Friday, October 29, 2010

Northwest Colorado Plateau

My recent trip out west took me to a number of places I'd never been before, one of which was the plateau range lands of Northwest Colorado. This is the northwest corner of the Colorado Plateau, which covers western Colorado, eastern Utah, northern Arizona, and the northwest corner of New Mexico--basically everywhere I went on the trip. After crossing the continental divide, the mountains spread out into broad valleys, and then became range land, as seen above.
Because it was October, there was a monochromatic feel to the landscape, with the grasses and trees mostly a similar gold color. Still, the coloring was very warm, and there were some nice points of contrast with the greens and blues of the mountains on the horizon.
The moon came up before sunset, and allowed for some nice shots of the almost-full moon over the range.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Photo of the day

This is a view of the continental divide at Berthoud Pass in Colorado, 11,300 feet elevation. Details: Canon 60D, Canon 18-200 lens at 20mm; 1/200 @ f11, ISO 400.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Photo of the day

Rain on the mountains, sun on the plain, just north of Taos, New Mexico.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Monument Valley

Here are the first pictures from my trip to Utah and New Mexico. I spent the night at the View Hotel, in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and had this view from my balcony. It was cloudy and rainy in the evening when I arrived, but after midnight it cleared off. Above was the scene at 1:00 a.m. under a nearly full moon.

By 5:30 a.m. the moon was setting, and the view looked like this:
Finally, a partly cloudy sunrise:
Last, but not least,  a brief time-lapse video of the sunrise:

Time Lapse--Sunrise, Monument Valley from Paul D. Healey on Vimeo.

More photos and stories from the trip as I begin to sort through them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Photo of the Day

Strong morning light creates interesting shadows and lines.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Motivations, Part 3: Learning to see

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that photography taught me to see. It's an exorbitant statement, I know, but photography has always been a motive for me to really look around myself. This works in several ways. The first is that looking for photographs has taught me to really examine the world around me. This has made me much more conscious of things I would have missed otherwise.

As someone who is primarily interested in landscape photography, this enhanced vision has brought me into close contact with the outside and the natural world. Interestingly, this means not only an appreciation for vast vistas, but also for minute details. I don't think I really began to look at flowers until I noticed them through the camera.

That hints at another way that photography has enhanced my vision. Especially in earlier years, by looking closely at a photo I had taken, I would notice a detail that had escaped me in the past. This, in turn, would lead me to look for those details in the real world in the future. Thus photography was part of a feedback loop that helped me see more and more of the world.

I suppose that being visually engaged with the world is a reason for pursuing photography, rather than the other way around. Even so, I can't shake the feeling that without photography I would have missed so much. I'm just glad to have had the chance to see at all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Motivations, Part 2: Enlightened Selfishness

The photos on this page are three of five that I entered in my very first photo contest, in Dubuque Iowa, in 1982. I don't know if they are very good pictures, or if the other two were. I also don't want to get caught on the question of whether or not I was treated fairly or not in the photo contest. That's beside the point. What I want to discuss is how this contest changed the course of my photography, and helped me crystallize a personal philosophy that has guided me to this day.

There were 25 photographers entered in the contest. Of the 25, 23 got some sort of "Best" award (e.g. "Best use of color" "Best photo involving children," etc.). I was one of the two who didn't get an award. We were also the only two whose pictures were matted, but not framed. The photo contest rules did not require frames, and as a poor college student, I couldn't afford them. This outcome was a shocking blow to my young and fragile ego. The contest was the first time I had showed my work publicly, and I was humiliated when the results were revealed at the opening reception. I was very emotionally invested in photography at the time, and this felt like a wholesale rejection.
So why did this happen? Well, one possibility is that my photography is crap. The pictures entered by the other guy who didn't get a prize really were pretty horrible. Maybe I'm just in that league and can't see it. The other possibility is that I had failed to follow an unwritten rule, in this case that you need to have your pictures in frames in a photo contest if you want them to be taken seriously. I mulled these over on the long walk home from the contest reception. The result of that mulling was not to abandon photography because I did crap work, or a feeling victimization for having violated an unwritten rule that I hadn't known about. Instead, it led me to really understand my motivation for pursuing photography, and pointed me toward a course that has had me happily taking pictures for the almost 30 years since.

What I realized was that I had to decide who I was doing photography for: Me, or other people. If I was doing photography for others, at least in the sense that I needed the approval and attention of others in order to validate it, then I would have to play by other people's rules. If I wanted to win prizes in photo contests, I would have to learn the unwritten rules, like having frames, and concentrate on the subjects and styles of photography that other people enjoyed. My work would have to cater to the taste of others if I wanted to succeed. This is a simple truth that all artists must confront (not that I'm an artist).

