Developing a Philosophy of Photography: Landmarks

Birds on a wire at the Basilica of St. Lawrence

As I work through Photography 101, I am starting to grasp something fundamental: what a photo says to the beholder may have little to do with the conditions under which the picture was taken. At the outset, I was puzzled when the example photo for the “Solitude” assignment showed a solitary woman walking through the Hagia Sophia. While the woman seemed to be alone in the photo, a photographer had obviously been present. If the woman was not alone, how could the picture represent “Solitude”?

IMG_3024

NC Arboretum (taken with iPhone 5s)

Taking an authentic approach, I decided to pursue the “Solitude” assignment by seeking solitude. To my surprise, when I reviewed my photos and compared them to the “Solitude” photos posted by other Photo 101 participants, my photos looked more like “Empty” than “Solitude.” Later, I noticed that a photo I had taken on a “Natural World” quest with my husband and son expressed the concept of “Solitude” better than all my pictures of empty paths, empty seats in an amphitheater, or landscapes devoid of people. This photo doesn’t show a person, but the one flaming branch in a mostly bare forest suggests separateness and isolation better than the photos I had taken while separate and isolated.

IMG_3062 rotate

Pack Square skyline: Vance Monument, County Courthouse, City Hall, and Jackson Building (taken with iPhone 5s)

I’m trying to learn that the image is the thing. What matters is not the emotion that I feel when I push a button on my camera but the emotion that the viewer feels upon seeing the picture. The picture might communicate an idea or mood that has nothing to do with the photographer’s mental makeup or agenda. There are times when the emotion that the photographer feels and the emotion that the photo conveys are the same: that seemed to be true of many “Bliss” pictures (although not necessarily mine). At other times, a photograph may be more illusion than reality. I am thinking of those false tuxedo shirts that seniors wear for graduation photos: it looks as if a young man is wearing a full suit of formal clothing when, in fact, he is wearing only a false front.

Monument honoring Zebulon B. Vance, a native son of Buncombe County who served as Governor and U.S. Senator

Monument honoring Zebulon B. Vance, a native son who served as Governor and U.S. Senator

It may take me a while to get my head around the disconnect between image and reality. Like most bloggers, I think of myself as someone who is honest with her readers. (I’m dodging the sticky truth that “honesty” in social media is inherently compromised, since I decide what parts of my life to share.) How honest are lovely images that were taken in a stressful moment?

Happily, a landmark is only a landmark, no matter what I’m feeling at the time that I photograph it. A landmark might be a natural wonder, as opposed to a man-made creation, but it carries less emotional baggage. Or does it? A landmark like the Lincoln Memorial may have strong historical connotations. In addition, the choice of perspective or background for the landmark may subtly influence the viewer. Ultimately, the photographer’s goal in taking the picture will determine whether she opts for straightforward documentation of a landmark’s features or decides to focus on a particular aspect of the landmark or setting. During my “Landmark” photo shoot, I learned this: whatever the photographer’s goal, telephone wires, street lamps, signs, traffic signals, cars, pedestrians, and trashcans will get in her way.

The iconic outline of City Hall, designed by Douglas Ellington, has been adopted by the City of Asheville in its official logo.

The Art Deco outline of City Hall, designed by Douglas Ellington, has been incorporated into the City of Asheville‘s official logo.

DSCN0698 edit

Designed by Rafael Guastavino, the Basilica of St. Lawrence showcases what may be North America’s largest freestanding elliptical dome.


All photographs taken November 2014 by Sandra Fleming with Coolpix L320, unless otherwise specified in the caption. Text and photos are copyrighted by the author © 2014. Please do not use them without her permission.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/photography-101-landmark/

Advertisements

Solitude: “I went to the woods . . .”

IMG_2964 crop 2

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden (iPhone 5s)

“I’m doomed!” I thought as I saw the cars. Freed of responsibility for the afternoon, I had driven to Flat Rock in search of solitude.  I’d never seen more than half a dozen cars in the parking lot on previous visits to the Carl Sandburg Home. On this sunny Saturday, I barely found a spot in the Flat Rock Playhouse parking lot across the street.

DSCN0628 crop

Coolpix L320

At least a dozen people passed me as I searched for a trail map at the building by the front lake. There were no maps. Carl Sandburg, the “Poet of the People,” would have rejoiced to see such a diverse crowd enjoying his peaceful retreat — old and young couples, college girls, families with small children, exercise enthusiasts, dogs and their owners. But how was I to take a photo representing solitude if I was surrounded by people on my hike up to Big Glassy Overlook?

