through the lens

When I make a photograph, I am literally cropping out the rest of existence — its tension, its chaos, its hunger, its pain. For one small moment, I wall myself into a world of my own creation; a world where things may not make immediate narrative or logical sense, but where everything is in balance. Thin, almost pencil-drawn lines offset wide, flat spaces. The smooth hardness of glass acts as counterweight to the fine hairs of a polyester wig. I don’t have any pretensions of long-term escape. I know when I put the camera down, when I step back from the print, there will be something like an avalanche of smells and voices, car alarms and newspaper headlines, legal obligations and biological concerns.

I will be a part of things again over which I have no control. But for a moment, I have hidden long enough to take a breath.

Tim Lisko

I love this quote. He sums up the act of photography, for me. I’m not a professional, and I’m not even all that comfortable calling myself a photographer. I just love to make pictures. There’s a simplicity to viewing the world through an internal lens. There’s a real beauty to framing a scene just so; to understand the elements of a picture and work out how best to reveal that vision through my camera is a process less technical than instinctual for me.

I get asked sometimes whether photographing an event distracts me from what’s happening at the time. I don’t think it does – I actually think, sometimes, that a camera makes me more mindful of what’s going on in front of me. I recall events not as two-dimensional tableaux, but as dynamic, fired with movement, full of all the senses. A sidelong grin, a hand gesture, the colours of lights. I seal the moment in its entirely into my mind; I access it again through my images. Is it work shooting events? Sure it is. Is it a disadvantage to my overall experience? Absolutely not.

Getting that one great shot is a constant challenge. I take many more frames than I’ll ever need to use, but that one, that perfect one, is elusive. Iconic photos stay in the mind like constant zeitgeistish scenery, and you aim for one. Of course you do. You feel that Corbijn or Cartier-Bresson or Leibovitz looked at their most famous shots and thought, yep, that’s one for the record books. You can’t know either way. Do images stay iconic because they have a higher intrinsic quality than their peers, or do we self-perpetuate images as iconic?

I will probably never know that an image is the one, the most important, the absolute best it could be. Most of us will never be Carter in Rwanda; most of us will never see something that absolutely needs recording, needs to be seen. We just work on and hope that we stumble over that wily quarry at some point in our lives.

I love taking photos. I have that love that Lisko enthuses over in his artist’s statement – grabbing a moment’s peace out of chaos, finding at least one rectangle of world that is your vision and only yours. I love the instinct and the certainty of framing an image. With words, I self-edit and second-guess. With a photo, I’ll only try to change it for the better. It’s a freedom of expression granted by control – I can give of myself in photographs more than in words, because photos are, at the same time, intensely personal and entirely objective. It’s a beautiful contradiction, a beautiful balance. It’s just beautiful.

My photos live here. I’m definitely no Annie Leibovitz.

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that’s here. that’s home. that’s us.

There is the horizon, and there is a shield of light. It drops away to an inky, cobalt blue, and fades almost regretfully into the deepest black night.

For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light—our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance. – Ulf Merbold

In a tiny silver speck orbiting tirelessly around this spinning planet, Chris Hadfield switches off his camera and turns in for the night.

Hadfield is Mission Commander on board the International Space Station. His day job is conducting experiments and operating the Canadarm2 robotic device that functions as part of the ISS infrastructure. In his downtime, he catches up with ice hockey, gives talks to schools, makes videos on the oddities of ISS life, and takes some of the most compelling photos of our beautiful planet yet in existence.

If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon. – Galileo

These photos are beautiful. They are stark, or verdant; they are recognisable, and alien. Written on the Earth is a record of our past, the battle-scars of a species making its mark on its home.

People leave marks wherever they go. We build, we create, and inevitably we destroy. To look across the globe is to understand our compulsion to etch our fleeting presence on our world, and to understand how very tiny those machinations are to which we cling most tightly. One of my favourite quotes on this is from Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut, who said of spaceflight: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

The crew of the ISS are the furthest humans from our planet. Their lonely viewpoint allows them to see – and allows us to experience, vicariously – our pale blue dot, as it appears in macro.

