Weird Photos: The ?Aha! Experience and Zoomers - Blog#13 - 10 April 2019
Just in case your left brain is overheating after our first dozen blogs, let’s activate your right hemisphere with a little visual stimulation, and crank up the weird quotient while we’re at it. I started photography with a prehistoric Kodak camera, late in my first decade of life. My early photo albums are populated with standard issue shots of family, friends, and travels. I was told I had “an eye” for interesting shots, and enjoyed creating rectangles, but it wasn’t until my first digital camera a dozen years ago that I pushed experimentation over the edge. More recently I’ve graduated to “Zoomers,” but more about that later.
As a psychologist, I’m a student of emotion. I try to listen, understand, and communicate my understanding of clients’ feelings. My favorite response is “Exactly.” As a photographer, I try to induce emotions, positive as well as negative. It might be a heart-warming shot of a child or a puppy, the humor of two of my daughters, nose-to-nose sticking their tongues out at each other, the majesty of a landscape in the golden hour before sunset, or the sad sight of a stooped-over elderly Peruvian woman slowly making her way up some stone steps with a cane in her hand. But a decade ago, I found a way to induce two other emotions, in sequence: perplexity, followed by surprise. With closer friends, I’ve often enjoyed being a bit obscure, playful, mysterious, dark, and loosely associated in my humor, making you stop to think a second before you get my gist. Then I found a way to play the same game in photography.
If you don’t mind, open a second screen on your computer by going to edchandlerandbeyond.com; click on Photography, then scroll down to Galleries and click on The ?AHA! Experience. Take a look at each of the nine featured photos, and try to figure out what they are, before checking the Key down below them. How many did you figure out? What the hell am I doing here? In most cases, I’m zooming inside of the outer boundaries of objects, so you don’t have enough visual cues to immediately identify what you are looking at. “Ready, Set, Go” was my first Aha! shot, back in 1982, when my wife was oh so pregnant and ready to pop out our first daughter, Lauren. The only decent clues are the stitching of her bathing suit (which was useless after birth!), and the tiny little triangle of thigh flesh at the bottom. Or meander down to the tuba shot, “Geaux Tigers”. Yes, there are some guys in uniforms, perhaps identifiable as LSU band members, and some trees, but what’s the weird golden abyss in the middle? It takes a bit to figure out that it’s the throat of a tuba, because I deliberately zoomed in close enough to deprive you of cues: the outer edges of the tuba. Niagara Bound is a bit different, as a landscape version of Aha! The floating ice is clear enough, as are the smokestacks, kind of, but they’re upside down, because the factory is reflected. If I’d included a bit, or the entirety of the factory itself, above the waterline, the shot would have been a no-brainer. But that takes the fun out of the shot. By stealing your visual cues, I create a puzzle for you to solve. The goal is to perplex you, but only for five or ten seconds, until perplexity yields to surprise, the gift of the Aha! experience.
The ?Aha! Experience
More recently, I got out of the photographic box in a different way: zoomers. Creativity involves loose thinking with just the right dose of conventionality. Too loose and you’re crazy; too conventional and you’re b-flat boring. I used joke with my daughters: “Get out of the box, but keep it on the horizon.” If you lose the box (reality) completely, you’re in deep shit, but if you’re too anchored to the box, you can find yourself snoring through life. Sometimes my daughters tell me I’m weird. I take it as a compliment and thank them. Mental health and maximum adaptation require a combination of opposites. Sometimes it pays to be extremely conventional and predictable. Other times it’s fun to be off the wall. It helps to know which is appropriate when, and to have a rheostat to dial up and down the dimension, any dimension.
Zoom lenses are very handy. You can zoom in and fill the frame with an object in the distance, or you can zoom out for a wide-angle shot that includes the bulk of your visual field. You can also adjust the length of your exposure. For example, with a waterfall, you can freeze it at 1/4000ths of a second, or get a silky flow by shooting from a tripod for two full seconds. One day, I was struck by an impulse to zoom in AND out during a long exposure shot. It took a while to figure out how to do it right, and how to find the right light sources to create worthy shots. Last Christmas, I hit the jackpot at the Denver Botanical Gardens (Thanks Loree!), where they lit up all their foliage with Christmas lights. I’d zoom in and out, and sometimes move the camera north and south, or east and west, for two, five, or ten seconds. Most of the shots were worthless, but I got a handful of arresting rectangles. Within the hour, I fancied myself as an abstract artist, using my camera as a paintbrush. Check out the three zoomers below. And remember: take time to play outside the box!
You Are Invited
If photography turns you on,
join us at the Arts and Design Society in Fort Walton Beach (17 First St. SE)
this Friday night, April 12, from 6-8 p.m. for
The 20th Annual ADSO Photography Show (bring an appetizer).
Or drop in during ADSO’s gallery hours later this month to see FWB’s photographers show their stuff. (artsdesignsociety.org)