Not surprisingly, when people ask me about my creative process, it's mostly about writing. But occasionally I get similar questions about photography. The writers want to know about my inspiration or ideas; photographers and other artists want to know why I take certain pictures, or the angles, or framing, or whatever else.
This is a question I've been trying to answer for a long time myself. More than a decade ago my friend Walt Stoneburner / whiskeyrivers was starting to get interested in photography and asked me all of the above. It started with him looking at a sidelong shot I'd just taken of the Washington Monument while we walked through D.C., and he asked "Why did you take it from there?"
I struggled to answer because I wasn't really sure. At the time the best I could come up with was, "Because that's the way I saw it". Not a traditional straight-on angle, but something a little different that piqued my interest.
I wish I could tell you that I've got it all figured out now, but I really haven't. Looking at the picture now I can understand that I liked the look of the sky, the lighting, the shading on the monument, the perspective from an angle that "divided" the monument in two. But that's all technical stuff, really. If you asked me right now why I decided to snap the shot at that particular instant and no other, I'd still finally have to say, "Because that's the way I saw it."
Never mind a discussion about aesthetics; it felt right. But what does that even mean?
I've been thinking about this again lately since just had a bit of insight from my unwitting friend and fantastic artist Miranda Banks. She went to the Grand Canyon within two weeks of my visit there last summer, and after coming home painted a large and spectacular panorama of the South Rim. Never mind that I'd just been there myself and taken a couple dozen photos or more from different angles; her painting made me look at the Canyon again in a way I hadn't really seen it before. Which I suppose is one thing art is supposed to do. (And writing, for all that.)
Then this week Miranda posted on Facebook that she was doing a particular series of artworks that she hoped would show a place of her childhood the way she had seen it. Without thinking--and maybe specifically because I wasn't thinking too hard about it--I replied that this was exactly what I wanted to do with my photographs. I wanted people to see the things I cared about the way I saw them.
And I keep coming back to those places and people. For instance, my favorite spot on Earth is one-mile stretch of the Roanoke River where it crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've been going there since 1985; if I've taken less than one hundred pictures of any single spot I'd be surprised. Like this...
...a shot I've taken hundreds of times. But from slightly different angles, or times of day, or seasons, or weather, or what have you. It's a place with as many moods as a human being, and I like capturing and displaying all of them.
Especially if, say, someone like my nephew Jacob happens to be there too...
...which leads to whole new layers I want to capture and explore and preserve. This is simply one of my favorite ways of preserving a moment and what that particular moment meant to me at the time I took the picture. And then to see what it means to the person looking at the picture.
And really, my writing works the same way. I write things the way I see them. I write things that I want to be preserved and displayed. I write something the way I want you to see it. And eventually I'll want to know what it means to the reader.
Looking over this again, I think I'm making it sound a lot more intentional and calculated than it really is. There's some of both behind my photos and writing, of course; to a degree there always has to be. There certainly is when I choose what to send to an editor or post online. But mostly, at the time of creation, I just happened to like the light and shade of that specific footstep.