The Artist’s Corner – Michelle Smith, Photographer

When I seriously started to hone my chosen craft of writing, one of the first things I noticed was how closely related the approach is too many other forms of art.  Whether it’s cooking, painting, composing, dancing, or taking pictures, we all start with desire and ability.  Where it goes from there depends on our level of commitment, how we respond to mistakes, rejection, and criticism, and how we allow ourselves to grow.  The great artists press on and realize that their success isn’t measured by fame or fortune.

In A Snapshot of Writing, I detailed one of my favorite crossover art forms, photography.  After re-reading the post, the idea came to me to feature other artists and discuss their approach to their chosen art form.  I decided to start with brilliant, budding photographer Michelle Smith.

Welcome to The Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a survivor.  My strength is my compassion.  I’m a pet person with a rescue cat addiction.  I’m destined to be the crazy cat lady, but my husband and son won’t let me.

Do you put yourself into your photography?

I do.  I’ve had some rough spots in my life, so I’m trying to tell a story through what I’m taking pictures of.  They reflect who I am and how I’m trying to find myself.  I want to be seen, and although it’s who I am now, it’s not where I want to stay, it’s not who I want to be.

Ankle deep in commitment.

What has your experience been?

I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years before I started my career at thirty-four as an EMT and then progressed to paramedic.  I worked for a private ambulance company for eight and a half years, three and a half years of that was in training and education.  I currently work in the ER Department of a hospital as an active paramedic.  I love it!

Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of photography?

No, actually it didn’t.  My husband’s job did.  He’s a detective who trained in taking crime scene photos.  His experience piqued my interest in photography.

How did you develop your passion for photography?

I started going with him to take picture outside of the crime scenes.  He shot landscapes, objects, places, and eventually senior class pictures.  I found myself telling him what to take pictures of, and I started taking the camera from him.  He’d just chuckle at me.  Then he started explaining what I was looking for and how to work the settings, but I didn’t pay attention at first because it wasn’t my camera.  I let him move the settings, and I took the picture.

That lasted for about six months until he gave me a camera for Christmas.  We were going on vacation, and he knew I’d want my camera for the trip, so I got it in November.  It was either give me my own camera or lose his!

What’s your inspiration?

Spending time with my husband because it’s something we have in common.  Listening to him patiently tell me how to use my camera.  Taking long car rides to where we’re going to go take pictures and chatting about it on the way.

What do you enjoy photographing?

I enjoy taking pictures of abandoned places because I feel sad for them.  I think of all the things that took place there.  I don’t have memories of these places so I think what happened here?  I wonder about the families that were displaced, the moms who raised their kids there, and the people who lost their jobs.  Where are these people now?  Time has forgotten these places and no one wants to hear the stories, so I take pictures of the abandoned places and tell their story through my photography.

Where can someone find you online?  Do you have a website?

I have some of my pictures posted on ViewBug under the name Just4FunPhotography.  You can find them on the home page newest to oldest.

In which contests have you competed?  What awards have you won?

On ViewBug, I participated in peer-created challenges and received the People’s Choice award in the categories of Lanterns, Save the Rain Forest, and Toy Planes.  I also received the ViewBug Member Selection Award and Staff Winter Selection for 2015.  I took first place in Nature and also in Architecture at the Portage County Randolph Fair.  At the Lake Community Branch of the Stark County District Library’s Annual Photo Contest, I took first place in Nature and second place in Architecture.

Do you take photos for people?  How does a client contact you?

I haven’t yet for major events such as weddings, graduations, but I’m willing to learn.  I think I’m afraid to because you can’t have that moment back like you can with a landscape or object.

What is your process for photographing people?

Well, actually, my focus is on landscapes or objects.  I’m not a big fan of people pictures, so all the movement in my photographs is natural:  waterfalls, wind through the trees.  Right now, I don’t incorporate people.

How is what you shoot for yourself different from what you do for people?

When I shoot for myself, I look at the picture with a more critical eye because I am the photographer.  I’m harder on myself than when I’m shooting for others.  That’s not to say that I don’t put all my effort into shooting for other people.  I take their requests very seriously.

