As alluded to in my last post, what I am really most about, right now (and I notice how I am not the only one…perhaps its something a whole lot of us are starting to find our way back to) is “finding my sweet spot” and then staying there.
What do I mean by this? Well, in very literal terms, as any photographer will understand, its about choosing my focal point and zooming in on it…not to the exclusion of all else but so that those other things become softer, more out of focus; they may even add the kind of contrast, colour or texture that enhance whatever it is that I am choosing to land my gaze upon but they don’t detract, or distract, from it. Its about finding what brings me most directly into contact with that feeling of peace and of joy and choosing to stay there.
Funny that the photography analogy should come so easily to hand as I’m finding that I’m doing the same thing with my art process right now; which is, increasingly, all about the digital process from photo to…sometimes…something a little more worked on or abstract but even when it remains “just” a photo, I like to choose what both me (and thus the viewer) is looking at. You could say, I guide them towards what it was that I experienced. My new-ish favourite toy for doing this is a lens called the “Sweet 50”, a name which still makes me laugh, a few months since I got it, due to the appropriateness of how it does exactly what I said above and then even has my age in the title. I mean, in the very year that I turn 50 and am so intent upon finding my own personal sweet spot in life, how amusing and apt that this lens should apparently frame that very intention in its name!
This lens is a marvel for the fact that you can bend it and otherwise manipulate it…in fact, most of the time, I refer to it simply as “my bendy lens”. On the back of it, I’ve had some pretty interesting and funny conversations with complete strangers, I can tell you. These days, I seldom go out without it and, in fact, am drawing the conclusion that I prefer it to my “normal, does everything” lens. After all, who wants to see things exactly as they are, documentary fashion (such photography, however skilful, leaves me slab cold). Perhaps it’s the artist in me but I get a whole other degree of excitement in my chest when I take photos that are soft, often (by some people’s standards) fatally blurred or distorted but which convey a feeling, much as I sought to do (often with less aplomb…) as a painter. I get to recreate something that is visceral inside of me as I experience what I do in, say (typically) a garden and then match that frequency to what I achieve with my lens, along with any follow-up editing I do back home. In fact, half the time when I use a “normal” lens, these days, I find myself processing the photos to look more like I took them with the Sweet 50; which tells me such a lot, not only about my evolving art-photography process and the direction it’s taking, but about the whole direction of my life. I just seem to prefer looking at life this way!
After all, we don’t see things documentary-style. We don’t get the super clear, clean-cut edges to “the image” that television manufacturers boast about as we experience life, frame by frame. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to what you are aware of right now and you will notice, perhaps for the first time consciously, how there is only a very tiny part of what you are seeing that is in sharp focus; that the rest is all blur, shadow, blobs of colour, abstraction. And yes, the brain takes all that peripheral data in, messy as it seems, contributing to how we feel in deep down ways that we hardly notice, telling us how relaxed to feel; whether we can let our guard down, chill out. Perhaps these parts of the image remind us, at the subconscious level, who we truly are when we sleep at night as all the trials and tribulations of so-called real life dissolve away. Now, mixed up in all that visual soup, there is also the broader sensory focus (you could call it “inner vision”) that guides you to what you are choosing to make central to your attention and, as it were, dims down or fades out all the rest. We do it all the time, sometimes to our detriment…focussing clearly, say, on the terrible news headlines or the grit and grime of our daily lives but missing the softer stuff, the beauty and the opportunities to notice all that is loveable. So, as an artist, what do I most want to do…do I want to present it all on an equal footing, as though you were standing there in that garden with me, getting to choose which blade of grass to examine closely next? (I tend to think that would make me into someone who delivers visual information…but not an artist.) Or do I want to share what I, personally, focussed on and so experienced there because it was so high-frequency it overwhelmed me with love and appreciation of life and I want to dole that out like a tonic to all the world?
Guess what, of course that’s what I most want I do. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And then even the soft, dreamy, unfocused bits around the edges become part of the emotional experience of it, like a cue to relax and feel good. There’s no accident about the fact that Monet is still one of the most loved and sought after artists of our time; that people still sit for hours (and I’m one of them) when confronted with his waterlily paintings hung in the round on a gallery wall (I refer to L’Orangerie and so recommend it as the place you are most likely to loose yourself in deep meditation in all of busy Paris). But then, of course, Monet was half-blind when he painted those canvases; and those years at Giverny became his own personal sweet spot since his whole garden became the soft-focus paradise that delivered his very best work to the world.
My best work is yet to come but I know it all starts here. In the week of my fiftieth we visited some of the most beautiful gardens that we have access to here in the south of England and I now have photography coming out of my ears. Just as well my other task of the week was to set up a new platform for photography; somewhere I can truly showcase it and sell all the prints I want to, anywhere in the world, with the least amount of logistical headache (another prime aspiration of the “sweet spot” years). The best of these raw images, so far (and I am only part way through processing them) were taken when I chose a sweet spot and focused my particular attention there…or chose no actual focus at all but went for the soft meditatative gaze, allowing the colour and form to gently dance itself into position and shine out without substance or meaning. I’ll let you decide for yourselves whether this approach works for you, either as a visual medium or as a way of life, but for me it feels like finding the very pinpoint of my purpose in life, on so many levels. More than that, I sense there’s pure alchemy in it; for both me and for others, perhaps, all of us, as a broader practice that allows some of the hard edges and definitions of life….things that we have allowed to perpetuate, to restrict or dictate and which continue to wound us, or remind us of old hurts, long after they are relevant or useful…to soften, obscure and simply fade away into abstract shapes with less substance, leaving centre-stage the prime focal point filled with joy, beauty, gratitude and purest love.
You can find a growing collection of the kind of photography I have spoken about in my brand-new website. Visit at www.helenwhitephoto.co.uk