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Unexpecting the Expected

October 7, 2010
Golden & Rusted, Highway 11

Golden & Rusted, Highway 11

The Fall 2010 Canadian Rockies Photo Tour has concluded. In my biased opinion, it went well. 🙂 More to come as the group begins to go through their photographs. From what we saw during the session, there should be some great results — both iconic views from around Abraham Lake and Jasper (our two major locales), as well as some different material based on each participant’s personal style. I’m always intrigued to see how a group will respond to a scene when standing there at the same time.

Speaking of responding to scenes, as I was going through my own results this week to start cataloging, I came again to a series I photographed involving an old truck along Highway 11. I’ve driven along this road many times and never recall taking note of this old relic before. This trip, I certainly wasn’t expecting to find something like this where I found it. Why did I see it? Mainly because I was keeping an eye out for patches of good fall color, and there were some small trees with golden foliage in nice light, right behind the rusting hulk. By themselves, the trees would not have been worth stopping for. They were too small and isolated in an otherwise drab corner of a large, empty field. However the contrast of the fall foliage and old truck seemed much more interesting, so I marked the location and returned to it when coming back down the road the other way.

When mentioning the truck to someone else who knew the road quite well, it was also not a spot that he had really seen or photographed before. I know in my case, I’d normally cruise along this road with my mind looking forward to what I would encounter ahead at my destination (or perhaps what I was leaving behind 🙂 ). What was different this day as I went by?

I think part of the fun and challenge of being a photographer is to really see a scene — to strip away the obvious, which may or may not seem that photo worthy — and then visually interpret something interesting from among the layers that are revealed. But like anyone else, photographers can fall prey to that which is familiar and expected. When I’m familiar with something, I see what I expect to see in it. My perception of interesting photographic opportunities may become dulled by my own preconception that I know what’s there, and it’s not interesting.

I love photographing old abandoned relics, and can spend hours with a single one. But somehow I had never taken note of this one before. It took active looking for something else — fall color — for me to realize I’d been driving right on by something interesting for the last few years. So the lesson I take out of this is not just to expect the unexpected, but to also unexpect the expected — try to look at what is really there and then engage my interest and imagination to see the photographic possibilities in it. Good photographs can be found all over the place… as long as I’m not expecting that there’s nothing to see.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David "art where you least expect it" permalink
    October 7, 2010 08:06

    Another thought may be that, occasionally, you need to put on “blinders” to get a shot. In the wide expanse of real life, you may not see an interesting shot, but focusing on a small segment of what you can actually see may lead you to the most interesting shot imaginable. An old truck in front of yellow-leaved trees in the context of a broad horizon may mean nothing, but narrow the focus, and you get an interesting photo.

  2. October 7, 2010 18:54

    Totally agree with that. Photography is a visual art, and analogies are often drawn to painting or drawing. But I like to draw analogies to sculpture. With a photograph, I don’t start with a clean, empty piece of paper or canvas. Instead I start with the large, formless “rock” — all of reality out in front of the lens. The trick is to chisel away everything that is not the photograph, without destroying the work in the process or otherwise ending up with something unsuitable.

    As such, unlike painting and drawing but like sculpture, photography is subtractive. Or perhaps “extractive” is a better term, as used by one of the workshop participants last week.

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