VISION TO EXPRESSION
PAINTED FOREST Maui, Hawaii 2013
A number of years ago, I decided I wanted to make a successful image of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. I am aware of a few small groves of these trees here on Maui, and I had my sights on one of them in particular. These trees are extraordinary. Beautiful. Perhaps the most stunning tree on the planet. They look as if they were hand-painted by Salvador Dali himself.
As a subject to a successful landscape photograph, this can be very easy to bugger up. The most common mistake would be to include too much in the scene, allowing other additional elements to take away attention from the trees. Another aspect that I was hyper-aware of is that these trees have been photographed many times before. I didn’t want to just go out and do the expected same-same. I wanted to do something special. Something different. Something more personal.
A couple of years went by and the vision became more clear. I visualized a way to capture these trees in a way that had not been done, personal to my style, while bringing the viewers attention solely to the beauty of the trees. I’d shoot them at night and paint them with light. Now, with the image clearer in my mind, it was just a matter of doing the work.
On a few separate occasions, I recruited a friend to journey to the other side of the island, in the dark of night, to assist me in my attempts to bring vision to expression. On each of those occasions, I came close to my vision. Sometimes very close, making it difficult to decide whether the images were worthy of releasing into my portfolio and sharing with the world, or if I should continue work and try again. Each time after living with the images for a period, I determined that they could be better. The work was not done.
My energy waned, and nearly a year passed before I returned to give it another go, but the idea and vision stayed with me. I trusted that it was simply a matter of time before it would happen. Then one night, while driving home from a shoot, I got to thinking about the trees. It’s nighttime. I’m in the neighborhood. I’m feeling motivated. But, I’m alone. The thinking-mind tries to start talking me out of it: It’s totally dark. The shoot will be too tough with no assistance. What if zombies get me. And on it chattered. As I approached the trees, I was still 50/50 whether to stop or B-line it home: I am kinda hungry. I still have an-hour drive home. A glass of wine would be awesome right now. As the trees neared, the will to shoot won and I pulled the truck over, geared up, and headed out to shoot the trees in the dark of night.
For the next 90 minutes, I worked through the process of making the images, with a goal of making one successful photograph. From my earlier experiences, I already had a good idea of the look that I was after, and how to achieve it with my painting-with-light techniques. Cows roaming about in the surrounding fields sure did sound like zombies coming to get me, but I stayed focused and kept the creep factor at bay. Once I felt that I had successfully captured a good strong foundation in-camera, I headed home, curious to see if it would translate well.
In the end, this image does represent my initial vision that I first had years earlier. It achieves what I was hoping for. It has depth and mood and simplicity, and feels a bit ethereal. All the aspects I love in a photograph.
I often speak about how to make personal and expressive work, and working through "the process”. That process always looks different. Allowing yourself to have a vision in your mind, and then working backwards from there is an exciting way to work. Vision to expression. Working this way, the process of making photographs is a rewarding one. It’s certainly not always an easy one, or one that happens in one shoot. This image ultimately spanned several years.
As the world of photography and image making is proliferating, so is the behavior of seeing-and-repeating. Or, the sport of photography. Trophy hunting. This sort of photographic path tends to be shallow - skimming the surface of subject matter and process. It tends to go to a locale one time and move on, accepting what you got from the shoot. Ultimately, it’s a path of frustrations, mediocre work and not very rewarding or enriching.
When you look to continually create work that is more personal, more expressive, and more communicative, and in line with your own personal style and vision - the path becomes much more rewarding, enriching and joyful. Pass on the obvious photographs and delve deeper. Ask continually: What am I feeling? What am I wanting to communicate? What do I want to express? How can I make this my own? The more you can approach the work from a personal feeling-based place, the more likely you are to express that visually. The more you are able to express that visually, the more compelling and dynamic your photography will be.