There is a fascination to that solitude. Space flight is something that has never lost its wonder, from the time we first sent brave pioneers into orbit and had them return to a hero’s welcome. Space travel is so far beyond the reach of the everyman, even now, that we retain a childlike awe at the  very thought. We are limitless, we story-telling apes, in our imagination. We want that experience. We want to be lifted above our lives, to be able to look down at everyone alive in the world, and to say yes, that is ours. That is our home.

Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available… a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose. -Fred Hoyle

This, then, is one facet of the appeal of Hadfield’s photography: it marries an alien perspective with a familiar subject. There is a thrill to finding a photo of your city and reading the streetlights to find your way around. In photographs from space, we experience a double consciousness. We are the painter, and the sitter. We experience art; we make art; we are art.

For all our faults, we are still so beautiful.

Dublin’s fair city.

Those of us who enjoy astronomy revel in viewing the photographs the Curiosity Rover sends back from Mars. Interpreting the geography of an alien planet is fascinating; we are explorers, readers, inwardly running our hands over rocks we will never touch in reality, piecing together the history of its mountains and plains. It’s easy to forget that we live on just such a planet ourselves – constitutionally different, of course, but equally as amazing, equally as strange. We live in a microcosm, all of us. We spend so much of our time on so little an area of land that the disconnect involved in contemplating the whole is startling. There are beauties you will never see, entire continents you may never visit.

And this is thrilling!

There are seven billion of us down here, and that is what we share – the love and stewardship of this planet of ours. Alone, each of us is so insignificant in the wider scheme of things. Collectively, we can send people into space to reflect our lives back at us through beautiful photographs.

Carl Sagan was right to observe that exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. I hope within our lifetimes we have the chance to experience that wonder for ourselves. For now, it’s a privilege to experience the visual story of our existence from the perspective of our most adventurous wanderers.

In Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, the philosopher Albert sends Sophie a letter asking her if she has ever thought about meeting a little man from Mars while she is out walking. “What would you think?” he asks. “Never mind, it’s not important. But have you ever given any thought to the fact that you are a Martian yourself? It is obviously unlikely that you will ever stumble upon a creature from another planet. We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods. I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.”

(Thank you, Commander Hadfield, and safe home.)

[2013] Year of Getting Things Done: photography

2013: year of Getting Shit Done. In the spirit of sharing our creative endeavours, here’s a few words about one of my favourite hobbies.

I have just ordered one of these, and I am very pleased:

Tamron AF 70-300mm F4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 Nikon+Motor

Tamron AF 70-300mm F4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 Nikon+Motor

Already thinking of things to do and places to go with it.

I really love photography, but it’s often hard to find good opportunities to go wander with a camera in winter. If it snows, you get the novelty factor of things looking pretty and white. Grey and grey on a grey background, as most Irish winters are, is not so lovely.

Two years ago, when we had several weeks of snow and a fairly solid freeze every day, my boyfriend and I went to Dublin Zoo when everything was still frozen. It was beautiful. The lake was almost entirely ice, and the winter-loving animals – wolves, penguins, snow leopards – were frolicking around with expressions of incredulous enjoyment.

I’d like to try some astrophotography soon – A (boyfriend) has a small telescope and a decent set of binoculars, I have a camera and a tripod: between us, we make one very prepared photographer – and maybe some more wildlife shots. A few years ago I was very into live music photography, but as I currently live outside the city there’s not a lot of that going on.

The next thing I want to invest in is a Flickr pro membership. I’ve been using Flickr for ages and just putting up a few shots here and there, but I’d really like to have the extra capacity that pro allows, in order to do a decent portfolio online.

If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth being broke for… as the saying should have read.

A few of my photos are under this cut.

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Thunder Moon

… at least, I think it is.

August 2012 will have two full moons: the night of the 1st/2nd, and the 31st. In Googling to find out the name for the one we’ve just seen, I came across this article on the origins of the phrase ‘once in a blue Moon’ – which is both interesting, and containing a cocktail recipe.

That’s how I like my astronomy: engaging and drunk.

Anyway, I’m mainly posting to show off a photo I took in the early hours of August 2nd, having been awoken by an incredibly bright beam of moonlight through the window. I looked out, and I found this, the Thunder Moon, staring back at me.

(bigger – link to Flickr)

So there you go. I get a shot like that once, yes, in a Blue Moon.