Whakaaro and whakairo ma(a)rama-towards personal style. Letter to John Part III
Brunelleschi, looking through a hole at a street in Florence, makes a depiction of it from a fixed viewpoint…. The photographic process is simply the invention in the 19th century of a chemical substance that could ‘freeze’ the image projected from the hole in the wall, as it were, onto a surface. It was the invention of the chemicals that was new, not the particular way of seeing…. So, the photograph is, in a sense, the end of something old, not the beginning of something new.
– David Hockney, That’s the Way I See It
The style is the man himself.
~George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon
In the first of these three articles, I talked about the herd/mob, and breaking away from it, if you want, and if you dare, if you seek to develop a personal style of your own..
In the second article, I wrote about my own journey to a place where I feel my work talks both to me and from me, a circular conversation with myself which continues to circle in its own way.
The first article was a statement of place, of things as I see them. In the second, I looked inwards on my own journey to defining my work and my place in the archaeology of the medium.
In this, the third and final part of this series, I want to look outwards again, and finally answer the questions implicit in what you asked me, John. Perhaps to offer some thoughts for your own journey.
Calling yourself an artist can be a distinctly fraught and nerve-wracking decision, for after all, each of us has our own definition of what that really means. One person’s definition will be different to another’s. And here is a thought. You are an artist when others call you that. In Te Ao Māori (the Māori world), no tohunga (traditional healer) worthy of the name would ever describe himself as such. It is for others to do that. So here is the distinction I make for myself, or rather the distinction others make for me.
Some term me a photographer, and I am OK with that, for at times, that is what I am. I am a photographer when I am doing important mahi (work) for one of my corporate clients; I am a photographer when I go to the city and wander the streets, wearing my street photographer persona, for I am working within the traditions of the medium. I may be using the latest digital equipment; however, my approach is rooted in studying the traditions of street/documentary photography. And my content and approaches stand upon the thoughts and philosophy of works like Cartier-Bresson’s The Mind’s Eye and Winogrand’s Figments from The Real. I am comfortable working within and exploring the outer limits of this genre. I am in and of the herd. I am walking in the well-broken-in shoes of the greats, of Koudelka, Alex Webb and Costa Manos. And I am OK with that.
Others term me an artist, and I am equally comfortable with that, perhaps more so, because that is what I also am. This is a place of my own, and one without limits. I have wandered out of the paddock to the savannah, and both direction and distance are boundless. I can roam where it suits me, and where I am drawn. And I have made that step deliberately, and for a very simple reason: I got bored with what I had been doing, and more and more I felt the work I was making was not who I was.
See, here is the thing:
All art is about problem-solving.
There are two parts to being an artist. They are:
And they are of importance in that order.
Content is what you say/ need to say; Process is how you say it.
Process in and of itself is fun, and mastering process is a great way to pass time. Mastering astrophotography, bird photography, that sort of thing. But in the end, being acknowledged as a master at astrophotography makes you an artisan, not an artist; a tradie, not an architect. And there is a huge difference between art and illustration; the one is decorative, the other informative or challenging. As Pablo Picasso puts it:
“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
As there are photographers who transform the wonder of an aurora into a smear of colours on a digital file. And little more.
It is when we look beyond the toolbox to the design of the building that things begin to change. For now, we are approaching content.
This of greater importance, especially when we begin to reflect why we are drawn to a specific type of material, and even more importantly what that says about us.
“Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye. It also includes the inner pictures of the soul.”
And who we are.
All art is the inner expression of our inner life. All art is the expression of that which lies below the surface of our conscious.
All art offers us an opportunity and a pathway into our inner world.
If we are willing and have the courage to go there.
If we are willing and have the courage to go there.
So, the question we must address is:
Who am I?
That is the core of our practice.
There are ways, and one of the finest is journaling. Taking 30 minutes or so each day to acknowledge the sacredness of your own journey, put pen to paper, and in so doing, get it out of your head, fixing it in ink where it will remain for later study. And this is not being selfish or self-absorbed. Write form and to yourself, and observe what is being said. The ask yourself how you can depict that.
I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”
All great artists do.
The New Zealand photorealist painter, Grahame Sydney, has this to say of his art practice:
Each day, when I go into the studio, I have to face myself.
When I came home to Hokianga, because I had been advised that I would then know who I am, my work changed radically. I entered a dialogue with myself and my tupuna (ancestors). I allowed my inner life and dialogue free rein, observed what was happening, and then began to focus on my process. There was something to be said, and I began to look for ways to say it better. Content dictated Process. In fact, my own inner journey was pointing my camera for me. I just followed along.
When you acknowledge, then examine, and then express the sacred uniqueness of your own journey, your work will begin to find its own rhythm and purpose.
That is, of course if you have the courage of your own conviction and purpose, and a willingness to follow your own path. This may not be possible, for you have a day job, mortgage to feed and mouths to pay, along with others to consider, and/or you need the approval of the herd/mob. Then enjoy it for what it is, and make it a fun part of your life. If you need awards and recognition, then you must consider the demands of the judges and the tribe whose approval you need.
To find your own voice, you must make time and space for it, and to do this you need to focus on doing so regularly ( daily is best).
Questions you might consider include:
- Who am I? (this is a BIGGIE!)
- What is my life journey?
- Why am I here?
- What is my life purpose?
- What do I believe?
- What is important in my life?
- What gives me pleasure?
- What brings me joy? (this is not the same as the above)
- Why do I make pictures?
- What do I see?
- How do I see the world?
- What do I want to say?
- How can I say it?
- What processes and techniques will I need to master to be able to say it? The problem generates the exploration and response.
Then do the best thing you could possibly do.
Take a class in Art History. Then you will have a better sense of who you are artistically. If you will only do it in return for a qualification, then that is telling you something…
And remember this: it is the journey that is important, not the destination, for you will never get there.
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”
“Art is never finished, only abandoned”
~Leonardo Da Vinci
I have one last thing to say, John. I have watched you from a distance on FaceBook, keeping an eye on your wonderful life. And I have something to say. You may not recognise it, but you are creating a beautiful work of art each day, one that will outlive you and carry the spirit of your generosity long after you have gone. I am talking about your daughter. Clearly you are an amazing and devoted father to her, and you are leaving no stone unturned in your journey to bring her to a confident, informed adulthood. You are doing it with the most wonderful and unselfish motives.
And isn’t that enough? Isn’t being a parent the greatest work of art any human being can create?
All art is about throwing stones in a pond. And great art creates ripples that extend ever outwards.
And your artwork will create bigger and longer-lasting ripples than mine ever will.
So stay with that. For your time will come.
In the Vedic ashram system, there are four stages in the life of a person, each roughly 20-25 years:
There is the Brahmacharya, or Student stage. Everything in this period is about learning. In IO Matua Kore, the Ancient Māori spiritual tradition, it is the province of tinana (body)
The second is Grihastha, or Household stage. This is where you build your home and career, and raise your children. It is the province of hinengaro, or mind.
Vanaprastha is the third stage, when the chickens have flown the coop. This is the time of wairua, or soul. This is when you begin to what it’s all about, Alfie, and reflect both back upon your life, and what you will do with the way ahead (you are closer to the finish line than the start). Now you have the time and opportunity to explore who you really are.
And Sannyasa, the Fourth stage (assuming you get that far), is about preparation for checking out, about retreating to the core, to ngakau (heart). And enjoying your grandchildren.
So my thoughts? You are in the Grihastha stage. Enjoy and celebrate that. Continue creating that beautiful artwork.
And keep practising your digital instrument.
That time will come.
Sooner than you think.
Nga mihi nui ki a koe, e hoa.