Many of the entries in the prior incarnation of this journal have been technical discussions pertaining the use of light. As we progress in ability the fundamentals (while important) become less of a focus and more of a toolset. They become ingrained in our actions and how we choose to put them to use. I no longer have the desire to talk about light in a procedural manner. So I will leave here the abstractions I've come to carry with me.
The most basic purpose of light is to illuminate that which cannot be seen.
Good light reveals form and texture. - Dean Collins
The highest purpose of light is to convey emotion.
When I pick up my camera these are the things I'm thinking about. Every choice as to the use of a particular modifier or kind of light is made to the purposeful creation of a photograph that reveals form, texture, and emotion. Everything else is just noise.
I’m sitting in a coffee
shop and while staring off into the abyss of my thoughts my eyes stumbled upon
the giant poster of a vintage French cigarette ad hanging on the wall. The
graphic is an elephant draped in a vibrant scarlet fabric with the words “JE NE
FUME QUE LE NIL” written in text that’s about a foot tall. I know a little bit
of French and I recognize the beginning of the sentence as translating to “I
don’t smoke” – the rest of the phrase I don’t know and can’t translate.
Then I look down at my
laptop, which is open to some page that begins with a headline in 36 point
font. English is my primary language and I recognize the words, their content
and meaning, innately - instantly. Our primary language is so innate it is
seamlessly processed in our brains. It just is. I just understand it. Whatever
machinery that crunches the translation from words into meaning in my brain
occurs faster than I can even think about it. But the French words, I see them,
but not the same as the English words. There’s a level of abstraction removed
from the quickness that is afforded my native language. There’s a delay even
though there’s no step of translation involved (I learned what French I can
recall at an early enough age that I don't have to consciously translate many
basic words or phrases).
I continued stare at the words on the poster to see if I could make them appear
to me as natural as the words on the web page. I couldn’t. I couldn’t get rid
of the delay. I'm guessing that that delay is inherent to my current level of
ability with the foreign language. It’s probably also due to the infrequency
with which I practice it (reading, writing, or speaking). In my daily life my
experience with French is statistically nil. As I think about it I wonder if
those with more developed multi-lingual skills see the words of the non-primary
languages as easily as I see English words. That if I put more effort into
practicing French that that delay of comprehension will somehow decrease (or
even diminish) and I will be able to see French and English as facilely as I see
red and blue. Both red and blue being colors but equal though different, yet I am able to
understand them both.
The curious tangent, to
me, about this question is what else does my brain do so expediently without my
conscious knowledge and how does that operation affect my life and in
particular my choices and my general outlook? I know that my brain is probably
making many, many choices and judgments (thousands perhaps) every second and
minute of every day. I suppose this is the task of the subconscious or even the
preconscious. But I can't help but think that those basic decisions percolate
up to the surface and form more complex traits and characteristics. For
example, I can be highly critical with negative overtones. Why is that? Why am
I not more relaxed and laissez-faire? Even as I sit and think about what’s
happened in my life over the last few months I know that I'm maximizing or at least magnifying the critical aspects – or perhaps more honestly magnifying the
criticality of my views of the events as opposed to the events alone – while
minimizing or not even seeing the more positive ones.
I’m confident that this function of my brain is essential to keeping me alive –
not only by telling my heart to beat and my lungs to breath, but by making sure
I don’t try to inspect the undercarriage of a moving bus or try to fly off an
ocean cliff. But I can't help but think that this autocorrect feature is also
keeping me from enjoying more of life. From seeing more beauty in things and
situations and people that I nonchalantly judge, categorize, shelve, and
ignore. I can only be so “meta” about myself. That’s the nature of
auto-evaluation. We view biases with a biased telemetry system so we are mostly
blind to biased thoughts and actions. It’s like I'm chasing my own tail. Every
once and a while I catch a glimpse of it in my periphery but I will try
vigorously at times to catch it, but what I'm seeing and chasing is only the tip something much bigger I cannot clearly see.
When learning a new art one of the first things people often do is look to more experienced artists for inspiration. Part of the learning process involves deconstructing the works of these artists to gain some kind of insight into why they did what they did. Part of this process involves the examination of brush strokes, knife marks, or lighting setups, etc. We look at the artifacts of whatever the tool that the artist used create the work as we try to gain some insight into the process. Part of what we are looking for is technique. The other, and more important part, is the motivation behind the choice of the tool and how it was used. I think it's a natural part of the learning process. But in some regards it's like throwing a piano over a cliff to learn something about music. I've been asked many times how I went about making a particular photograph. I'm a pragmatic man and I have a difficult time with unnecessary flourish. I prefer to give simple, sometimes cryptic explanations and let the asker figure out some of the information for themself. I'm a big fan of struggling a little to learn as opposed to having answers readily handed out. I prefer to teach people how to fish rather than simply hand them a fish. My reasoning is that somehow they will value the information a little more and gain a little more if they have to work for it. Also I think that chewing on something for awhile can lead to a more intimate understanding of whatever is being learned. The problem I encounter with this, though, is that sometimes I come across like a jerk when I'm really trying to help. Given this I'd like to outline my very basic philosophy when it comes to how I make photographs. First I'll give the short answer (the one I normally only give) then I'll explain it a little.