On the other hand, if I was doing photography for myself, then I could do whatever I wanted. The fact of the matter was that, even if my work was crap, I liked it. It pleased me to look at my own pictures. I enjoyed taking them, and working them, and seeing them. I didn't need the approval of anyone else to do this. I was free to be whatever photographer I wanted to be. If I really enjoyed photography for its own sake--for the self expression and creative impulses that it satisfied--then I should be able to take all the pictures I wanted, and never show them to anyone, and still be happy and fulfilled.
Over the next 25 years I took over 45,000 photos and never showed them to anyone, except some close family members, and I was perfectly happy with that. As I've gotten older, my ego has become less fragile, and my satisfaction with my own work has increased, and finally in the last few years I have started putting some of my pictures into my class presentations, and then started writing this blog. I am more willing to show my work now, not because I want to please others, but because I believe in it and see it as part of who I am. I don't really care if others like it or not. Not that I don't care about other opinions. I'm just not judging myself by them.

I have become a strong believer in the idea that in order to do our best in society, we each have to look carefully for our own happiness first. Not in a way that refuses to care for others or ignores responsibilities, but in the sense that we can only contribute the most we have to society when we are truly happy with what we are doing. Doing this creates a way to let your intuition lead you to a better place. I call this approach "enlightened selfishness." (It has nothing to do with the political philosophy of enlightened self interest.) Like I say, the pursuit of our own happiness shouldn't come at undue expense to others. But pursuing our own happiness can lead us to better things. I wouldn't give up what photography has given me for the world, even if I was the only person who ever saw my photos.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Photo of the Day

This is another of those "not sure why I like it so much" photos. It has an off-kilter energy that I enjoy, and I like the serendipity of the matching pink of the sign light and the girl's coat. The photo was taken on an escalator in Kyoto Station in November of 2006.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Motivations, Part 1: Searching for something

For most people, photography is a combination of a way of keeping memories and a form of casual fun--and there's nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it makes sense. For some of us, though, photography has become much more than that. It is a way of expressing ourselves, and of interacting with the world. For me, at least, it's a way of reaching for something beyond myself. It's hard to describe, but in the next few posts on this blog, I'm going to try. I want to explain my motivation for pursuing photography in a way that makes sense, and without using the word "art" (except for right there).
The two photos on this post are are some of the first pictures I took where I was reaching for something beyond just recording a scene. I took them in high school, in the mid 1970s. They may not be particularly good photos, but for me they have meaning because they are an attempt to act on a vision, and in the process create something new. This was, and still is, very exciting to me. There is something about creating an image that got under my skin at an early age, and has stayed there. The way that some people feel compelled to write, or draw, or dance, I feel compelled to take pictures. Indeed, if I had any coordination or talent for drawing, I might have gone that direction instead. Since I can't draw to save my life, photography was my option.

Why I should want to do this is a good question. Photography is expensive, and time consuming, and for those who want to show or sell their work, horridly competitive. Indeed, for most of the last 30 years I explicitly refused to show my work to anyone. I made images for my own enjoyment and edification. (More on that in my next post.)

This excitement at making images has only gotten worse (or better?) over the years. It's now a large part of what I think about on a daily basis. It gives me great pleasure to be searching for something beyond myself, and the searching is as pleasurable as the finding. Having the images I've made also brings great joy into my life. In that sense, it doesn't matter if anyone else likes my work; I like it, and that is sufficient to keep me going.

So one of the reasons I pursue photography is because it helps me create something that brings me joy, and in the process lets me move beyond myself in a way that helps me grow. But that's only part of the reason photography is so important to me. In my next post I will talk about the photo competition that changed my life, and that led me to develop a philosophy that I follow to this day. Following that, I will post some thoughts on using photography to learn to see, and then on making money with photography.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Travel Spot: Perdido Key Florida

I use the "Travel Spot" category on this blog to point out little-known but interesting places to see, both here in America and around the world. Perdido Key, near Pensacola Florida, is not exaclty little known, but right now, I think it could use a boost.

Last November, on a very last minute impulse, I booked a condo at Perdido Key for Thanksgiving. Some of my very first entries on this blog are about that experience. The scene above is the view from the condo I rented. Since then, of course, the Deep Horizon oil spill has fouled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and driven away tourism. I haven't been back, but everything I can find on the web indicates that Pensacola, and Perdido Key, are doing just fine since the spill.
I got some beautiful pictures while I was there, and with November being the off-season, it was not crowded at all, and prices were very reasonable. I rented a one bedroom, two bath condo with full kitchen for about $110 per night.

The weather was cool, but the skies were clear, and sunny most days, and the ocean was gorgeous. Even when it was cloudy, it was beautiful. Here is a short time lapse video of clouds over the gulf:

Time Lapse Clouds and Ocean from Paul D. Healey on Vimeo.

I don't want to rehash my postings from last November, you can read them if you wish, but I would like to say that if you have an urge to visit the Perdido Key area, it seems to be doing pretty well in spite of the spill, and I'm pretty sure the people there would be grateful. And, you might get some nice photos.