Monday, May 28, 2012

On Creating a Cohesive Body of Work

You know it when you see it, whether its a string of mystery novels (Janet Evanovich), a series of paintings (Rothko), a bike racing career (Armstrong), or a series of artwork (Joseph Cornell). To create a cohesive body of work requires that you arrange all elements available in your field around a concept and that you marshal sensory-based evidence in relation to it whether for or against.

There are many knobs to turn in photography to achieve a clear vision.  A few are:
  • Subject - people, landscapes, architecture
  • Process -traditional, alternative, contemporary 
  • Line - weight, opacity
  • Form - shape, weight, size, modeling
  • Color - black and white, stylized color, color
  • Depth of Field - f64 or bokeh
  • Format - Square, or not
It's difficult to prescribe how these tools move you closer to the concept or away from it but in using them you can feel if it creates the right mood, tone and meaning.

Of course, this is if you start with the end in mind.  There are long stretches too of shooting or creating where the objective is broader, to find what you love with your lens, experiment with it and create something that's a surprise to you.  This is a form of outer and inner listening, of honoring what your heart moves toward, of articulating in some visual language those wordless leanings.

This practice is cohesive the the work may not be.  Through listening you may find a style or subject that you like, that a body of work may have emerged anyway from the seeming disparate and unrelated days of the year.  Recognizing this thread of our days is like being in a strange country and embracing a friend you suddenly recognize from the crowd.

Regardless of how you get there, to a body of work, whether to acclaim or not, the important thing to do is to show up at the page, canvas, performance, workshop and work.  Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love did a wonderful TED talk in 2009 on the importance of showing up.
Don't be daunted.  Just do your job.  Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then 'Ole!' And if not, do your dance anyhow. And 'Ole!" to you, nonetheless. I believe this and feel that we must teach it. 'Ole!' to you, nonetheless just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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