Friday, September 12, 2008

Art and the Sensory Sphere

As a prolific photographer, I have had plenty of time to contemplate what makes a good photo. It isn't the subject matter but your selection of the subject matter.

If you put me in the middle of, say, a kindergarten classroom and give me permission to take photos, I guarantee that I will come up with 100s of great shots in an hour or less -- provided I have a zoom lens and an opportunity to crop and edit those photos later. Furthermore, I don't have to move from my location in the center of the room to find these compelling images. They are all around me; I just have to select them.

I call the input all around me the "sensory sphere". It is a little like lying on the ground at night looking up at the stars. In theory, there are a million stories up there; you just have to have a powerful enough telescope to see them. If you are in a crowded room, there are also a million stories. You just have to focus on the right places.

To be a great artist, you don't have to go out and seek stories. They are already all around you; you just have to select them from the environment. The real challenge isn't usually in the material available but in your own skills in recognizing and editing it. That's essentially what a photographer does: He edits the sensory environment around him. It's also what a writer or filmmaker does. If they are skilled enough, they can find a story anywhere. Only the unskilled need to travel the world or have huge production budgets.

Some environments are richer than other, but there is always good material in front of you. You can say, "I live in a boring town. There are no stories here," but that's not true. There are always stories right under your nose; you just have to have the wisdom to see them.