Vision - December 30, 2005

Two nights ago, I had the chance, after quite some time, to talk to one of my oldest friends. For the past seven or eight years he's been living in Iowa writing and working in the writer's program they have there.

It was refreshing to speak to him. We stayed on the phone for over three hours. He makes at least part of his living as an "artist" (I never know when such a word is really appropriate). He also seems to keep pretty close track of this blog, a fact which pleases me greatly. We discussed both his writing and my photography in some detail.

But in addition to that detailed attention to an aspect of my life that I don't often get the chance to study, the issue of "the life of an artist" came up. It was a quick and passing reference, but the thrust of it was that indeed, it's truly difficult to do great work (or even good work for that matter) in any medium without being able to immerse oneself in it. To spend time, unrushed and unforced, thinking and feeling one's medium.

Since that conversation I've done a good deal more thinking about the general flavor of my life these days. It should be said, before even starting in, that in general, I'm very happy with my life. On the whole I am: busy, challenged, content, yearning, striving, rushed, bored, stressed, engaged and other similar things. And this doesn't even address my marriage which is a happy one, and something which I reserve a description of for something more than a list of adjectives. So as the saying goes "it's all good." Or at least mostly.

But if I were to compare and contrast my life now with, say, my life five years ago, the one thing that's changed is that I'm much less contemplative now than I was then. It's a combination of a lot of things which has led to that. Some of it comes down to choices I've made, and some of it is simply the reality of having priorities that are not so centered around myself anymore. I was single then and I'm married now. I'm buying a house and planning to have kids in the not-too-distant future.

So this morning, shooting down the Mass Pike at 80, I thought to myself, "I miss that." I miss having much more time to think. Or more to the point, I miss being more the steward of my own thoughts. I've realized that I actually don't think any less about things now than I ever have. There really is so much to apply my brain to. But so much of it is stuff which I have to think about. Either to be successful, or to have a happy marriage, or to take good photography. Because with a life that's structured with scarce opportunities for artistic pursuits, even that has a tendency to become regemented.

I guess it's been in the last few weeks that my perspective has shifted a bit. For a host of reasons, I've been out of my usual routine and I've gotten a bit of that old flavor back. And I wonder whether that flavor will persist. And if not, what it will become.

Because in the conversation my friend and I had, the one specific thing that came up with regard to my photography is my aesthetic, or lack thereof. I've learned so much in this last few months. Most of it has been somewhat technical in nature. But the shift in perspective of the last few weeks has left me also aware that I don't yet have any guiding artistic vision. I don't want to put too fine a point on it because my words are not adequate to describe something I don't fully understand. But I don't have any well grounded sense of what I'm trying to do, or trying to express. I don't know if that's something that will eventually come or not. I also don't know if the factors determining whether it will come are things based in the realities of my life and environment, or whether it's all an issue of inner drive and "talent," or if it's some combination of these. But I do feel that if there is any way forward in photography for me, it will have to be through that door: the development of an artistic vision.


Sorry I am rushing through a few sites quickly and I honestly did not read all of your story about you and your friend walking about but I do like this shot. Very nice use of depth on the fence.

Posted by: My Camera Eye on January 11, 2006 10:26 PM


I've been meaning to reply to this post for ages, I printed it out, thought about it....

It actually got me thinking about my own stuff, the direction of my work and the photoblog.

I'm not too sure that concentrating too much on an artistic vision is something you should worry about Tom at this point. Artistic vision and aesthetic are constantly evolving things. Knowing your body of work I believe there is an aesthetic/ look starting to emerge in your work. Perhaps you don't see it at this point being so close to your own work.

Having a strong grounding in any technical side for any medium is the first starting point for any artistic development. It's next to impossible to realise a concept and vision if you can't turn the camera on. There is a line from where you started posting to the latter work, your technical skills improving and getting a better eye for what to shoot, light and composition.

From memory you've been taking photographs since early last year ? so I mean this as encouragment...

Finding your feet in art takes a while, most art school courses are 3 years because it's not untill you've been practicising creativity for a while that things start to click, that you get an idea of not just technical skills, be it composition how to print or how paint mixes, but also the whole concept of expressing your ideas through an artistic medium.

These things take time and are constanttly evolving and reacting to what's happening in your life. I've been taking photographs off and on for about twenty years now and I'm still learning new things about light, composition and how to express ideas each week as well as sometimes suprising myself with where my aesthetic and ideas take me.

So anyway... don't let something like an artistic vision become a barrier to creation. It may take a while for something to pop up that turns on that light and for you to shout eureka !

And something like that is only going to happen through doing, jumping in and snapping away. I'm a strong believer in process, much of my analogue work has been a result of taking an idea and seeing where it takes me and usually ending up somewhere completely differant to what I had originally envisioned. It's those paths to the side that take you somewhere interesting.

But most important is to enjoy your output, not to try and judge your images by the idea that they should be part of something bigger, that without that context they have no merit. If you don't enjoy your output, each on their own merit, standing alone, then you'll quickly get stuck in a rut and stop enjoying what your doing and end up not doing anything, and that would be a shame as I think you have some nice images happening and I look forward to seeing where your journey into photography takes you.

Anywho, I hope things are good with you and Jess and your new house.



Posted by: Jeremy on February 17, 2006 05:52 AM

Good site, good blog, thank

Posted by: Devid on April 28, 2006 07:42 AM