We have all been inspired by the works of other artists, but we can also learn from those who have gone before.
We must learn to see to learn to do. Being inspired by one who has mastered the art of seeing photographically at night can further our own visual discovery process and artistic development in a very practical way.
This is true for any art form, but especially true in night photography, because nocturnal image making is not as commonly practiced as other areas of photography.
But we can go beyond just being momentarily inspired. We can adopt a muse to guide us along our path of developing a sense of night vision.
Selecting and following a muse motivates and challenges us to not only view examples of nighttime work, but to also see differently, to see more deeply, and to see more distinctly.
Exposing ourselves to another’s body of work, past and present, offers more than just a technical education. By focusing on the work of another in a concentrated way we begin to assimilate a better knack for seeing and capturing our own inner vision.
In the same way that formal martial arts training prepares our bodies to respond in a more focused way, viewing and absorbing our muse’s imagery trains our eyes to recognize and respond to the subtle visual nuances we encounter when photographing at night.
Interestingly this does not teach us to duplicate another’s work. Instead it trains our mind’s eye to respond in a more conscious and personal manner.
But we need to give it time to develop. This is not an over night exercise. It is neither casual nor constant, but somewhere in-between. It’s something we dedicate ourselves to visit and revisit over time to track our changes in perspective.
By acquainting ourselves with not only what another sees, but also how another sees, we familiarize ourselves with the development of a visual journey, and become more intimate with our own artistic quest.
Over time we can adopt many muses, but the best approach is to commit to only one at a time in order to see another’s talents as purely as possible, both technically and artistically.
By amusing ourselves, we expose ourselves to greater possibilities that can be easily overlooked as we advance our personal perspective of the night.
IMAGE : Homage to Brassaï, River Thames, London, England © Michael Kenna
In the mid 1980’s, I bought this image from the Friends of Photography in California. It was my introduction to night photography, and motivated me to eventually venture into the night with my camera. Over the years, I have followed Michael’s nighttime work as a source of insight and inspiration along my visual journey.
About this image Michael Kenna said, “One evening I was staying in a friend’s house just outside of London, the very place that I had lived for three years when I was studying at the London College of Printing. As it was getting time to go to bed I noticed a rising mist from the River Thames, which was just visible from the window. I went out to photograph and did not return until after sunrise the following morning. It was an exquisitely cold, winter’s night. I imagined that Brassaï might have done the same thing when he was photographing along the Seine in Paris. Much of the subject matter was similar: bridges, boats, embankments, and water. I have often emulated photographers that I particularly admire and I try to pay homage to them in titles for my own photographs.”
You can view Michael’s body of work on his website.
EXERCISE : Find Art Photography
Find a photographer whose work inspires you. Select one or more of your favorite images created by the photo artist. Take the time to study the work, and look for the details that capture your attention and imagination the most.
Be sure to select vintage as well as recent images to get a good cross section of the kind of work that inspires you. Revisit the images from time to time to see how their impact on you changes, taking note of the effect certain visual elements have on you.
FEEDBACK : Find Art Photography
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NEXT TIME : “Paying Homage”
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