Beauty: What is it and how important is it?

As a photographer, I look for juried competitions or show entries in order to get my images in front of decision makers. Therefore, I look at the pictures of previous winners and those being in the accepted groups. I have made an observation that is disconcerting to me. In so many situations, the images that placed have to do with documenting social or environmental issues. I rarely find portfolios of just beautiful pictures.  For me personally beauty is important and so I asked: What is beauty and how important is it?

First, I want to define what I mean by beauty. I am referring to the beauty in our environment; be it in the home, its decoration; be it in Nature, be it in a person which can mean the person is physically beautiful or there is an inner beauty. I am well aware that different people define different things as beautiful. Yet I would question that someone would want to have a large print of a starving child or a heap of euthanized cats on the wall of their living room or any other image that portrays a social or environmental issue. It can be a well-composed picture and those photos are important. They have their place in a documentary, an article about a relating subject. It seems to me that jurors want to highlight these photographers and not ones that have portfolios of just plain beauty. In my view, a mix of both would be ideal, because it honors the necessity of both types of photography. So I kept coming back to the question: What is beauty and how important is it?

I felt I needed to get a better understanding of what is going on here and began to search for an answer. I came across an article by the Jungian psychologist James Hillman. His perception that in our time beauty is repressed surprised me . He points to the ecological crisis, stating that underneath is a crisis of love, which is a direct result of the repression of beauty. He counters the argument that beautification costs too much with the cost of ‘ugliness’: “.. in absenteeism; in sexual obsession, school drop-out rates, overeating and short attention span; in pharmaceutical remedies and the gigantic escapism industries of wasteful shopping, chemical dependency, sports violence and the disguised colonialism of tourism.”

The subject of beauty is part of news. In the entertainment industry it ranges from what a star wears for a certain occasion to facelifts and other surgical procedures to become more beautiful. In regards to body image, the fashion industry gives clear messages about what is considered beautiful. As a result teenage girls and women develop eating disorders. How many magazines deal with how to make the home beautiful? How many art critics tell us what is supposed to be beautiful? The focus seems to be on beauty, so how can it be suppressed? I feel the unhealthy quest for physical beauty and ‘standardized’ beauty are exactly signs that we don’t have a personal relationship with beauty and as a result it becomes distorted.

To Hillman, a major part of the reason why beauty is suppressed is the fact that we can’t find a rational definition for beauty. As you heard earlier, I was not able to really define beauty. So I pulled out the dictionary. From my perspective, even the definitions Webster gave felt insufficient as an actual definition.  Am I doomed, then? James Hillman talks about a different way to describe beauty. If you remember seeing utter beauty, you probably also remember that you gasped. Beauty is said to take your breath away. Hillman proposes that this sharp intake of breath is the response just as certain and ubiquitous as wincing when in pain or moaning when experiencing pleasure.

Hillman’s conclusion of the article is fascinating for me. This gasp “comes from the chest, which in the Kundalini Yoga is the place of the heart. .. Unless this chakra comes to life, unless the heart is opened, …. we remain deaf and blind, repressing despite our best intentions, simply because the organ that perceives beauty has not been stirred.” In other words, in order to see beauty, one has to have an open heart.  Other, unrelated articles speak of this being the time when we move from the head to the heart.  I am wondering: May be it was necessary for beauty to be repressed so people would begin to long for it. This longing can facilitate the movement from the head into the heart.

It seems that my intuitive sense is correct and that beauty is utterly important for the well being of people. It is the artist’s task to show the unexpected in the ordinary, to make it visible. The eye of an artist does not separate the extraordinary from the ordinary because he can see both within each other, she can see that they are connected. Seeing beauty connects us to our soul and makes us care about it, see the value of our essence.

Anais Nin says: “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with, we cease to see.”  Seeking an answer, I also found much confirmation for my style of photography. Through abstraction I intend to go to the essence of my subjects, because I know how easy it is to look, label and move on. The ability to put a label on something makes it ordinary or familiar and the mystery or extraordinary is missed. I know that those moments of incredible beauty, seeing mystery feed me, inspire me, energize me and I assume they do the same for others.

