I spent a day up around the Jumbo Rocks area of Joshua Tree yesterday. Almost anywhere in the park you can find these great jumbles of boulders where they have lodged on top of others creating these little windows in the rock. I always find them fascinating, always explore them, and am always glad I did.
They are different from things like arches — here you are actually inside a great pile of rock looking out at the world through a little window. To me it’s a very strong and profound feeling of being inside the earth looking out through a passageway into another world. Very powerful places…
A quick thought here for a Sunday morning before I break camp and move.
Much of what we do in photography we do simply because it’s the way things have always been done. I do that too.
But where is it written that a photograph has to be a rectangle, or any geometric shape for that matter? Free form can be interesting. Just sayin’…
Maybe it’s just a personal quirk, but I prefer the term ‘expressive photography’ to ‘creative photography’. It may just be quibbling over words, but there it is.
You see a lot of photography on the internet these days. Some of it is stunning and beautiful. Some of it is just plain bad. Most of it amounts to collections of random snapshots that are posted online now instead of being stashed in shoeboxes in a dark corner of the closet. The ease of editing apps and editing software even makes it possible to torture an already bad photo into something even worse. But the good, expressive work shines through.
Some (but certainly far from all) of the most expressive work I see is being done with lo-fi cameras like the Holga, and with phone cameras. There too there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of it is filtered to death. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen about as many fuzzy, blown-out, blotchy, and otherwise imitative and poorly done Instagram photos as I care to look at. That’s not expressive — it’s a gimmicky effect. But in the midst of all that you can find some very moving and beautiful work.
One of the well-known street photographers from a few decades back — can’t remember if it was Winogrand or Friedlander — said that after shooting a roll of film he’d set it aside and not even develop it for at least a year or so. The idea was to lose the initial emotional reaction to the photos and be able to see them from a more objective and detached perspective. Many photographers still choose to edit that way, though I’d guess few wait a year.
On the other hand, some edit as soon as possible to try to retain that first impression. That’s the way I like to work — the sooner I can do a quick edit to capture the feeling of the moment that prompted the photo, the stronger the expression.
The instrument I started to use when I was in LA, and what I’ve really embraced since coming out here to the desert, is my phone. It has a flexibility and a spontaneity and an immediacy that I find most freeing and effective. If I want to I can do a quick rough edit right on the spot to catch that gut feeling behind the photo. They can be edited further later with judicious — and I stress judicious — use of the editing filters or not, and then be moved to the computer for fine-tuning and scaling for prints.
Can you see the difference between a print from a phone and from a camera? Sure you can, but to me it’s kind of a pointless comparison. It’s a different instrument, a different aesthetic, almost a different medium. To judge phone photography by the same standards we’ve used to judge photography as a whole since at least the days of Group f/64 is to miss it’s true qualities and strengths. It’s a different art form. We can all learn to view it and judge it accordingly.
I’ll close this post by adding a few bullet points here from the new phone photography blog I’ll be launching in the near future (yes, I’m doing another one. I enjoy trying out different blogs…)
- It’s an art form in it’s own right. It’s different from, but related to, camera photography.
- It has it’s own feel, it’s own aesthetic, it’s own qualities. It can stand on it’s own as a form of expression without having to be compared to something else.
- It should be judged and appreciated on it’s own inherent qualities rather than be judged by the standards that have dominated the photography world for decades. You don’t critique a watercolor by oil painting standards. You appreciate the expression possible in the medium. Phone photography deserves the same.
As always, I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions.
To be aware of the history and the accepted standards of your chosen medium but not be bound by them… to be willing to experiment with new tools and techniques and ideas… to not only think outside the box, but to ignore the box altogether… to keep an open mind to different philosophies and ways of working…to me these are the cornerstones of a rich, rewarding, creative life as an artist.
I don’t like equipment. I love photography. I love honest, soulful, expressive work. But I don’t like equipment. What to do?
My instrument of choice since coming out here to the desert a couple of months ago has been the camera in my phone. I’ve embraced it and for the most part I’m leaving my ‘real’ camera packed away in it’s case.
I’m finding the fluidity, the spontaneity, the immediacy of the droid to be priceless. It’s opening up an expressive freedom that I haven’t sensed in a long time. It allows me to immediately translate, right on the spot if I want, what I see and feel into visual form. Right now I wouldn’t trade that expressive freedom for anything.
The most well known rocks in Joshua Tree are the formations up in the north side of the park, but there is no shortage of rock here on the Colorado Desert. Some of these washes and canyons look like they’ve been blasted into rubble for the set of some science fiction movie.
They’re different though — the striking thing up there are the shapes of the formations themselves. Down here I’m finding patterns within the rock to be more visually interesting. There’s no shortage of them…
The whole point of taking pictures is so you don’t have to explain things with words. –Elliot Erwitt
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in a place where it’s difficult to be able to post, comment, tweet, and all that. Erratic cell signal along with having to run the laptop on battery saver mode slows things down to a crawl. I can do most things on the phone, which I’ve been doing, but it’s tedious and excruciating… I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment. That’ll be the case for the next week or so until I move again.
For now I’ll let the Erwitt quote speak for me, put up another recent photo of a Joshua tree, and pull out my notebook and do things the old-fashioned way. I write better by hand anyway…
With that, I’ll just add that I’ve been seeing a lot of Joshua Tree love on the twitter lately. Imagine that…
pj johnson — photographer
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