Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Photog class: Minimalism

At the end of the summer, I received the catalog of new classes offered by a local "night school" organization.  It's not REAL school, but just a bunch of offerings for things like ballroom dancing, yoga, computer classes like "Learn to Use Microsoft Word," and really boring sounding stuff like "Preparing for Retirement."  I always check out the photography, Italian, and philosophy offerings.  (Weirdly, the same guy is teaching Italian and philosophy ... I thought I was the only freaking person on the planet with competence in both Italian AND philosophy.  What are the odds?)  Typically, this catalog winds up in the recycling bin five minutes after I receive it, but this time I actually signed up for something.  (This is the year of Not Giving a Crap at school, so I may as well pay someone else to teach me something new to avoid complete liquefication of my brain cells.)

I signed up for an advanced photography course, and our first assignment was minimalism.  (You can see examples of minimalism here.)  Each week, you have to bring four finished/edited shots with you, and then we sit around and critique them.  The critiquing part really didn't make me nervous.  As the great philosopher Eminem once said, "I've been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage." It's true.   (YOU try forgetting that one of your profs made you cry--in front of two other profs--in the middle of your proposal defense.  If that doesn't count for getting booed off stage, nothing does. If this ever happens to you, remember: You will not die. You will live through it. The world will not end. It will just feel like it's about to end, but it won't.  Eventually, everyone except you will forget that this happened.  Yes, everyone will stare at your swollen face on the train ride home.  Also, go ahead and cancel your celebratory dinner reservation at Simon Pearce.  Your aforementioned face is going to look as if it just got beat in with a bat, so you're better off going the next night.  Finally, feel free to blow $300 at Anthro the following weekend just to spite the jerk who made you cry.  That'll learn 'em.)

The critiquing part ended up being a joke.  I quickly caught on that no one wanted to say anything critical about anyone's work.  I didn't realize how wired my brain is to tear stuff apart--and how ready I am to be torn apart--until I became the only person saying things like, "I like this--maybe if it were cropped to only show the such-and-such ... ?" and leaving out the, "then maybe it would be a better example of minimalism" part.  After the second time of softballing a comment just for the hell of it, I just stopped talking.  I don't know if it's ME or my profession or both--I spent nine years training to find holes in everything set in front of me.  According to my colleagues, failure to find holes indicates a failure in thinking.  And, everything has holes.  (See why most philosophers go on to become lawyers?)

I guess I'm not used to doing anything just for the fun of it.

That's sad.

I cheated a little and submitted one picture from California, but I actually took the other three during the week.

At Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma

I introduced this next one with, "This is completely boring and I don't like it, but it was all I had to offer."


The teacher agreed and said, "What if we cropped it like this?"


Isn't that amazing? It's a completely different shot.  (Still not my favorite, but better.)


Another student suggested that he would have cropped in much closer on this one too.  Someone else disagreed with him and said that he likes the leaf in the upper right corner because "it provides context."  I just like the swirly veins in the sections of the leaf.

Finally, there's this one.  I think it's borderline boring, but everyone went "WHOA!" when it went up on the screen which really surprised me.  Turns out, no one could tell what it is, so they were momentarily freaked out by it--it's a burro's tail.


I wasn't even sure that it counted as minimalism, but apparently it does.  There were definitely some shots from other people that made me think, "Wow--I wish I had thought of that. So cool."  This week's assignment is a still life with natural light. It's due Thursday, and since it rained today and it's raining tomorrow (plus, I'm not even around tomorrow), that means I have to do it Thursday.  I bought a bunch of pomegranates and mangoes (long story), and I think I'm using them as my subjects. The teacher showed us a few still lifes that also served as examples of minimalism, so I want to see if I can mimic those.

Prepping for this takes me right back to high school. In three years of photography classes, I tore apart my mom's living room about a billion times to shoot an assignment.  This particular room had soft daylight from two different angles and was really, really dark at night for artificially lit subjects.  PLUS, it also had a glass topped end table which was awesome because I could light objects from below for really weird effects.  I've used my camera almost everyday since those classes came to an end, but it's definitely different to do assignments, especially assignments of stuff and not people.  It pulls on a very particular spot in my brain, one that has been dormant for about a decade.

In coming weeks, I have a still life assignment with artificial light, a flash assignment (which might push me to go buy a flash since I've been thinking about it for a while ... but I don't know what they cost, so maybe not), and a portrait assignment.  I guess I'll revert to my old high school strategy for the portrait assignment: go find Leslie, tell her she needs to take a three hour time out for me, curl her hair and do her makeup (I guess she's old enough to do it herself now), and then move her around like a Barbie doll until she finally says, "OK I'M DONE NOW."

That's still a few weeks away, Leslie, so make sure you pencil me in for October.

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