Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Inspiration ~ Why do we photograph?

Something in a short conversation with Phillip Morgan triggered a cascade of questions and possible answers.  The primary question was why do we make photographs?

An easy answer to this question is to satisfy a desire to make a pretty picture.  For some photographers their answer is a bit deeper and a bit more complex.

Portland, Oregon is home to a photographic arts gallery that was inspired by Minor White.  It's called the Camerawork Gallery.  After a show of my palladium work was held there, my wife and I would occasionally attend other artist's "opening day" celebrations.  It was there that we first met Christopher Burkett and, later, John Wimberley.  They both had their own shows at Camerwork.

M. Burkett somehow found out that I tested camera systems for resolution and other image making properties.  The start of our conversation was given to talking about Zeiss, Nikon, and Schneider optics.  He was in love with his Zeiss APO-somethingorother that he just bought for his 6x6cm Hasselblad.  We also talked about his Nikkor enlarging lenses.  They are, apparently, incredibly rare.  He certainly valued high quality gear, but that is not what motivated him.

Christopher Burkett's reasons for making beautiful landscape images in color using an old film process is much deeper than simple camera collection.  His story is rather interesting.  One day, when he was a christian brother living in a monastery, he had an experience of all life being filled with light.  Seeing light in everything inspired him to express this realization in photographs.  He felt he had to make images.

Photography is for Christopher Burkett a way of sharing his deeply spiritual experiences.

John Wimberley is another photographer who has taken his art into the realm of the highly spiritual.

Looking at John's images of Native American rock art during his gallery opening led me to ask him a question that started an interesting conversation.  I asked if he understood the nature and purpose of Native American rock art? John's quick reply was a quiet but emphatic yes.

John told me that interesting symbols of animals, patterns, shapes, and people were created and used by Native American shamans for spiritual reasons.  If I understand the process correctly, when a shaman had a particular experience of passing from this world into another he would record something of that event by etching the related shapes and symbols into rock.  Later, the shaman could return to stare at the markings as a means of re-entering the original experience.  Native American rock art work acts as a gateway to the spirit world.

The beauty of John's photographs is undeniable.  He has taken years to hone his craft and to state exactly what he believes and knows in images.  Just as with Christopher Burkett, John Wimberly uses his photography to share deeply spiritual experiences.

Talking with photographers who have very clear reasons for doing what they do was, for me, infectious.  I too wanted "good" reasons for doing what I do.  Their conversations invited me to look deeply into why I take pictures.  What is my motivation?  What do I want to say?  What has to be revealed?  What do I do with the result?

Take an hour or two and watch M. Burkett's OPB video as well as M. Wimberley's interview video to see how they've grappled these kinds of questions.


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