It’s a great satisfaction for me to be able to take a photo for someone and capture it exactly as they wanted.  Recently, I took pictures of pigs at a fair for a friend who grew up raising pigs for 4-H.  I wasn’t sure I got exactly what she wanted because I couldn’t get past the fences to take the pictures.  She loved them because that’s what she remembered:  looking at pigs up close through the fence.  It was a successful shoot because I made her happy.

Has your work ever been used for commercial purposes?

No, but I’d definitely consider it.  For National Geographic; I want that shot!  It’s the dream.  I’d also like to see my picture of a baseball player on a card or the electronic billboard at the game.  Or maybe a hockey player because of their facial expressions.  If you have patience, and capture the right moment, they have some intense expressions.  But then I’d have to photograph people!

What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

I have to choose one?  I have two!  I captured it on my first day out with my own camera.  Picture this:  With butterflies all around, capturing just one was difficult.  I turned to notice the curls of a flower vine hanging just above my head.  As I admired its beauty, this butterfly fluttered right down onto the dangling vine.  I was filled with excitement and literally shook!  I slowly raised my camera into position, took a deep breath, and then snapped the picture.  Then I recalled my lessons; even though I took the picture, the settings may not have been correct for this situation.  I reined in my excitement and slowly changed the settings to capture the picture as you see it.  I smiled, thinking to myself, Wow that’s going to be amazing.  This photograph has no post-process editing.  I named it Curly Q.

My second favorite is of the 1792 distillery rickhouse in Kentucky.  It’s called Master Distiller Approved.  I applied the rule of thirds and vanishing points to the picture, but when I snapped it, it came out with too much backlight from the windows.  I closed the aperture, and it was perfect.  Plus the smell of bourbon in there was heavenly!

What’s your dream photograph?

Are you really ready?  People are going to think I’m freakin’ crazy.  I want to capture what was left behind after Chernobyl.  After viewing other photographers’ work, I became inspired and decided that’s one of my dream shots.  It’s part of the abandoned place thing.  So many lives were lost, these people had no time to pack, they were evacuated in forty-eight hours, and told they were leaving for just a short time.

The other, I’m claustrophobic so it’s never going to happen, is to photograph the abandoned hulls of underwater shipwrecks.  I’d like to do war ships, but you can’t get close.  Talk about stories to tell!

What’s your biggest beef with photography?

Photoshopping!  Lightroom, a program that fixes the picture and makes it more than it was to begin with.  It’s not real, and photographers are getting awards for this type of work.  The pictures are over processed, over edited.  There’s a minimum of allowable tinkering.  All I’ll do is sharpen, define, and noise reduction which fixes shaking.  If the picture is already good, it’s not even noticeable.  There is some post-processing no matter who you are (National Geographic, Victoria’s Secret, or Sports Illustrated), but you can’t make a bad photo good.  Well, you can, but that’s cheating.

My other complaint is photographers who steal other people’s work.

Would you like to work full-time as a photographer?  If so, how do you see your business growing?

Absolutely!  To enjoy your hobby as a career could be more relaxing than the grind of an everyday job that is so-so.  Not that my job is so-so.  Remember, I love being a paramedic.  Breaking in to the world of photography to make your name takes time and commitment.  There’s the investment in equipment unless you get hired in somewhere that supplies equipment.  So, I’d work for someone commercially to get started.

Then there’s the investment in your craft.  I’m still learning and growing my confidence.  I need to work at handling variables such as people (they’re so unpredictable!) and not putting a picture in my head and trying to make it happen.

Do you work alone or with a partner?

I prefer going with someone else.  I enjoy going with other people whether they’re photographers or not because when they see something they want a picture of, I can give it to them.  I don’t have to guess at what they’ll like.  It’s quite confidence building to deliver a picture right then and have them be pleased.  Plus I like to chat with people!

A Snapshot of Writing

A Snapshot of WritingThe creation of art can be a wonderful and dreadful process at the same time. Some of the struggles I’ve encountered with my chosen art form of writing include writer’s block, doubts and fears regarding my abilities, the evil query and rejection letters, comparison, envy, impatience, and the list goes on and on. But every now and then, there are lamps along the tunnel as I travel toward the light at the end. That’s when it’s wonderful.

