I’m not talking about foregoing personal betterment goals in the new year – though most of those have been at best ephemeral, for me.
No, I was thinking more about experimenting with less photographicresolution in 2018. Stronger, softer color and less detail and with gentler lines, going after a feeling or impression of a scene rather than its meticulous, sharp representation.
Like the image above, taken in Southwest Harbor, Maine last October. And which, I might add, was captured with some serendipity.
Here’s the backstory. Early cool and windy morning, October, Southwest Harbor, Maine.
I was rushing out from our farmhouse rental to capture what I knew would be a dramatic scene, given the reflective sunrise glow on the bedroom ceiling. I had overslept. Grabbed my camera, trying to remember if I’d charged the battery after yesterday’s shoot. No time to set up the tripod. Almost tripped on the cleats that were there to stabilize your steps going down the slippery wooden slope of the dock.
Must have been hundreds of gulls in the harbor and they took to flight in a rolling wave at my arrival on the scene. Ready, fire, aim, as they say. In a raucous moment, the birds were gone but I had gotten off a couple of shots. I was hopeful of a good image – the scene was beautiful with a few sailboats and other craft still moored on the harbor late in the season. The distant mountains were covered in a blanket of fog but were almost as blue as the water’s surface in the morning light.
Back home, reviewing the images from that morning, it was clear that my captures were not. The hand-held camera produced a lot of blurring with a shutter speed of half a second. But I was intrigued by the image, with the collective pattern of bird flight, the texture of mountain fog and the suggestion of wind, and rocking movement of the boats and throughout the image. In short, my impression of the scene was better captured by the pixel imprecision. My only regret was that I didn’t have a sharply focused, detailed image to compare and make a clearer decision about all this.
Turns out a google search shows there is actually a school of photographic impressionism. Its proponents offer suggestions on how to achieve these softer, more abstract images through intentional camera and zoom lens movement, longer exposure and selective focus. There are even special lenses and adapters you can buy. Or just smear some Vaseline on a filter to distort your image. The goal being to create a visual feeling of a fleeting moment, rather than a detailed photographic record.
Also turns out I had gone down this path before in a different way by zooming in very close on moving sunlit streams and waterfalls, exemplified in my Impressions gallery here.
Didn’t really know I was wandering into a sub-genre with my camera …
In the end, it appears to me that it’s all about trying to find new ways of seeing. And maybe trying to keep the brain from being too efficient. This important information processor does try to be resourceful by saving neuronal time and energy. Like when you see a scene laid out in front of you of a meadow or mountain, you don’t have to take in all its detail and complexity because the brain already knows what a pasture or peak is. But by being intellectually efficient, you just might miss out on what this particular scene has to offer.
Maybe that’s why impressionistic art works. It stops the brain in its tracks – the lack of detailed form and softer, vaguer lines of an impressionistic subject requires the mind to stop and pay attention, be purposely present.
Or as the iconoclastic Tim Burton reminds us: “it’s always good to see things in a new, weird way." Emphasis on new, not necessarily weird.