The way you think your life is going to turn out. The way it actually does.
Despite all the lessons I've learned, the unpredictable, serpentine, uncontrollable nature of life is one I still have been unable to fully grasp. The fact that I am pretty much entirely out of control is one that continues to both snicker at me and woo me. It's both mesmerizing and maddening.
I was reminded once more of my utter lack of control of anything and everything as the universe threw another round of philosophical and personal sucker punches my way during a workshop at Maine Media Workshops + College,
Following a pretty gutting few months, I wanted to get out of Florida for a bit and focus on my work. So, I jumped at the chance to take some time up north to learn among other photographers at Maine Media. It was an enlightening, inspiring, challenging experience that unexpectedly shifted a lot for me.
My main assignment in the workshop was to produce six (I think) portraits. I was racking my brain on the first and second day of class on what to do – I wanted to make quality work, take full advantage of the workshop and also remain true to my approach to photography and portraiture. I wanted to create, but not force it.
I didn't want to walk up to just anyone and take their photo – a circumstance that, though often enlightening, can feel shallow. After wrestling with my interpretation of the assignment, I landed on something I'm familiar with: expanding the idea of portraiture from a person to a place, reminiscent of the Land of Flowers. To really challenge myself, I decided to shoot on film – and figure out how to process it there in remote Maine.
To embrace a different interpretation of portraiture – one on film, no less – was, in effect, to embrace a lack of control. I didn't know if I'd exposed the frames correctly. I didn't know if my film would turn out. I didn't know if the scans would turn out. I didn't even know if all the photos would together tell a story, much less that of a portrait of a place.
But they did. And with that, I introduce the eighth photo of Anatomy of a photograph. It's one of my favorites from the series I turned in during the workshop, and it's reflective of how far my work has come.
A quick backstory to this photo: I actually took this photo before the workshop had even begun. I'd gotten to Maine a couple days early, and met a skipper with a sweet tooth equally intense as mine at the dessert counter of a sandwich shop in town.
He – a professor who, no big deal, teaches celestial navigation at Harvard – and some young men had sailed to the town from Boston (!) and asked if I wanted to join them out on the water that afternoon. "No" is just not an option when you're asked something like that. And with that, we were out.
Given my limited nautical abilities, I opted to lean into my photographic ones. At the right moment, I wobbled around and pulled out my new-to-me Mamiya RB67 (thanks Kiwi!) to capture this moment of the skipper and his trainees assessing which direction to take. As quickly as I made the photo did I return down below to put the camera back in its safe (and dry) hiding spot.
What I love about this photo is how dynamic it is. You can see and feel the movement throughout the whole frame, from the skippers' poses to the off-kilter angle to the competing leading lines. It's chaotic, busy – just as it was on the boat.
Something I learned in Maine was the use of "triangles" in portraiture – how arranging subjects in a triangular fashion is appealing to the viewer's eye. It's funny, because I'd made this photo before knowing that. Seeing the (unintentional) triangular arrangement of the subjects, I understand how such a composition is compelling.
Again, I'm just really drawn to the movement in this photo. It's busy without being overwhelming. And even if it is overwhelming to a viewer, I'm okay with that. Because it was a busy scene, and this photo demonstrates that, from the pointed hand to the other holding the rope to really everything else.
The fact that there are so many leading lines contributes to this energetic sense. There are just layers and layers of lines that interconnect and keep the viewer's eyes circulating around the photo in a topsy-turvy way not unlike the way it feels to be on a ship. That creates a nice sense of continuity and connection.
Seeing the photo in black and white, you see more clearly the nice triangular composition of the subjects. It keeps the photo both full and compelling. I'm definitely going to be keeping the triangle rule in mind from now on.
You also see the layers and layers of leading lines well in black and white. From the rope to the boom to the tiller – I hope I'm using the right nautical words here – all of the lines find a way to connect and draw the eye back to the subject.
A lack of control – that amorphous, mischievous thing – was present everywhere during the process of creating this image and the rest I turned in. At one point, I remember thinking, as I ran with wet film from the darkroom to the lab, how crazy I was for choosing to do it this way. But I was also exhilarated, and I knew it would turn out. I had a feeling – I just had to lean into it.
I'm not sure I'll ever be fully comfortable with the idea that I don't control much, if anything. It's just too daunting a thought to fully grasp. What I do know is that leaning into the uncertainty – jumping into the waves, so to speak – is oh so more enlightening and fun than staying ashore.
Life is unpredictable. Uncertainty is inevitable. It's terrifying. But I'm starting to realize that in a world of two-way crossroads and binary choices, leaning into the uncertainty is exactly what I've needed to create my own third way of living.
With love and light,
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