Friday, August 10, 2012
Views from different angles
Three pairs of eyes are looking through different lenses for an angle that best expresses that moment in time where the ordinary transforms into extraordinary.
Holding a cell phone at arm’s length and pressing the trackball doesn’t make me a photographer. But like most of us, I’ve tried. With the advent of Photoshop and cell phone apps, we can all take a stab at creating a work of photographic art. But compare a photograph taken by a professional artist, and there will be magic as a composition emerges to capture your eye and pull you in to evoke a memory, emotion, or gut reaction. That’s what separates the amateur from the committed artist.
Change the angle, change the perspective, and everything changes. East Texas has abundant photographic talent. John Kay, Tammy Pruitt, and Jamin Bickel look through the camera’s lens from different angles. While traveling with Tammy to New Mexico, I observed her skill with a camera and then compared our shots at day’s end. It was obvious who was better, and it wasn’t me. She sees with spiritual eyes and challenges me to tap into that resource. While teaching art in the Marshall public schools, I had both of John Kay’s sons as students. At parent night, we ended up discussing photography and art. When John exhibited in the Short Exposure exhibit at the Longview Museum of Fine Art, I took the opportunity to see his work up close. His photographs from a recent trip to Beijing, China, reveal his love for people. At the exhibition, I also met one of the winners, Jamin Bickel, a gifted photographer with intelligence and a wry wit.
Presented in true interview fashion, each photographer answered five questions central to photography. Here, you will find that it’s all about the photographer’s personal view and angle.
Set the scene for me regarding your favorite photography opportunities.
John Kay: I have a relative who is a photographer for the Dallas Morning News. While I was in high school, he was able to help me acquire press photography credentials for the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, and Texas Rangers games. I became hooked on action photography. After high school, I decided to continue by studying at The Art Institute of Dallas. I would often find myself walking around downtown Dallas taking shots of architecture and people. While at the art institute, my mom always encouraged me to photograph my feelings. So, I started shooting more of people’s everyday lives.
Tammy Pruitt: My favorite photography opportunities are the ones that tell a story in one image. It doesn’t matter if the subject of a photograph is a little boy in Uganda that has seen so much horror that his smile never reaches his eyes or hummingbirds flying in an epic battle for sugar water. The photo tells the story.
Jamin Bickel: For some reason, I enjoy difficult to photograph scenes: nightscapes which involve a four hour exposure so the stars train in circles; light paintings with various colored lights to change the mood; infrared landscapes in which it is difficult to compose, meter or even focus. It’s interesting to me that I don’t really thrive on the challenge or the difficulty because, once I get it figured out, my workflow is pretty easy. I’ll set up, shoot a bit, guess a bit, not care too much about the minor details that get in the way (or break) and rely on a bit of kismet. It’s not, “Oh, my $10,000 camera can do this and yours can’t, ha ha!”… I hope.
Why do you care so much about photography?
John: My passion has always been photojournalism. As long as I can remember, I have enjoyed documenting through my camera what is going on around me. I love capturing people’s feelings, their emotions, and their lives.
Tammy: For me, photography is the art of telling a story. It’s like a poet without words. It is an attempt for me to tell the story I am witnessing without being verbal. Our society puts much value in words (rightly so), but only 7% of communication comes from them. I guess it is important for me to tell you my story without you ever hearing my voice.
Jamin: Dollars, dollars, dollars. Obviously, we’re all in it for the money.
What was the catalyst and/or turning point for you?
John: I believe the turning point where I felt the most inspiration in my photography was five years ago when I had the opportunity to shoot a documentary in China for a non-profit organization called Portion for Orphans. While in Bei Wu, Beijing, China, I stayed in an orphanage. From the time I got up until I laid my head down at night, I had my camera in hand. I even fell asleep one night while editing pictures on my laptop. While at the orphanage, I’d take walks down to the little square in Bei Wu. In the morning, everyone would come to shop, play, or just talk politics. That’s where I was able to get some wonderful shots.