Posted in Awareness, My Photography, Personal Tagged , , |

Fine Art Photography

More and more, I get asked the question if I manipulate my images. For me it is difficult to answer that. Yes, I do, mostly in camera, and no, I don’t because I am not using Photoshop to create an image out of images I have taken or part of them. My sense is that there is a mistrust due to the abuse of Photoshop in the media.

Here is a very well written article about the different areas in photography and their necessity of being ‘truthful’. I do hope it helps answer some of your questions:

http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0112/ab0112-1.html

Posted in Uncategorized

Portfolio Reviews

This past weekend, I participated in the Portfolio Review Bootcamp offered by Center in Santa Fe. It was a very valuable experience in preparation of two events I signed up for. I am now in the process of implementing suggestions and hope to create a powerful portfolio of my photographic mandalas.

For those, who don’t know what a Portfolio Review is, here is a short explanation. The photographer brings an edited collection of 17 – 20 images to the event where (s)he will meet with a selection of curators, gallery owners or publishers for 20 min. to talk about the images and / or ask questions. Most review organizers ask to prioritize the reviewers and then create a schedule. It is my guess that participants will get a mix of selected and assigned reviewers.

I am in the process of reading through the bios of all the reviewers of my first event and have a look at what they are involved in. I want to find those that might be interested in my images so I can put them at the top of my list. I don’t mind having a mixture of assigned and selected reviewers. In the bootcamp I learned that some I did not choose would have been great to get feedback from. It is tough to make a choice just based on what you read and not knowing the personality.

Posted in My Photography, Photographic Mandalas Tagged , , , |

Catching up

It has been quite some time since my last post. As you can see, my blog is now integrated with my web site, which has a completely new look and new galleries. Despite using a template, it still took time to create the new galleries and tweak everything. Here is a quick overview of what I have been up to and some new images.

In April, I visited family. Naturally, I had to try my rotational technique on the local subjects. Houses or villages in the landscape as seen from a high point will take some more experimentation. Sunsets, though, worked out well a few times.

Alpspitze 1.jpgWaxenstein 2.jpg

Then beginning May, I went to Moab to attend the Moab Photography Symposium. The old masters like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were the subject of several presentations. Seeing the untouched original and the way Ansel Adams edited them was an incredible learning experience. I gave myself some extra days to photograph in the bigger area. Despite my enjoyment in creating the photographic mandalas, I still delight in ‘straight’ photography. Here are a few images of that trip:

Natures Rock Art.jpgNorth Window, Arches NP.jpgMill Creek 1.jpgWest Mitten 1.jpg

I just returned from a trip to California where I visited my children and some friends. One of them invited me to visit the Monterey Aquarium. I could not help myself and had to try some fish mandalas. Here are 3 images that I feel worked. It was not easy to pull off. The fish tend to moven, even if just a bit. And then, have you ever tried to take a photo with your camera upside down!

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During my times at home, we had some incredible sunsets. With all the mandalas I have created, it is getting more difficult to have a new and better one. Here are two that I kept:

Sunset Colors 14.jpgSunset Fire 17.jpg

Last, but not in the least, I would like to hear from you what you think about the new look of the web site. Also, I would like to get back into writing about items, which are useful for you, the reader. So please let me know of your interests and questions. I have posted 2 articles, one about the technique and one about my creative journey under About and I plan on writing some more. This creation of the photographic mandalas and getting them out for others to see has been and will continue to be an interesting journey for me. I have begun to work with Mary Virginia Swanson, a consultant. Her comments and feedback led to the new design of the web site and the joining of organizations I would not have known about. I am curious to see where it all will lead me.

