Once More with Feeling

As I mentioned some time ago, I spent a few days in September at the Close to Home workshop, taught by Stuart Sipahigil and Ray Ketcham in Port Townsend, Washington. Since then, I’ve been working on a guest post for Sabrina Henry’s blog that discusses the workshop’s big, third assignment. I’m finally done and it should be posted shortly [it’s been posted now]. Here I’d like to elaborate on the first exercise.

The overall point of the workshop was to learn to see photographic opportunities in our apparently ordinary surroundings, all that stuff we’re so familiar with that we ignore. Of the three assignments, the first was perhaps the most directly tied to that goal. First thing in the morning, Stuart and Ray dropped us each off in a random-seeming place in Port Townsend. We were to spend an hour in that spot and then submit one photo for review that afternoon. We all more or less independently decided that “stay in one spot” meant that we could pivot on one foot as in basketball, but nothing more. The goal, obviously, was to make lemonade from whatever lemons we found around us.

I was left at the mouth of an alley between a coffee shop and an art gallery. I tried various ideas. The alley, of course, and the walls of the buildings around it. A trash can rolling in the gusty breeze. Telephone poles and trees and storefronts across the street. The coffee shop’s sign was swinging in the breeze, and of the nine exposures I made of it, I liked the one I show here enough to choose it for submission. I think it’s a fun, jazzy photo, and it was well received in the review.

I wasn’t completely satisfied, however. Something I really want is to make photographs that have more feeling, that come from a deeper and more personal reaction to the world. While I like this photo, it doesn’t have much depth for me. Heck, I don’t even drink coffee. In my guest post for Sabrina I talk about how this motivated me in the other exercises, and I’m planning another post here that elaborates on the second exercise. Now, however, I’d like to show another photo from the alley, one that I didn’t share then.

I overlooked this in the rush to prepare the results of the two morning exercises for the afternoon review. I found it when I got home and had more time. It has more feeling for me than the coffee-shop sign. Something about that little chimney cap looks isolated and lonely against the big, empty sky. I don’t remember that I saw that at the time, but I see it now, and I processed the photo to bring it out (mostly by making things darker, and, obviously, black and white). I don’t think it’s a great photo, but I do think it’s kind of sweet, and closer to my photographic goals.

P.S. The women from the art gallery were fascinated with me, standing in their alley with my tripod, especially when I asked one of them to leave their trash can out rolling in the wind so I could keep photographing it. One came out later and saw me still in my spot. “Do you specialize in alleys?!?” she asked. I explained the assignment, and near the end of my hour all three came out to say hello and goodbye.


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