Painting with Light and the Metaphysical Reality of Literary Photography

World Unity Still LifeUncle Wiggily & World Unity – copyright 2012 – Paul Vreeland

The members of the Carry On Gang, one of the writers’ groups I participate in, recently put their heads down for an exercise of list-making. One lists of the 12 most terrifying or dangerous words, another of the most beautiful words, and a third of the most annoying words. “Reality” was at the top of my most annoying word list along with “real” and “really”– a list of words that I find so overused as to render them meaningless – a list that includes “nice”, “cute”, and “perfect” (as it is so commonly offered by waiters, waitresses and retailers and nearly everyone who wants to pass judgment on my choices). But now I’ve done it. The word “reality” is up there in the title of this post. Tell me it’s not perfect.

The photo above (Uncle Wiggily & World Unity) was taken in the dark. Inspired by the excellent tutorials by Dave Black offered at Kelby Training (http://kelbytraining.com/course/dblack_lightpaint/), I set my camera on a tripod, hung a black cloth over the window, and turned out the lights. I opened the shutter for about 30 seconds, and with a small flashlight, I “painted” the objects with light.  Dave made it look so easy, and his sets were much more complicated than mine. I took twenty, thirty shots before I had a glimpse of satisfaction.

For those of you who read my last post, “Listening to the voice that call, “Come back. I’m not finished with you yet,” – those of you who remember that I promised a shot of the Wright’s Creek foliage, it’s coming up. No. This time it’s not a tease. Keep reading.

It didn’t occur to me that “painting with light” was a theme of the past several weeks until I stumbled upon the breathtaking work of Irene Kung (www.irenekung.com), a Swiss photographer living in Milan, Italy. Check out this short video about her: http://youtu.be/YSFmKxSArgc Irene Kung’s work is a far cry from my still life experiments, and her images will stay with me for some time. They’re worth a study. How I wish that she would offer a tutorial. Sigh.

But what does painting with light have to do with writing and literature?

Enter Mary Ellen. She’s a rather insistent journalism student, a character in my slowly emerging and as yet unfinished novel. Recently she told me to read The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam’s account of reporting from Vietnam in the early 60s. Now Mary Ellen says that I’m to read In Cold Blood. She knows that I’ve seen the movie (1967), but that I haven’t read the book. Truman Capote’s ego hails the book as the first “nonfiction novel”, a literary feat opening up a new genre of literature, better known today as creative nonfiction. Interested in the thin line separating creative nonfiction from journalism, Mary Ellen wonders what would have happened if The New York Times had sent Capote to Vietnam and had asked Halberstam to cover the murder of the Clutter family in the sleepy plains village of Holcomb, Kansas.

Literary photography?

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Listening to the voice that calls, “Come back. I’m not through with you yet.”

Solitary in Fog II

Amble Towards Epiphany – copyright 2012 — Paul Vreeland

“I know something is there. I just haven’t found it yet,” he explained. I was watching a video of a talk given by Scott Kelby at a photographer’s conference hosted by Google+.  Kelby, the author of several how-to books, and host of www.kelbytraining.com, is a well-known name in the world of digital photography. The title of his talk is “Crush the Composition” and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the art. Crush_Composition

Click here to watch the hour-long “Crush the Composition” Youtube video

Scott was talking about “working the scene”. “Try this, try that. Create a shot list. Shoot wide, shoot tight. If something makes you stop, there is something there. Your job as a photographer is to find it.” He was offering another stop-and-think-about-what-you’re-doing slow movement dictum. “It’s our nature to want to go on to the next thing—shoot the next shot. Once you’ve done a lot of shooting, stop, sit down, look at the back of your camera and start going through your shoots. Make sure you’ve shot it every way possible.”