As an outlet for my frustration, I began to tag along with my sister-in-law when she took photographs. She’s really quite good and a patient teacher as well when I asked her questions on how she approached her shot. One of the ways she explained the process was to hand the camera to me. I declined the opportunity to even hold her camera, which looked far too technical and expensive, but in addition to being a great teacher, my sister-in-law is mildly insistent. There was no way I was getting off the hook.

So, I snapped a few pictures as she taught me what the various dials and buttons on the camera do. She talked me through the procedure, and by allowing me to make mistakes, I learned quite a bit and became addicted to photography.

Here’s where the wonderful part happened. After setting up an account on ViewBug for my photos, joining challenges, and voting on other peoples’ pictures, I earned a free tutorial on landscape photography. Even though I don’t own a camera, I watched the video with the hopes of gaining more knowledge and possibly impressing my sister-in-law.

The lesson on photography will help me hone my skill, but what truly impressed me was how much of what the instructor said could be applied to writing. For starters, new experiences are good for you. Even if you’ve been writing for a while, keep in mind that every time you start a new piece, you’re taking yourself someplace you’ve never been with a different location, characters, style, descriptions, etc. And even if you’re working on a series, you have the power to make something new happen each time. Then there is your unique perspective. You are going to see things differently than anyone else in the world, so write them from the perspective that you alone possess.

As for equipment, writers have the luxury of keeping it simple, and I strongly suggest you do. A well-sharpened pencil and single-subject, college ruled notebook is all you need to create literary brilliance. Know the basics and fundamentals of your technique. Scouting a good location is important for a writer because distractions, even in the home, will keep you from your goal. Timing is important for the same reason: determine when in your day you are the most productive and stick to the schedule. And when it comes to composition, that’s where your personal style will shine through.

So now it’s time to address your process. The instructor on the tutorial called it a mind process and used words every writer knows. He started with subject. Identify what deserves to be written. Don’t forget POV. Take a small bit of advice from a photographer, and don’t be afraid to explore multiple POVs at the same time. What it does for photography will not be lost on writing. The formula for determining exposure translates into plotting, pantsing, or a combination thereof for a writer. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment. Next, decide what you’d like to focus on. Once all of this is determined, work that composition.

When you show your photographs to other people, they don’t know what else is going on around the scene you’ve captured or how you felt when you took it. Writers can combat this issue by providing essential backstory at the appropriate time. But just like a photographer, you don’t have to show it all. Leave a little mystery, a little something to the imagination, and your reader won’t feel led around by the nose. Write about the most interesting parts because that’s where the story is, and you’ll capture a good picture. A mental picture in this case. Remember that the objective is not to capture one big picture of everything all at once, but rather a frame that tells a clear story. You are the director, you choose the content.

Don’t fall in love with the first thing you write. Investigate your characters’ surroundings and discover what else you can do with it or them. Walk through their world. Return many times with breaks in between. Take another look at your subject, and decide what else you can do with it. Then apply your creative style in a way no one else has thought of.

Add vibrant but well-written details and structure, and a sense of order will emerge. You can do this on different levels of your writing whether writing on a grand scale, intimate stories, or the minute particulars. Keep in mind that your ideal and the reality won’t always match, but don’t let this discourage you. Work with what you’re given, seek inspiration, and the great story will come.

As for filters, they apply to the writer during the editing stage. You’ll be able to filter out the bad in your own writing after you’ve set it aside for a couple months and return to it fresh. Beta readers provide some of the best filtering toward your writing goal, seeing things you didn’t, and offering advice from their own perspective.

With a few modifications, the guidelines for taking a great photograph apply to writing with stunning clarity. I mentioned this at my writer’s group and was told by a poet that this is known as the rules of the creatives. They are a set of standards that transcend one artistic form to positively influence another. Hanging with the poets a couple of times a year has already lent valuable insight to my writing. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that my newfound hobby would as well.

There are so many artistic pursuits that crossover to supply inspiration and encouragement. Already I’m viewing the story ingredients in my mind and trying to figure a way to bake them all together so as to produce a perfect word painting. I suggest you do the same.

The Party’s Over

RegretDrake wished he had taken his Mom’s suggestion to wear a warmer coat. He didn’t know how long they’d be standing here while the cop gave them sobriety tests which they all ended up failing spectacularly. Devon and Tony couldn’t quit shivering beside him, and he wondered if it was from cold or fear.

