Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Photography

I have had, since I was a child, two things that would shape who I am today; what I always considered a drive to create from my imagination and what I others considered an abundance of energy. And although the energy isn’t what it used to be, I have moments where I can get on my wife’s nerves with where I have an insatiable drive to create.

I have five main areas where my creativity has shown promise; music, writing, painting, drawing and photography. Maybe not true talent, but a promise of at least mediocrity and I am happy with that because each of these mediums allows me to create.

By the age of four, I knew ALL of the words to most of the Top 40 hits on the radio and sang them in the car with my mom. One song from then still lingers in my head today, Delta Dawn by Tanya Tucker; “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say, he was a-meeting you here today to take you to his mansion in the sky.” I still know the chorus, and can sing it note for note, although my voice is nowhere near what it used to be and I haven’t heard the song for nearly thirty years.

Music has remained a huge influence throughout my life. In high school, I sang in all three of the choirs; Jazz, A Cappella and Concert. I had a wide enough vocal range to sing bass, my natural tones all of the way up to Soprano. I moved from one part of the choir, bass, to another, tenor, alto and soprano to help them out if they were weak during rehearsals. I could, back then, actually sings all four parts of most four part Christmas songs. But when it came to performance time, I was back with the men in the bass section, which still is my favorite section.

I also taught myself to play the piano by ear. I had a few lessons in the sixth grade, four to be exact, and the only thing I learned about piano from those lessons was where Middle C is and how to play the melody to “When the Saint Go Marching”. Beyond that I learned the piano parts for songs like The Rose by Bette Midler (which I played at both my Mom’s wedding and my step-sister’s wedding twelve years later), Open Arms by Journey and Chariots of Fire simply by listening and mimicking what I heard.

My junior year in high school I taught myself music composition theory through experimentation. Because of that creative phase, I have written three musical scores and one complex composition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot which was played on the piano by my former music teacher, so I actually got to hear it. I still don’t know how to read sheet music well enough to read it while playing, but I know it well enough to write music; slowly, but surely.

After high school, I joined the Navy. I turned to writing. I was introduced to a role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I was a D&D nerd, but to look at me then, you wouldn’t have known it. Shortly after my start in the role playing world I began creating my own worlds and writing my complex storylines for the people I played with. And even though it’s a rather nerdy hobby, it quenched my need to have an imaginative and creative outlet and kept me out of the trouble I would have gotten into if my mind were to be set free on the world.

I took a few writing classes my favorite class was an advanced creative writing class. My teacher, whose name I can’t remember, started the first day off with this phrase; “This is a creative writing class. The objective of this class is to be creative. You will have homework. You have required reading. You will be graded. But you won’t be graded on spelling, grammar, punctuation or anything else that is going to cause you to lose track of the objective of this class. When you turn in your homework, I don’t want to see a polished and finely tuned piece of work. No, I want your shitty first draft. Anything more will result in a lower grade.” I knew that I was going to like this class, and I did.

I have started half a dozen books, some of which I got several drafts into several chapters, some of which are posted within these blog pages. I have never returned to finish them because I was distracted, lost interest or flat out got bored with the process. It is a lot of work to write a single page and even more work to proof read it more than once.

It wasn’t until 2000 that the photography bug landed in my lap. During a trip to Colorado to visit my family, I was introduced to photography by my mom, but was enticed by my dad’s doubt that I would be able to photograph lightning with a standard 35mm camera, it along story for another time. But from that experience, I bought a film SLR and started shooting creatively.

In 2005 my creativity hit second gear. In February, I bought a bass guitar because my future brother-in-law played guitar. I taught myself to play it in a matter of six weeks simply by playing along with him, again my ear alone because I still can’t read sheet music (but I learned how to read tablature). Six weeks after buying my bass, he and I, with my sister and [then-to-be-future-wife] played a show in front of a dozen people which included six a six song set. A few weeks later, we [future bother-in-law and I] played a traditional Swahili song in front of the entire church. This was a song I had never heard and with which I practiced once with him, which was an hour before the performance. A few months later I played bass for another Swahili song with his brothers and friends from Kenya for his wedding: 200 people in attendance.

In the summer of 2005 I bought my first digital camera, a Kodak 5MP z740 point and shoot with 10x zoom and SLR like control over shutter, aperture and ISO, but I didn’t know what those meant. I started, like so many others without technical knowledge, shooting in AUTO mode and capturing my world in digital.

In November of 2005 my wife taught me how to draw. She taught me some fundamentals of drawing in segments, how the various pencils worked and basic shading. I spent nearly a year sketching barns, landscapes and occasional random shapes, patterns and forms.

During this time, I would take photos of various subjects with my digital camera, print the worthy scenes and then recreate the scene with my sketchbook and pencils. I was using multiple mediums to create my art.

In the winter of 2008 my wife took on a project to paint mural of a Noah’s Ark scene for our soon to arrive niece. The mural was initially supposed to be a little square on the wall, but soon my sister said she wanted the whole wall covered. The wall was twelve feet tall, by thirteen feet long and my wife, needless to say, was overwhelmed by the scale and the timeline, a month and half before the baby shower date, which was the deadline and my wife could only paint on her days off, two days a week.

I stepped in and learned rather quickly that I could paint as well. I shouldn’t have too surprised as I painted aircraft when I was in the navy and had a good understanding of blending techniques with an air gun, but painting aircraft is still much different than painting a mural with a brush. I painted a sunset from the top of the ceiling to the water surface, about four feet off the floor that faded from a deep purple down to a yellow at the water surface. My wife and I painted fish, eels, octopi, whales, dolphins, starfish, underwater plants, coral and an ark with a dozen animals. To top it off I painted a full arc rainbow with the words “God’s Promise Will Never Fail” and just about everything you could image that would cover 156 square feet of wall. So I learned I could paint as well.

In 2007 I started taking my camera to work with me because we had these wonderful wetlands that I wanted to photograph and my love of photography took off again and I have never looked back.

So with all of these artist skills in music, drawing, painting, writing and who knows what else might be lingering, why did I chose photography as my primary medium? I would have to say that it is with photography that I get the most satisfaction.

I can see my vision through from beginning to end in a matter of a few hours versus a day for a sketch, or a month for painting or a year or more for writing. I can drive to a location or simply stop on my way to somewhere else, take a series of photographs, take them home later, work through my workflow and have a finished product that brings me delight. This is important for someone that suffers from a mild form of ADHD and as a result gets bored rather quick.

With photography I can move from one subject, style or theme every thirty seconds if I need to. I can focus on things until I get it right and I never get bored. I can’t sketch or paint in rain or under water. I can’t play my bass at the base of the some breaking waves. I can’t write and probably shouldn’t take a photograph in the shower. But I can, and may, take a photograph anywhere.

So… Why photography? I can do it whenever and wherever I want or need to. I am pretty good at it. I am motivated to do it. But most of all, I choose photography because I am a photographer and I love it.

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