Thursday, November 11, 2010

Listen To The Messages

The joy of discussing photography has never been lost on me. I don't mean the technical jargon, like what shutter speed did you use, jpeg or tiff, Do you use Photoshop, ect. Its those explorations about living creatively. The hunt for an image and the emotional wrap we experience when the shutter opens and moment is captured.

In college during a photography lesson, a wonderful quote stuck to me like caramel on an apple. It came from the great photographer Minor White. He spoke of how we need to learn to "listen to the messages" while out seeking photographs. It really resonated with me and it's a disciplined practice I utilize daily and offer up the concept in workshops.

You know what I'm talking about. There's a chance however, you have not recognized or acknowledged it. It happens to us all. Listening to the messages? What does it mean? Here's an example; How many times have you been driving down a road, seen something and thought to yourself, Hmmm, that might be a shot? Yet, you continue driving, the image still dancing inside your head. I should stop, turn around and check that out....., but you keep driving. Finally, you are far enough away that you justify it's a lost cause, "it was nothing" and you drive on.

Well, my friend, that was a MESSAGE! Something spoke to you on a visual level. It called out your name and you kept driving.

As creative intuitions emerge, we need to do our part and listen to them and explore the message. I don't want to say that more often than not it turns out to be nothing, but give it chance. Miles Davis once said, "Everything matters, everything." If indeed you find the draw didn't produce a photograph, you made the move to look and see. You gained something regardless. At the very least, you practiced "seeing."

Recently, I was driving home from photographing BURNING MAN in the desert outside of Reno, Nevada. I had driven almost 1,600 miles on Interstates and hadn't pulled the camera out once. I specifically drove hoping to find random images along the way. I was going nuts. I felt like I was wasting time and felt depleted creatively. Usually, I don't travel Interstate's for such long distances. I prefer those local roads off the beaten track. But, I had to chase back for an assignment that came up and time became more critical. I couldn't stand it anymore.

Finally, I got to Bismarck, North Dakota and left the Interstate. Within minutes, I started seeing images. The first to catch my eye, this life-sized horse up a pole advertising a local Thrift Shop. I chuckled at it. Easy to pass up. But, I turned around and came back for a look. The quirkiness of the scene made me giggle. Seeing the horse, used for advertising, perfectly fitting in between those puffy summer clouds, made a fine image depicting Americana. I listened to the messages and found a fine photograph in the heart of the Midwest.

Last week photographing around Minneapolis/St. Paul, some images popped out. I listened here as well.


  1. I passed by something a few years ago that is still speaking to me.

  2. Hi Layne, since July's NHFS class, I've made an effort to always pay attention to the messages. Let me add that explaining the concept to my wife made it easier for me to stop (or turn around) when she's with me. Since she now understands, I don't feel so self-conscious about inconveniencing her.

  3. my daughters both think that I spend too much time 'stopping along the way'....but they will get over it :) great post, layne