Posted in My Photography, Recent Shoots Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

New subject – new learning

On the way back on a recent trip, I stopped by the Grand Canyon. Since it was still February, it was my hope that I could drive the road to Hermits rest with my car instead of the shuttle bus. But the two days before my arrival, they had a blizzard with 14″ of new snow. Therefore that road was closed for snow removal. Somewhat disappointed, I ventured to 2 of my favorite spots: Mather Point and Yaqui Point. At least I had some snow along the rim, so there was the possibility to take new images.

Walking along the rim looking for compositions, I decided to try my new technique too. Since this was a new subject, I took a regular shot as a reference. This is now proving to be very helpful. There were some incredible surprises and also a good many duds. At least I can look at the images (regular shot – mandala) side by side and learn what the reasons might be for both success and failure.

I spent the night in the campground and then left early to get some sunrise images at Lipan Point. Before I could leave, though, I had to clear the windshield, but from the inside. With 16 degrees, the moisture in my breath created a layer of soft ice. I sure was glad that their bathrooms were somewhat heated 🙂

Enjoy the images. As always, let me know your thoughts.

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Branching out

I am beginning to add other ‘subjects’ to my cloud / sky / mountain ridges collection of photographic mandalas. For the past week, I have been working with trees. I found that my current knowledge transfers only partially to trees. It seems that they have their own, unique “needs”. Not only as a subject in general, but also as individual species. Shooting an aspen mandala is quite different from a juniper or pinyon. Also the energy of these images is quite different from the others. I am excited about learning more to create beautiful tree mandalas and am looking forward to Spring. I imagine that the first touches of Spring green will give those photographic mandalas a different touch. Fall colors might be interesting too, especially later in the season when there are only some colorful leaves left.

Here is a sample of my new images. Enjoy! … and as always, I would love to hear your impressions.

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… and the journey continues

A few days ago, we had an incredible sunset. The undersides of the clouds lit orange-red and their recessed part a beautiful, rich grey. Inspiration asked again: How would this look as a mandala?

Because of my intense analysis of the photographic mandalas and the single image I often take before, I am now beginning to be able to ‘create’ the central aspect through choice of center and composition.

[gallery, exclude=”=486″ link=”file” order=”DESC” orderby=”rand”]

While sorting and editing, I tend to mark those images that I like best. Interestingly, within the photographic mandalas, there are only 2 images that have stayed. I am wondering if it has to do with the fact that, at this time of the year, I am not able to find flowers or colorful aspen leaves or with sentimentality. I am keenly aware how emotionally close I am to many, if not all. For this reason, I am currently taking an online class with William Neill to get his feedback. He is a photographer I highly respect and trust. My hope is to get enough distance to make solid judgements in regards to the quality of a mandala, which is becoming very necessary with havin over 50 in my collection now.

When I see images like the above and remember the excitement and pure joy I felt while taking them, I muse: Who is really taking these pictures? Is it me or am I just the one “pressingthe button”. It reminds me of how I felt when I was drawing mandalas and was aware that “I” had stepped aside and allowed something to flow through me.

Posted in My Photography, Photographic Mandalas Tagged , , , , , , |

Do we notice beauty?

As a photographer, I need to be aware of the beauty around me. But a story I recently got through an email list made me stop and think about this.

Do we see/hear beauty if we are not trained for it?

Do we see / hear beauty in a place we do not expect it?

I am not sure I can answer yes to either question, yet I intend to be more aware.

Here is the story:

THE SITUATION

In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . ..

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Enjoy life NOW…… it has an expiration date!

Posted in Awareness, Personal Tagged , , , |

2010 in review

With the New Year approaching, I have been looking over my photographic journey during the past 12 – 18 months. So much has been happening.

In September 2009 I published my web site after having learned enough of Dreamweaver to put together a simple one. I started this blog, which was a daunting idea for me being a very private person. Therefore I took a suggestion to offer something to the reader very literally and shared what little knowledge I have. Eventually, though, it swung to the other side with being just about my images. For the coming year, I want to find a good middle ground.