He didn’t know how the cop couldn’t be cold in short sleeves. This guy wasn’t even shivering, no goosebumps on his brawny arms. Just cool and collected, so polite as he questioned the three of them about where they were coming from, what they had been doing. He sounded like Drake’s dad discussing his job at the dinner table in an even voice without much inflection, like the buddy he ran into earlier at the convenience store when he purchased that twelve pack of beer. Not at all condescending.

With hands jammed into his pockets, shoulders rounded, Drake answered yes, sir, and no, sir, with the thin veneer of false compliance barely concealing the resentment in his voice, the scowl on his face. He should be back at the party, but that idiot Tony had volunteered them to make a beer run. The party where the girl with the long mane of thick, black hair had stood beside him all night, bumping his arm every time she sipped her drink. He had wanted to rake his fingers through her hair, pull it back into a ponytail, and give it a gentle tug. The memory made him smile, and he snorted a laugh through his nose. Tony elbowed him in the side and hissed, “Quit it, man. You’re gonna piss this guy off.”

But his resentment wasn’t directed toward the cop who pulled them over for erratic driving. He just didn’t like the guilt lodged between his shoulders like an ax blade. Guilt ruined fun, and that’s all they’d been doing. Having fun. You want something to make you feel like you’ve done a good job, something to talk about at roll call tomorrow? Go check out what’s happening three blocks down, two blocks over. That’s the place to make the real bust. The place they just came from. The house where the dark-haired girl who nodded and smiled when Drake refused the joint was probably already dancing with someone else. The house with white lines on the glass coffee table.

Still, he can’t blame the cop for doing his job. Of course, he could have chosen to be a furniture mover based on the size of his biceps. One of those guys who lifts refrigerators and wardrobes by himself, strapped to his back, and not a single grunt as he walked up or down stairs. Weren’t cops supposed to be soft in the middle from driving around all day, eating doughnuts? Drake should be able to outrun this guy in his black, laced up boots that looked slightly military and weren’t meant for running like the cross trainers Drake wore. He could sprint away from this cop like a cheetah running from a wombat. Out distance him in nothing flat.

But then the cheetah would grow tired after the initial burst of speed. He would hear the steady beat of the wombat’s boots behind him closing the distance, each methodical step brining the wombat closer to the spent cheetah. Like an endurance runner. Drake shuddered, and the bright idea to run was squashed like a lightning bug in the hands of a devious five year-old. Yeah, this cop probably ran marathons.

Drake shook his head because he knew they’d messed up and were in serious, serious trouble. Something cold and wet hit his face; something more than mist but less than rain. The damp seeped into his clothes, and regret drew his chin down to his chest. Drake’s eyes stung and he wasn’t having fun anymore. He wanted to go home. He wanted the lead weight on his diaphragm that made it hard to breathe to disappear. His mouth tasted sour.

The soft glow of headlights fuzzed by the condensation reminded him of the cotton balls his mother used to remove her makeup. His mother. Drake wondered if the officer would let him call his mother so she could bring him a warmer coat.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the picture.

A Fresh Perspective

banyan-tree-shoppingI started the following short story several months ago, and while I had an idea of how I wanted the tale to begin, I honestly wasn’t sure how it should end.  So I let it sit, worked on other writing projects, and forgot about it.  I came across this piece five days ago and still didn’t know how things were going to turn out for my protagonist, but I felt more inclined to take the journey with her.  I’m pleased with the outcome, and I hope you will be, too.  Enjoy!

A Fresh Perspective

Seeing Is Believing

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then allow me to share with you what this beholder has been eyeing up lately. My appreciation for art in all its many forms wasn’t developed by education or by listening to the critics but rather by finding what I liked and seeking out more of the same. I’ve applied this to the books I read, the way I write, paintings and photography I view, the music I listen to, and the food I eat. Today, let’s focus on visual art.

Michael Ferguson is an abstract artist whose work I found in my Twitter feed. I must have been following someone who retweeted Michael’s art, because the icon he uses for his profile, his own piece titled Essence, immediately caught my eye.

