In preparing for next weekend’s workshop (The Photograph Within, at Newspace Photo Center in Portland), I’ve been thinking about process a lot. I’ve been reading about it, I’ve been writing about it, I’ve been obsessing about it. I’ve been cramming for the exam. It’s affecting how I photograph.
We’re on Gabriola Island, off Vancouver Island, visiting a friend. We’re at a rocky beach that has amazing eroded forms in the sandstone. I’m a sucker for these places, even though this is a well trod convention in West Coast landscape photography, and the vein is pretty well played out at this point. One does not easily make an original statement from these environs. Nonetheless, I still get excited at these spots and whack away at them with glee.
But this time, I’m self conscious of my process. Here’s a Weston beach shot, here’s a Wynn Bullock, here’s a little Minor White thing going on. I just need a 4x5 camera and a bunch of film holders (black and white, of course) to complete the image. “Actually, I just need a lithe, nude female body to completely conform to stereotype,” I say to my companions.
“No!” says Robin. April adds, “I wouldn’t want to keep you stuck in a stereotype.”
“OK Doug, let’s do it,” says Robin. Nudity, I think hopefully? “Let’s start the workshop.” Oh, that. “Close your eyes,” she says. “What do you feel?” I’m sensing things. The hot sun on my forehead. The cool ocean breeze. The smell of the salty air. The hum of the distant ferry. “Think of a time when you were in the zone. When everything was flowing. Maybe it’s a beach in California.” I go in my mind to a fog shrouded beach on the Olympic Peninsula, which had the best brushy edge to it. I worked it for an hour. “Are you there? Good. Open your eyes.”
Blue. Everything was blue, the sky, the ocean, the water. The rocks were brown, everything and every sense was heightened in intensity. “Are you here?” Yes, I’m here.
Two full cards later, I join April and Robin in the shade. I feel spent, but I’m still gazing at everything around me, at the back lit blades of grass on the hill, at the rocks beneath my feet, at the tugboat and barge offshore. “Your eyes are on,” Robin says to me.