This past summer, a year with my mentor Eddie Soloway came to a close. It was a year of incredible excitement and frustration. I have been contemplating that journey and the pearls Eddie shared. The first one that came to mind was the “postcard”. Initially, I was disappointed that he labeled an image I really loved and was proud of because of its simplicity and yet classic look a postcard. Eventually, I came to not only understand, but also to appreciate what he was saying with this term. Postcards are classic images, views of places, that everybody takes. Eddie was challenging me to find my own interpretation of it. Throughout the year, he helped me see which of my images were unique, were representing my way of seeing.

I feel the other big gift he gave me was the suggestion to become a master at multiple exposures. In one session, he introduced me to Freeman Patterson. As a result I spent time looking at his multiple exposure images and, one day, I attempted to create something similar to images that had intrigued me. Frustrated with what I came up with, I had the thought: What would happen if I choose a flower as a center point around which I turn my camera.

Thus a journey had begun. After weeks of learning about what to watch out for and developing an eye for the ‘arrangement” I need to look for, I progressed to this:

As Fall came, I applied the knowledge gained to the colorful aspen leaves on the ground:

Continuing the delight of creating what I began to call Photographic Mandalas, I had a ‘happy accident’ as Freman Patterson calls it. Instead of having just the clouds at sunset in the composition, I had had a horizon line too. The image that resulted totally stunned me and, as time progressed that day, the effect of the fading light.

There was a new learning curve now where I needed to explore the correlation of composition and light distribution and their impact on the resulting image.

Persuing the creation of these Photographic Mandalas is giving me a deeper understanding of light and multiple exposures. Mine are all done in-camera, utilizing the multiple exposure function of my Nikon 700. There is no use of Photoshop. Every once in a while, I can now anticipate the final image. My goal is to be able to this most of the time.

Reading books by Freeman Patterson, for the past few days, I have been sitting with the question: What is it that I am doing here? One can define photography as taking an image of a moment in time as interpreted by me. An abstract image is often stripped down to the essential components. So what are these Photographic Mandalas? I guess, one could call it definitely Photographic Art – denoting it is done in cameras vs Digital Art, which is using Photoshop. It is a different look at ‘reality’.I talked about it with a friend. Eventually, we came up with an answer: In general, my images are my emotional response to the beauty I see around me. The Photographic Mandalas are showing how my camera and I “dance” to the diverse harmonies of Nature.

While visiting my family in Germany, I took images together with my father, who, at age 84 bought himself a digital camera. Looking at these images, I can see the influence of my year with Eddie Soloway: the use of a wide angle lense and otherwise, I was only working with reflections, which is representative of my moving more into the abstract.

There is also some influence of William Neill, a photographer I greatly admire for his abstractions. I got 2 of his e-books to give myself inspiration when I get bogged down. I enjoy the use of panning to create impressionistic images, besides the ‘straight’ multiple exposures.

Overall, this year has been an exciting one for me and makes me look forward to the coming year: Where will my photographic journey take me?

Where will your journeys take you?  The best wishes to you for the New Year and much success in your photography!

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Rule of Thirds

If you look at great images, your eye seems to go to certain items. Usually, they are placed in so called ‘power points’. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid, dividing the image both horizontally and vertically into thirds. he ‘power points’ are the four places where the lines intersect.

You do not want to place the horizon line of your image in the middle, rather at 1/3rd or 2/3rds. The decision of where depends on what you want to emphasize. If the sky is the ‘main attraction’, the horizon line would be at about 1/3rd of the height. (example: ‘Cape of Good Hope’) In the image of the Lynx, the eyes are at about 2/3rds. If they would be at 1/2, the image would not have the same impact.

A lone tree in a meadow is best placed in one of the ‘power points’. If the tree is in the foreground though,, it is my experience that it makes the entry into the image more difficult. I wonder if it has to do with the fact, that in our culture, we read from left to right and so the eyes move in that direction. Judge for yourself by looking at the image with the tree. Let me know what you think.

As a last point: rules are there to be broken, though one needs to understand the rule before one can break it 🙂 With landscapes, look, move around and then decide what works for you.

Posted in My Photography, Taking Images Tagged , , , |