DSCN0631

Coolpix L320

As it turned out, I needed other people to help me reach Big Glassy Overlook. I headed up the long driveway, past Sandburg’s house, and along the path that — I thought — led to the top of Glassy Mountain. With few signs and no blazes marking the trails, I became concerned that I was headed instead towards the circuitous Little Glassy Trail, which we had taken a couple of weeks ago.

Taken with CoolPix L320

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ― Henry David Thoreau (Coolpix L320)

While I hesitated, a mother and two little girls came into view. The younger daughter seemed to find my request for help amusing. Was it because I, a grown-up, was lost? Although they were going to the goat barn, the mother knew how to reach Big Glassy from there, so I tagged along. The mother pointed out that my shoe was untied. I felt myself sinking even deeper in the young girl’s estimation.

As we walked towards the barn in awkward silence, another group approached from the opposite direction — grandparents and tweens. They were looking for Little Glassy Trail, but they had just come down from Big Glassy Overlook and assured me that I could get there on the path behind them. I thanked the mother and little girls and headed up the trail.

Coolpix L320

Coolpix L320

A couple was ahead of me on the uphill path, so I slowed down, hoping to achieve “solitude.” I trudged up the hill, hearing the crunch of fallen leaves as I walked (my shoe was untied again). Soon the sound of voices died away, and I was by myself in the woods. In college, I often took long walks alone; maybe the close quarters of dorm life had something to do with my need for solitude then. But, in recent years, family hikes had become a social activity, a time for talking as much as getting exercise or trying out a new trail. How long had it been since I had gone on a hike by myself? Or listened to the crackle of dry leaves beneath my feet?

Coolpix L320

Coolpix L320

One nice thing about being alone: I could take lots of pictures, although the memory card in my Lumix had rebelliously declared itself to be “Write-Protected.” Once its built-in memory filled, I was left to my iPhone 5s and Coolpix L320, neither of which offered an AF grid. So much for trying the Rule of Thirds. I had noticed large patches of granite more than once during the 1.5-mile hike to the top of Glassy Mountain. Now that I had finally reached the overlook, I walked carefully over the slippery outcropping to see the lovely view of the valley.

The couple who had been ahead of me on the trail was sitting on a bench when I arrived. They got up immediately, despite my urging, “Don’t let me drive you off!” Secretly, I was glad when they assured me they were leaving. I would have a few moments alone in this serene spot. Instead of taking pictures, I sat down on the granite summit, drank from my water bottle, and enjoyed the panorama.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This was a mistake, because, seconds later, two more couples showed up. The older couple began posing for photographs in front of the view, while the young couple settled on the bench, seemingly determined to stay there until the rest of us left. I needed to go, anyway — I was supposed to take my daughter shopping. I retraced my steps on the descent, thankful that it was light enough for me to enjoy the fading fall colors. Amusingly, I encountered the mother and her two daughters on my way down the trail. They had visited the goats. “They were butting each other like crazy today,” the little girl told me, as if I were now a friend.

Although my walk to the overlook had been mostly solitary, now I encountered more people, alone or in pairs, hurrying down or heading up. To my surprise, I met some people I knew: the homeschooling mother and son who had introduced me to the Carl Sandburg Home on an August field trip! I was introduced to the father of the family, and we chatted briefly. The mother was pleased that I had returned to the Sandburg site so many times. I tried to explain about the “solitude” photo assignment, but their faces wore puzzled expressions as we parted ways.

DSCN0656 crop

Coolpix L320

IMG_2966 crop

iPhone 5s

By now, I was making plans with my husband on my phone. He updated me on our son’s chess tournament: his team had won second place! I got lost — again. Impatient to reach my car and immersed in the logistics of whether I could get downtown in time to pick up my daughter, I failed to notice where I was walking. Wondering if I had time to stop by the bakery and buy an almond croissant, I veered left onto a driveway. Suddenly, instead of the shimmering lake at the entrance, an unfriendly gate confronted me. “How did I miss the lake”? I thought in disgust. (I had planned to take more pictures.) Resignedly, I clambered over and walked along the road to the overflow lot — thankful that I would soon be rejoining my family, sad that my slow rate of travel had cost me the croissant.

Unlike Thoreau — who lived in the woods for two years, two months, and two days — I went to the woods to be alone for a few hours. What had this solitary experience taught me? Getting lost seemed to accompany solitude, if solitude meant being by myself in a public place. My self-consciousness had also increased on the hike: I was keenly aware that the people I met perceived me simply as a middle-aged woman, not as part of a family or a couple. When I had encountered people whom I knew, I felt compelled to justify my presence there without any family members. Why? Did that imply that I saw myself not as an individual but only in relation to other people? In addition to elevating my heart rate, the climb to Big Glassy Overlook had heightened my sensory perceptions — my awareness of sounds, in particular. Bird calls, rustling leaves, the occasional falling nut: would I have missed these, had I not been alone?