Through our conversations, I’ve learned that many things besides a paintbrush can be used for applying paint to an artist’s chosen surface. Cereal boxes remain among my favorite tools that Michael has used in his creative process. Like many things in life to which I never limit myself to one favorite, I really couldn’t say which of Michael’s pieces I like best. For the sake of space, I’m going to feature Shapes – World simply because my eye landed on this vibrant, colorful piece first. My initial thought upon seeing it was that it looked like a painted dreamscape.

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Shapes-World by Michael Ferguson

I also met photographer, Robert Nacke, on Twitter. Robert’s work resonates with me because he has a unique ability to capture familiar images and present them in a simple yet elegant way. I’ve seen many of his chosen subjects in my everyday life, but don’t think for one minute that this makes them commonplace.

The plump goose crossing the road or the doe with her spotted fawns are brought closer with a fine eye for detail and elevated to the level of art. You can’t help but feel as if what matters and/or what is special in life are important to Robert, too.

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Traveling Song by Robert Nacke

But my association with artists on Twitter didn’t end there. Photographer Rosita Larsson caught my heart with her picture of bleeding hearts, my favorite childhood flower. When I think of Rosita’s work, warmth and freshness always come to mind. I thought her florals were my favorites until I had the pleasure of viewing her forest scenes, nature abstracts, buildings, and landscapes, and I realized that I loved everything she shoots.

She manages to imbue every picture with such clarity that you want to reach out and touch the scene just to feel the velvety dampness of the petal or the heat radiating from a sundrenched stone wall. Rosita’s art breathes life and lifts your spirits all at once.

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Bleeding Heart Up Close by Rosita Larsson

What I love about the work of photographer Irfan Dar is how he fluctuates between wide open pictures with simple objects just catching your eye to close up pictures of intense focus. Whether it’s crisp detail or softened edges, black and white or color, Irfan’s work always has a touch of the exotic in it.

I sense motion in Irfan’s pictures even if it’s just the mist moving subtly across a dense forest or grains of sand shifting beneath a camel’s feet. His photographs will make you want to travel to the places he has been and see the things he has seen.

Solitary by Irfan Dar

Solitary by Irfan Dar

Ismo Raisanen photographs astound me with the depth of color he captures. It’s as if nature gives the very best show when he’s taking pictures. Even snowy winter scenes are brought to life with a range of shades I wouldn’t usually have associated with the season.

The other quality I like about his pictures is how he uses natural lighting to enhance the colors of the landscapes he photographs. Of course sunny scenes depict light in a most spectacular way, but you won’t be disappointed with his shady scenes that provide a great sensory experience to all who view them.

Midsummer Night's Magic

Midsummer Night’s Magic by Ismo Raisanen

I was first drawn to Derrick Scofield’s photographs when he tweeted the South Fork Trestle in color and black and white. Both pictures were equally beautiful in their own way, almost as if he had taken pictures of two completely different bridges.

Derrick presents a wide range of subject matter for his photographs, and this variety lends even more appeal to his artwork. One might be tempted to think he snapped a series of random shots, but closer inspection will reveal that this is the work of a talented photographer because no one person is that lucky. Each scene appears exactly how it should have been photographed, capturing the moment perfectly, lending an emotional quality to the picture.

South Fork Trestle

South Fork Trestle by Derrick Scofield

South Fork Trestle 2 by Derrick Scofield

South Fork Trestle 2 by Derrick Scofield

I hope you enjoyed this visual tour of some of the finest artists on social media today who I have the pleasure of calling my friends.

Picture Perfect Love

Welcome to my first installment of Read & Relax.  The story I’ve chosen to share with you was written for a contest at the Faded Velvet antique store located, at the time, in Hartville, Ohio.  The owner, Donna, posted an old, sepia-toned picture on her Facebook page and challenged participants to write a story about the people in it.  I won the contest and received a gift certificate to the store which I used to purchase a beautiful cut glass pitcher.

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I now own the photograph thanks to the generosity of a best friend.  The original isn’t a tintype, but since I have always been fascinated with the tintypes my mother owned, I decided to make it one for my story.  All that is known about the couple in the picture is they lived on a farm in Massillon, Ohio.

So, make a cup of English breakfast tea, sit back, read and relax.

Picture Perfect Love

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