Tammy: After high school, I became friends with a person who loved to take pictures. She photographed everything. Once we were sitting on a hillside in Germany and I said, “I wish I had a camera.” She said, “Take a picture with your heart.” I have been taking pictures ever since. It’s a bit easier to pull up the ones you take with a camera.
Jamin: There never was one. I was born into a world of photography and videotaping. My grandfather became a photographer in 1942 during college and my father in 1976. We shot weddings, local events and commercials for small outfits. There’s a story where I was either 9 or 11 and stationed with a video camera in the baptismal tub in a church for a wedding. All I had to do was track the bride to the altar and follow her back out at the end.
How would you describe the art of photography today?
John: A lot of people will ask me about what I think about photography today with all the digital cameras and editing tools available. I believe that digital media is wonderful in terms of savings. Before, I would take 15-20 rolls of film for 10-15 useful shots. When I was in China, for example, I took over 3500 pictures, 150 of them, I believe, were worth the trip. As far as the digital programs available, I do not really use them other than cropping and changing color to black and white. I also believe that is what makes a great photographer. You should not have to use Photoshop to make a photograph great. It is very important for someone to look at my photographs and have a feeling come over them, whether happy or sad.
Tammy: In an age of digital ease, it is easy to lose the story of the art of photography. One way for me to remind myself of the journey is to try to photograph the way it used to be done. One attempt is by building pinhole cameras and teaching people how to build them. The journey of light making an image is so amazing. It is its own story. For me, it is important to try to continue to use different films, although film development can have its own challenges. Sometimes I use Polaroid instant film for a straight out instant image, sometimes for emulsion lifts, and sometimes for film transfers. Other times, I will shoot with 35mm and manipulate the negative or the print. Shooting black and white film with a medium format camera is still very fun and a great challenge.
Jamin: This is a tough one because that’s like saying, “What do you think about food today?” I would go so far as to say that photography now rivals traditional media in terms of scope and breadth. There are styles, processes, regions, nationalities, and gender delineations et cetera, ad nauseam, perhaps greater because we have photojournalism with its rigorous rules and standards which has removed itself from any association with artistic qualities at all. But let’s not talk about that. Here’s a kicker for the art world: found photography. If you took a picture of a rusty door and printed and sold it, is it art? I can walk over and look at the door myself. How have you adjusted or represented the world? Did you frame it and compose it using your artistic eye? What’s the difference between that and me looking at it and squinting? Did you Photoshop it so it is green? Is it still art? When Ansel Adams hiked into the mountains on a burro and using glass plates, took pictures of amazing vistas, is it art or is it photojournalism? Theoretically, anybody could have hiked for days at a time in horrible weather with heavy, heavy equipment and waited until the clouds were right and got the same result. Right? When I take a portrait and tell somebody to suck in their gut (politely, of course), is it art or documentation? The same thing when I take a landscape picture of your backyard and the only difference is that I remove all the pesky wavelengths of light that I don’t want… why bother? I could get some green crayons! This is a gigantic can of worms. It is a world of widely differing opinions, all of them wrong, of course, except mine.
Would you give me a quote encapsulating your feeling/perspective on photography?
John: The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I try to depict that saying in all of my photographs. I want people to look at one of my shots and feel what the person I’m photographing is feeling or the emotion the subject suggests.
Tammy: Photographic art, for me, erases the imaginary line between the mundane and the sacred. It is a moment in time where the veil is lifted, and I see. However, it is so much more than just seeing. All of my senses are involved and the moment is often experiential — a knowing.
Jamin: “Hey, you, get off of my cloud!” or “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.” I actually keep a Word document of neato quotes to print out and hand to people when I’m teaching photography classes.
Three pairs of eyes are looking through different lenses for an angle that best expresses that moment in time where the ordinary transforms into extraordinary. They reflect upon inspiration, experience and knowledge with seriousness and good humor because in photography, as in life, it’s all about your perspective.
To view and experience the work of these photographers, you may visit their websites: John Kay,