A few weeks ago I dragged the VEB to a photography group meeting down the street from his apartment. I found it on Meetup, after a cousin recommended Meetup to find photography groups, and really didn’t know what to expect. There were several professional photographers there as well as some fairly serious amateurs, and initially I felt intimidated and outclassed. (The VEB was a photography major, so he was right in his element.) However, I knew I was in the right place when we introduced ourselves and I talked about how surprised I was to have found such joy in taking pictures. Everyone in the room nodded their heads in agreement. I might not have understood most of what they were talking about (pancake lenses?), but they understood me just fine.
Most of us brought a thumb drive or prints of our photos to be viewed and/or critiqued. They went pretty easy on me, which I appreciated, but one particular comment has had me thinking a lot. I included this picture in my display, one of my favorites from our trip to Quebec City this winter:
Honestly, I am not a horse person, but I really love this picture, with the red blanket and the falling snow and the horse-shaped hitching posts. The one other woman in the room loved it too, she said it was “atmospheric”, meaning it gives the viewer an idea of what the atmosphere of Quebec City was like. The guys in the room didn’t love it so much. One said that for me, this photo evokes a memory that only I have; it’s meaningless to someone who didn’t share the memory.
Whether he’s right or wrong about this picture doesn’t matter. The important thing is that the minute he said that, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’ve been trying to tell stories through my pictures, just as I try to tell stories through my writing. Photography is simply another way for me to tell my stories, except I haven’t really been thinking about it that way. I’ve just been roaming around taking what I think are pretty pictures, without much thought as to what (if any) story they are telling. And there’s nothing wrong with pretty pictures, it’s just that they aren’t always evoking the emotions that I want them to evoke, or sharing the memory I have in the right way. And this is where the “compose”-ing comes in. It’s not enough just to prattle on in prose about stuff; part of writing is giving the story structure and balance. Same with photography – great photos have some structure and balance to them, while still telling a story. That’s where the skill comes in.
Throughout the evening I also realized that photography has become a form of gratitude journaling for me. Taking pictures really has caused me to see the world differently, and appreciate “every day” things much more. I’ve tried gratitude journaling in the past, but honestly? I’d get to the end of the day and write things like “I’m grateful I didn’t stab anyone with my knitting needles today”. (To be fair, at the time Bush was still in office, and my rage was palpable.) Taking pictures, though, has a way of making me appreciate the world around me in a way nothing else has.
Here’s what I mean: Sunday, on the way back from another arboretum excursion, I made the VEB pull off the road so I could commune with the mallard ducks swimming in the river. (He doesn’t like this particular spot, but was apparently in the mood to humor me.) A flock of Canadian geese had joined the party, and I’m not really a big fan of them. Not to put too fine a point on things but they are big and mean and poop everywhere. Really, what’s to like?
I wound up taking a picture of these two anyway, and (surprise) it wound up being one of my favorites, mostly because the water looks like glass that was blown into ripples:
The story problem is still there, but I don’t look at this picture and think “big mean poopy geese”. I think about the ice being finally out, how the geese must be happy to be back in open water, and how spring has finally managed to show up (groundhog and snowstorms be damned). And *phew*, just in the nick of time!