Every morning on the way to work, I pass Andrew’s Pond and Wright’s Bridge. The transformation wrought by the change of season on the foliage overhanging the water was remarkable this year. For several mornings I drove by, glancing over my shoulder at the crimsons and oranges bowing towards the dark water. Each time I drove by I knew the foliage would diminish both in intensity and in mass. I knew the lighting would change. I knew that if I continued my habit of getting to my desk as quickly as possible and diving into my comfortable routine, I would miss the shot, whatever that shot was. I stopped and I shot. On three consecutive mornings I stopped and I shot. Are you expecting to see the results? Keep reading.

Sometime during the past year, or maybe two, Alanna and I watched a film set in the middle east. A foreign movie with English subtitles, the plot had something to do with a two men making a road journey across a hot hard-scrabble and treeless terrain. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the reason for the journey, or the title of the film, but what I do remember is one scene in which the driver of the dusty white automobile, who happens to be a photographer, is taken by the beauty of the landscape. There is something that he sees that makes him stop. Scott Kelby would have told him, “There is something here. Your job is take your camera and find it.” We watch as the driver looks out the car window assessing the view, knowing that he will never return to this locale. His partner senses that the photographer’s talent has been tempted and he asks, “ Do you want to take a picture?” It is a moment of decision—a moment with little in the way of dialogue, and much in the depiction of self-betrayal. The photographer doesn’t get out of the car. He doesn’t take up his camera, and he doesn’t honour what his eyes have been blessed to see. He puts the car in gear and drives on. (If you know the name of the film is, please leave a comment.)

Perhaps the image of the landscape will haunt him for some time. If he retains the image, even if it is confined to his imagination, isn’t that enough, you ask. At least he has that.

Would it have been enough for Michaelangelo to “know” that his David(1501—1504) was confined to a giant block of Carrara marble—a block that had first been worked on by Agostino di Duccio and later by Antonio Rossellino, and then neglected for twenty-five years? Michaelangelo is reputed to have said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” – a statement that echoes Kelby’s suggestion that when he is attracted to a scene, “I know something is there. I just haven’t found it yet.”

The character in the Middle-Eastern road trip film is not a great photographer. He wasn’t as well-know a talent as Michaelangelo was a Renaissance master. But I don’t believe that this matters. The question is this: what of the writer who doesn’t apply his pen? What of the photographer who doesn’t use his camera? While we and millions of others have benefitted from Michaelangelo’s talent, isn’t it also true that Michaelangelo—something of what he discovered about himself as an artist, and as a human–was imprisoned in the stone until he brought forth his David. Maybe, for a writer, it’s not so much about the event of publication, as it is creative process of discovering who it is that is writing, who it is that is self, mirroring glimpses of the divine. Maybe, for the photographer . . .

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You Can’t Hurry Love: A Justification for Slow Writing

Luminous Crossing-2

The crossing of luminous souls – Paul Vreeland copyright 2012

If Blog posts are quick, gut responses, the “Slow Scholarship” alternative, the “Slow Blog” or “Slog” involves the posting on the web of short, thoughtful essays that have been carefully thought through. Typically they will not be posted more than a few times a year. ~ from the “Slow Scholarship: A Manifesto”.

http://web.uvic.ca/~hist66/slowScholarship/

In allowing the thoughts that I expressed last month to percolate, and in pursuing the paths they opened up to me, I recently read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré. When I read his chapter on “Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest” I wanted to take up knitting. If I did, maybe I’d finish my novel. Honoré cites Bernadette Murphy who claims, “It’s a wonderful cure for writer’s block.”

While there are many facets to the slow movement—slow food, slow sex—a few hold a particular interest to me as a writer. Surely you will not be surprised when I say that slow reading is one of them. Patrick Kingsley writing for The Guardian (Manchester, UK, not Charlottetown PEI) picks up where Nicholas Carr left off.(See last month’s blog “The Dreaded ‘D’ Word: or Why the Internet is not to blame for my Unfinished novel” for a link to Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.) Kingsley opens his feature “The Art of Slow Reading” with:

Is it time to slow our reading down? If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/15/slow-reading

While it may be obvious to you, I need to beg the question: just what is meant by “slow reading”?

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