Postcard vs. Craft

Returning to Oak Island, NC is always fun, relaxing and photographically inspiring visit. This time, the learning is about contrasting of the travel/documentary photography against the creative (artistic?) potential this place has, and a lot of it. Creative conflict is between vacation tropes and dramatic visuals. This was one of the big photographic discoveries.

The expectation from any vacation and, in general, event of family significance, is to have a documented photographic record. This obliges the photographer to deliver to a specific narrative in both emotional and graphic context. Seems simple, but for me it was a struggle given the self imposed expectation that each of these frames also needs to meet my own creative requirements.

Seascapes, especially in variable weather, offer a different and more introspective story. Drama of sinister looking clouds, force of wind swept waves topped with angry looking whitecaps, almost warning of the shark danger lurking below, all conjure a different image from a great relaxing vacation.

This dramatic tone and soemwhat abstract visual context clashes with the need to document a good vacation experience, and one that was simply great. Good food restaurants, great destinations, stunning sunsets and after dinner walks on the beach are all great memories that need to be preserved in a family album. But they are not part of the portfolio. We need them both, however.

So, how to address this emotional contrast, how to document the story of having a great relaxing vacation and reconcile this with contemplative seascape drama worthy of Poe or Dostoyevski?

The answer may be to compartmentalize, delineate between purpose of the shot and then drive the aesthetic from that point. Thr trap is/was, I guess, that every time I pick the camera up, the expectation is to get it all done in one go – leading to spray-and-pray photography risk and, ultimately, shortchange both the documentary and creative process. Separating the two and arriving at a singular intent before picking (up) the camera and framing the shot seems to be the key.

Always shoot with that singular intent, the purpose. Always evaluate for good composition, light and capturing the emotion but start with a single goal and a sense for audience. This may be tough, especially when self-imposed expectations cloud the better judgement like is often the case with me, but a discipline worth having. Stop. Consider the goal. Pick the right camera and go for it.

Today, anyone with a camera (or two or three) has a lot of resources for learning – how to use the camera, how to process photographs, art study and, of course gear marketing galore. What I learned over the past few weeks is the other side of it – practice and learning from one’s own experience, not a borrowed one. While inspiration is definitely drawn from external sources, I feel that the best learning comes when you squeeze the shutter and a door to a whole new chapter of learning starts.

Nikon FE - Not the postcard camera


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