I use a black camera because black cameras are the best.
The long version of this is: it doesn't matter what camera or lens you use to make as photograph as long as it's sufficient to do the job you need it to do. That's it. That's all. Nothing else to see here. Move along.
I made that picture by looking through the viewfinder and pushing the button.
I cannot unwind my clockwork to learn anything about how I keep time. I am incapable of describing how my "eye" works. It just is. It's a telemetry system that resulted of my particular path to becoming a photographer. Though our experiences may overlap some, your path will be different than mine.
I would set your hair on fire if it would give me the perfect shade of "ouch".
This is simply: I will do whatever it takes to make whatever image I happen to want to make at the time. It also means holding strong to your artistic convictions during the process. It's also kind of rude. As I've matured as a human and an artist I've softened on this somewhat because I don't want to maliciously and purposely hurt anyone for my own gain. So this one requires some balance. It requires the consent of the parties involved. But still, hold on to your vision as much as you can while you're doing what you need to do. But don't hurt anyone in the process if you can help it. When I say these things (the three tenants) I probably sound a little cocky. But with most concepts there's a lot of depth but that's fairly densely packaged and it take some work to pull everything apart and make sense of the message. If there's something I can help you understand, I'll do my best to try. But understand that there things I cannot deconstruct. They just are.
Wrestling with Identity is a concept that is ubiquitous in the sea of the human condition. For some, discovery comes early and easily. For others it's a long and continual process. I'm one of those people. It's something I've struggled with for many years. Not just in the photographic field (which name do I use - my own or Ogalthorpe), but personally. Whether I'm an engineer or a photographer, logical or artistic. I suppose I'm fortunate that my feet sort of straddle the line between the hemispheres of brain and personality. Over the last few months I've been doing research on the subjects life plans, dating, and business/marketing. At first glance there probably doesn't seem to be much overlap between the subjects (well... except dating and marketing). But I found that most authors of each subject said that in order to be successful it was a good idea if you know who you are. Probably the most often encountered phrase was "what are your values". I'm sure many people can probably state some of their values at least on a practical level if not an intellectual one. I've never set out out to crystallize my own values. The act of doing so seems to me to be at an intellectual level slightly more abstract than I have experience living in. Basically I figured it boiled down to philosophy which is something I'm not very versed. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who may struggle with this concept. It seems that many people have trouble with this idea. Go on a few dating sites and count the number of times someone has written something like "it's so hard to describe myself" under the About Me section. I'm guilty of this at times. So I sat down to think about what's important to me. What are my values? After some time I came up with the following list. It's by no means exhaustive but I think it encapsulates what qualities are important to me and what I value in others.
Speak the truth. But be
considerate of other people’s feelings. You don’t always have to be brutal in
Whenever possible keep your
word. Shit happens. When it does, apologize. But don’t maliciously mislead
Fair, Tolerant, and Generous as often as possible. If you weren’t able, ask for
a do-over. If you can’t do it over, figure out how to do it better next time
Intelligence and Reason are
important. Educate yourself, be smart and don’t fall for snake oil and
hocus-pocus. Take time to figure out complex problems. The answer is not in the
back of the book.
try to learn new things. Your brain has infinite storage. Try to fill it up.
Try to find beauty in all
the places you look. Sometimes it’s hard but I know you can do it. Sometimes
the beautiful thing is seeing something differently than you usually do.
Be Self-Aware. But don’t
get stuck looking in the mirror. you might never leave the house.
Watch out for cognitive
errors. You really don’t know what other people think unless they tell you. The
world is beautifully gradated. It’s not all black and white.
Go outside and play. You
can play inside too if that’s your thing.
Be connected. You’re great
but there’s strength in numbers. Find your tribe in revel in what they have to
share with you and be proud of what you have to share with them.
So while I'm slowly settling into the comfort of my own skin, I can hang this list on my existential wall and use it as a guide to light the way as I continue to muddle through the dark unknown of life. Whether it be personal or professional, if anyone has any question of how I want to present myself or what I'm trying to do, I present this list.
Say something. Say almost anything. Don't let the fear of saying the wrong thing hold you back. Saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing. At least you were heard. And if you need consolation, take solace in the lesson of having said the wrong thing.