This week on Guy Tal’s Facebook page, he posted a picture with a quote by Robert Henri. The idea behind it was that technique is only necessary to “serve you for the idea or the emotion which has moved you to expression.”
I was struck by that phrase “moved you to expression,” and wondered if or how we really know what moves us to expression?
Sometimes we’re not aware of what moves us to expression because we’re looking for that perfect shot that others will like.
Or, we don’t trust what moves us to expression because we fear it will be judged.
Or, we start working what originally moved us to make it “more worthy.”
How do we learn to know and trust what moves us to expression?
1. Respect our feelings.
In my last post, I talked about the passing of my dog, Daisy. The next day I was feeling very sad and went out for a long walk. My intention was to feel the feelings and not photograph anything until I felt a strong resonance or pull. I was twenty minutes into my walk before I came across this scene.
The light sparkling on the water drew me in, but this dead tree leaning towards the water perfectly visualized how I felt. What moves us to expression is often something that reflects our inner state.
2. Notice judgments.
Often, we let our own judgments of what is a worthy photograph or what others think is worthy stop us from acting on what moves us. Years ago, I discovered my deep love for rust and just went with it. Not everyone gets it, but I know I have a few converts or already like-minded rust lovers. This led me to exploring abstract photography more fully.
Here, I noticed the way the light brought out the colours of this rusted post. There’s also a subtle, circular pattern present which also draws me in. If you notice yourself drawn to something, but worry if others will understand it, or think that it’s “not normal,” you’re on to something important.
3. Watch for recurring themes.
Notice when similar subjects keep coming up, not just things like doors or flowers or water, but more subtle connections, like cracks in things, soft focus, moody light, or openings. This is a great exercise in self-awareness and may even lead to a project or exhibit.
One of my many recurring themes is what I call “light paintings.” The example above shows the way light brings out the many colours of green in the plant.
This quote by Edward Weston, from a letter he wrote to Ansel Adams, sums it up well.
I never try to limit myself by theories. I do not question right or wrong approach when I am interested or amazed, – impelled to do work. I do not fear logic, I dare to be irrational, or really never consider whether I am or not. This keeps me fluid, open to fresh impulse, free from formulae: and precisely because I have not formulae – the public who know my work is often surprised, the critics, who all, or most of them, have their pet formulae are disturbed, and my friends distressed. I would say to any artist, – don’t be repressed in your work – dare to experiment – consider any urge – if in a new direction all the better – as a gift from the Gods not to be lightly denied by convention or a priori concepts. Let the eyes work from inside out. ~ Edward Weston, from Ansel Adams: Letters (1916-1984)
How do you honour what moves you to expression?