my equipment, lock, stock, and barrel, and walk away grinning, and without a single regret. I was done, and every cell of my body knew it. I was Done with a capital D.
So when this urge sprang up within me, around 14 years later, I was one surprised dude. I remember walking around and around, in the kitchen, in the library, up and down the hallway, up and down the driveway, through the garden, up the hill, through the woods and back, for the rest of that first day with this strange new seed germinating within me. I examined it as some kind of a curiosity, and picked at it as if it were some kind of a rare insect bite.
Whims are not part of my nature, and so when one comes along every few years, it gets my attention. Or rather, I should say, I have learned to PAY attention, for these never seem to turn out to BE whims. And this one wasn’t either.
I cried twice over it, depressed as hell, thinking it might be one of those Stage Seven Photographs. They're scary, and like I said, depressing as hell.
This story will introduce you - and me - to the first “Stage Eight” photograph. More about this Stage Eight stuff, and the previous Seven, later.