For God's Sake, Don't Look

February 8, 2005

The cheapest diffusion filter is your breath. You'll need some cold air to play opposite your hot air, and you'll want some sort of lint free cloth to clean the lens when you decide to find some focus again. However, in many instances, a lack of focus is all the aimless photographer needs to elevate the mundane.

Case and point: Here is an unmade bed, lamp, and the glow of frosty February light on the bedroom wall. Such a cut-and-dry listing of the compositional elements doesn't tell you anything about this photo. It doesn't speak to atmosphere, memory, or the balance of colors and shapes.

Does that imply that the first step towards artistic merit might be a little mystery? I certainly believe that's one route, and at this point I find it a trusted path to walk when I'm getting too fussy. There are many excellent artists who rely on the strength of their intention and can plan their way to perfection. I've tried that route; it leads to the artistic equivalent of breakfast cereal— palatable, but far from inspired.

So, often I don't look through the viewfinder. I don't adjust the light with reflectors or fills. I frost the lens with my breath and literally shoot from the hip. If I look at it, if I plan it, I'll destroy whatever it might have that is beautiful or mysterious or impulsive. In this way you can look at the results without preconception and the ownership it engenders. Your editing process becomes responsive to the leap in your chest or the lingering eye, not some need to wrangle reality into a state of matched perception.

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