Dream come true…

The woods are beautiful.  There really is no way of improving on nature.  But despite knowing this, I have had a frustrated urge to try and do just that over the last few years.  In early 2010, I started studying a professional photography course, and have set many of the images for my assignments in or around the woods.  It struck me that it would be wonderful if I could actually hold an ehxibition at the woods.  Pictures of the woods set in the woods where they were taken.

This weekend, my dream came true.  My final assignment was to hold an exhibition.  For the last year I have been taking pictures with this aim in mind.  What I really wanted to do seemed impossible:  get a set of images that, when placed in the woods, would both enhance the woods, and be enhanced by their setting, so that both were greater than the sum of the whole.

Entitled “The Eye of the Beholder”, I wanted people to see the woods through my eyes.  There is so much beauty in the detail, and by setting images of the details of the woods  – the insects, butterflies, damselflies, flowers, light and shade, colour and texture – in the place where they were taken, I hoped that the eye of the beholder would be drawn into the image, through the image, and beyond into the woods themselves.  Drawing people through the image into the reality beyond, and helping them to connect to the woods, and learn to see nature, and its beauty, in a different way.

So much work!  Picking the right pictures, selecting the right spot (and then finding I couldn’t put the picture there because of buried stones, the need to turn the tractor, or simply poor lighting), finding the right kind of print that would be weather and UV resistant…and then bashing in the stakes (thank you, Stephen!) and mounting them.

Was it worth it – was it a dream come true?  Well…this weekend we opened the exhibition (which will stay in place until November 2012), and 63 people came along to see it.  And I think it worked, judging by some of the comments.

I don’t think I can ever make people see the wood through my eyes – but I DO think that by careful use of art in the landscape, the relationship between the viewer and the landscape can be made to change.  These pictures don’t do the same thing when they are indoors, on the walls – nice though they look.  Placed outside, in the environment where they were taken, they can improve the connection between the person, photographer and the natural world.  Photography in its real element.  A dream of mine, and a dream come true.

If you’d like to visit, we are open on Wednesday 29th August and 5th and 12th September between 6-8pm, as well as on our Open days on Sundays 23rd September, 28th October and 25th November.  If a group would like to come, then please contact us and we can sort it out.

And if you’d like to see the video of the exhibition with music – well, here it is.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I am constantly blown away by the beauty of the natural world, and by the beauty of the landscapes and creatures of our lovely woods.  How is it possible to convey this to other people, so that they can see what I am seeing?  This has been a question occupying my mind since I started my photography course way back in 2009.  Now, approaching the end of this course, I have committed to put on an exhibition of images that attempts to do just that.

The problem is that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  What one person perceives as beautiful may pass another by, in favour of a completely different aspect of the same scene.  Beauty is ephemeral, transient, and depends on the emotions that a scene evokes in the person who sees it.  Beauty is also more than the image itself:  it depends on the sounds, smells, temperature, wind, humidity and the whole experience is much more than what somebody sees.

So how can I convey some of these additional aspects of what I experienced when I took these pictures?  There is so much more to an image than just the pixels on the final print.  For me, looking at these images is an emotional experience because I know what I felt when I took them.  It is also emotional because it is tied up with my love for the woods, and for their wildlife.  I feel a deep-seated connection with the woods after spending many hours over the last five years in their presence.  You can feel small changes with the weeks, months and seasons, and how those seasons vary from year to year.  You can sense little creatures in the undergrowth, notice small changes in the paths that they take, become aware of what makes a particular perch attractive for a butterfly or dragonfly.

What I have been busy with, and hence has taken my time away from this blog, is trying to put something together that shows this connection I have with the woods in a limited set of images.  What was obvious from the outset is that these images have to be show outdoors, in the context in which they were taken.  They have to be seen in the changing seasons of the wood, and with the viewer immersed in the smells, sounds, wind, rain, sunshine, warmth and cold, wet and dry of the woods.  The sound of a buzzard, the rustle of a stealth vole through the grass, the buzz of a bumblebee, the joyful watery twittering of the goldfinches feeding on thistle seeds, the smell of damp grass and wood sage, the wind on your face and on your back – all of these will enhance what you see when you see the pictures.
Likewise, I hope the pictures will enhance what the viewer sees when they are in the woods.  Coming across a picture in its natural setting will, I hope, make people think of what they are looking at and see something of the detail that is there, if only you look for it.  I hope it will also help people to see how things change with seasons, time of day, weather and all those other things that can make the woods such a different place from hour to hour, day to day, season to season and year to year.

When I picked the pictures up from the printer I was almost shaking with excitement.  What I hope is that some of that feeling spills over to those who see them, such that the viewer can get into my eyes, into my head, and see what I saw, and feel what I felt when I took those pictures.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I hope that this beholder can now share some of that with other people.

The exhibition “The Eye of the Beholder” is opening on August Bank Holiday Sunday and Monday 26/7th August 2012, and will also be available for viewing on our final few Open Wednesday evenings of the year (until 2nd week of September), as well as on our September 23rd, October and November Open Days.  Please come along if you can and take a look.  If you can’t there is a brief taster on our YouTube slideshow. 

Photography Part 6: Criticism should be constructive, whether of your own work, or that of others

  1. I have suffered hugely from destructive criticism in the past, which led me to withdraw from photography completely for years.  It is very easy to point out the flaws in an image, but much harder to genuinely help somebody to improve through constructive criticism.

What do I mean by constructive and destructive criticism?  By destructive, I mean simply telling somebody they think a photo is not good (very frequently expressed less politely on photography web sites).  Or voting “Dislike”.  Or rejecting an image from a group of which you are a moderator without giving a reason.  This is destructive because it is wholly negative feedback without any hint to the photographer as to what the viewer doesn’t like, or how they can improve.

What is much harder is to work out why you think a photograph is poor, or you don’t like it.  Even harder still is to help the photographer work through what they were trying to achieve, work out why in your mind they haven’t achieved it, and then help them to work through whether they could have done anything different to make the image better, and thus achieve what they wanted to.

You may think you are doing the latter.  However, it can come over very differently to the recipient, particularly if they are not familiar with technical terms, or are just looking for some general pointers and receive an essay on all the shortcomings of their picture.  Blinding somebody with science is a form of destructive criticism because it doesn’t actually help them achieve their aims.

There is a point to all this:  if you can learn to constructively criticise the work of another photographer, you automatically become able to develop a technique of self-criticism which will help you to improve your success in helping others to share your experience.  There is no right or wrong, good or bad, but there are always things you could have done differently.

Here’s an example:  You may not like an image that has a pink cast.  You could say “I don’t like the pink cast to this image”.  That is destructive criticism, and offers no insight to the photographer, or method by which he or she could improve.  Or you could ask the photographer “why did you give the image a pink cast?”  That is a constructive comment, because it makes the photographer think through why they did it, and perhaps will help you to see things through the photographer’s eyes.  It may also help the photographer to convey what they really wanted to better next time.  Or you may just agree to disagree.  Or it may turn out not to be a colour cast, but a natural coloration.  The point is, it will generate a positive discussion, and not make the photographer go home, sell their camera and give up.  And believe me, criticism can do that to a photographer.

So please keep your criticism of yourself, and others, positive.  Don’t tell yourself or somebody else that you, or they, are a bad photographer.  Instead, look at the image and ask yourself why it doesn’t meet your, or their, criteria of success.  That way, you, and they, will improve, and we will all be able to share our visual world.  And isn’t that what photography is all about?