All photographs taken by Sandra Fleming. Text and photographs are copyrighted by Sandra Fleming © 2014. Please do not use or reproduce them without her permission.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday: Reflection

Andy Rooney 3One of my favorite things about blogging is that it is not school: I am free to write what I want, when I want, and how I want. Not only do I get to choose what to write about, but I can write in any genre that suits my whim. I can use photographs, with or without words. I can use words, with or without pictures. I decide how many words to write. Whether or not anyone reads my posts will probably be affected by these choices, but the decisions are mine to make.

Given how much I like the idea of being absolute monarch of my blogging realm, it strikes me as ironic that I keep signing up for blogging classes, thereby limiting my own authority. First, I took on Blogging 101, although it seems to have bested me, since I completed only half the assignments. I am writing this post for a Photography 101 assignment (Day 3: water). In fact, my last three posts have been on subjects not of my choosing: home, street, and now, water.

A vertical cropping of the same pond (I prefer the horizontal photo myself)

Here’s a vertical orientation, but I prefer the horizontal.  The reflective water mirrors the tree while creating the illusion of a tree. Writing also reflects life but can create a parallel world.  (Panasonic Lumix)

Choosing Andy Rooney‘s statement — “I don’t pick subjects as much as they pick me” — for Writer’s Quote Wednesday may seem odd, since I have written recently on subjects that someone else dictated. Home, street, and water did not “pick me,” I assure you. Because I am feeling little enthusiasm for photographing or writing about arbitrary topics, Mr. Rooney’s quote refreshed me like a cupful of cool water in an arid desert. When something cries out to be addressed, forces itself on my attention repeatedly, haunts me as I drive from place to place, then I sit down at the computer and become deaf to the people around me until I have poured out myself in words.

I had the experience of a subject picking me last Tuesday evening. My husband, daughter, and son had all left the house after dinner, and I was planning to use my time productively: sorting through catalogs, putting away laundry, or exercising.  As I brought dirty dishes into the kitchen, I passed my aging laptop. Suddenly, my fingers were at the keyboard, typing feverishly about an idea that had been forming for the past few days. I don’t know exactly what Andy Rooney meant by saying that subjects pick him, rather than the other way around, but I can guess. I feel his pain — or pleasure.

writers-quote-wednesday

Sides of a City: Street Shots

IMG_2900 (3)

All Souls Cathedral

Biltmore Village

IMG_2918

Haywood Street

P1070281 (2)

West Asheville Community Center

P1070279 crop

Walking on the West Side


Going clockwise from the top left, photos 1, 2, and 3 were taken with an iPhone 5s, while photos 4 and 5 were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/photograph-101-street/

A Mountain Greenery Home

IMG_2868.JPG

“In a mountain greenery, Where God paints the scenery . . .” — “Mountain Greenery” lyrics by Lorenz Hart (Photo: iPhone 5s)

Like many mothers of my generation, I spend hours of my life on the road: driving my children to soccer practice, music lessons, dance class, and homeschool tutorials. This photo of a highway that I travel every day represents my home in western North Carolina better than a photo of my house. The fact that I snapped this picture with my daughter’s iPhone 5s as my husband drove us to church Sunday morning suggests that I tend to run late — otherwise, I would have had my phone and its invaluable built-in camera with me. I respond to beautiful sights by photographing them, which is why I borrowed someone else’s phone to capture the unusual sight of fall foliage against snow-capped mountains.

What is also apparent to an experienced photographer is how little I know about cameras. I’ve had my iPhone for less than a year, and I am more accustomed to taking pictures with my point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix or the Nikon CoolPix L320 that I bought on Black Friday. In Photography 101, I hope to improve my skills, particularly my use of light and my understanding of composition. Maybe along the way I’ll learn what “aperture” and “ISO” mean?  For a tagline, I currently use the phrase “celebrating beauty in creation.” Better pictures of the beautiful places that I post about would help me show beauty to my readers.

Despite its imperfections, the highway photo hints at how lovely the Blue Ridge Mountains were this weekend, with the golds, oranges, reds, and greens of the trees frosted by an early touch of snow. Within a day, the snowman that my son and husband made had melted. Today, the trees look much as they did before the rare November snow, although more branches have shed their leaves. A long, cold winter is predicted for our area, but, for today, the road is clear, and the fading colors of autumn are still beautiful.

IMG_2859

My backyard after the snow (iPhone 5s)

DSCN0608

Coolpix L320

DSCN0619

This is the first time I’ve seen snow on the leaves of a tulip poplar. (CoolPix L320)

https://href.li/?http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/photography-101-home