Making Pictures: Creating from a Broader View
by Jennifer Paros
I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.
~ Ernst Haas, photojournalist
Years ago, I discovered my enthusiasm for photography, and took several classes in it while at art school. What I liked most about taking pictures was how quickly the process clarified what interested me, including which angles and approaches created work that was resonant or was not. I found there were ways of framing an image, whether I was indifferent to my subject or even disliked it, that could be satisfying and beautiful. I became aware of something beyond the content of what was before me – the essence of a bigger picture and a better view.
Taking lots of pictures taught me about my perspective and how it can both construct and alter my feelings about things. There are photographs of what we consider atrocity or hardship that we simultaneously experience as beautiful. This doesn’t take away the reality of pain but introduces another level of seeing and understanding that is also available to us – and is real.
When I was taking pictures I found a way of focusing – a resting neutrality that was peaceful and open. I used this set point as I searched the world, the neighborhood, my backyard and home for not only what I wanted to see, but how I wanted to see. With limitations on both time and travel, I saw my perspective could produce pictures I loved, just as much if not more than any particular content could. I craved matching my internal awareness with the way I was seeing external reality. And this could be done from anywhere, with anything, in a myriad of ways. It was possible because regardless of what is in front of me, my intent and overriding vision are the organizing creative principles in my experience.
In thinking about how I want to see things and what I want to create, whether through photography, drawing, or writing, transformation is often, if not always, a part of my desire. I have come to recognize that transformative properties can be seen in all things. When we seek signs of transformation, we move beyond the details of daily living to a broader view of life. A seed opening and growing to a sprout, eventually blooming as a flower, is a transformation. But without understanding, it would be easy to despair as the seed splits open and seems wrecked by the process. At that moment, the seed is wrecked but in a broader sense, it’s becoming more.
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are . . .
In every picture, there are the component parts of transformation. In every struggle, every success, every breakdown or victory – anything we call disaster or blessing – is evidence of a process. It can look awful and it can look wonderful; either way all the elements of what we need and desire remain present, always here and ready for the next unfolding. Change doesn’t happen in the waving of a wand; it is the reforming of aspects, guided by an evolution in intention and vision.
When the caterpillar forms its chrysalis, the enzymes in its body break itself down, turning the caterpillar into a sort of soup. There are things called imaginal discs, similar to embryonic cells, which remain. Using the protein rich liquid of what used to be Caterpillar as fuel, the imaginal discs create the parts and pieces of what will soon be Butterfly. The process of this metamorphosis is considered the ultimate in transformation stories. But, in truth, it’s just one of millions happening all the time. Without an understanding of this process, pictures taken during its various stages could read anywhere from tragic to glorious. But the essence of all the pictures would be beautiful because the intention behind this trajectory is always towards expansion.
The seeds and soup of what is possible are present all the time. It is our perspective in the moment that determines whether we see the ruined seed, the potential of the blooming flower, or both. In the making of art, we are given the chance to know our power in the practice of creating something from nothing; in daily life, we are given the same opportunity. For everything we see becomes a picture formed through thought; we can decide what we want to look for and how we want to see things, and most importantly, what we want to share with each other.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.