Lake Ontario Stone
Artist: Mark D. Whitney
Media: Digital Photograph

That Photographic Feeling

Is this a photograph of a stone in a lake?

Well, yes and perhaps no. Or at least it is a stone, but maybe it’s something more too.

Minor White said his approach to rocks went like this: “When I photograph rocks I adopt a dual approach. Firstly, the image reminds me of something: human anatomy or emotions, even though the rocks themselves remain rocks. Secondly, the photograph becomes a stimulus for a dream: about a lover, a wife, a mother… Only not about the rocks.”

I don’t follow such a formalized approach as White describes.

And I’m no Minor White, but I like to think that my photographs bring something more to the table than just a mechanical copy of a scene.

I don’t carry my camera around everywhere I go just in case I see something, but I’m always looking. Often I’ll see something day after day and I just think about it. I think about the light at different times of day and different weather conditions. Eventually I might take some photos – or not. It depends on if it feels right.

I know taking photos when they feel right isn’t much of an explanation. How do you transfer that knowledge to another person? I can tell you that I took this photo at f32 for 8 seconds at ISO-100 with a polarizing filter, but that means nothing. Why did I choose those settings?  Did I try others? Did I try other framing? Why did I choose this specific image over the others I took? There were other rocks along the way. Why did I stop at this particular rock in the first place?

It’s just like how a piano teacher can teach a student the notes and techniques, but not how to play a piece with feeling. That’s something the student needs to bring from inside.

“The photographer projects himself into everything he sees, identifying himself with everything in order to know it and to feel it better.” – Minor White

Although we tend to think of Ansel Adams as a technical photographer and White more of a Zen master type, I think it’s just a matter of perception. Ansel talked more about the technical side, but obviously there’s a feel to his photos that make them some of the best in the world. Minor taught from a spiritual viewpoint, but he was a technical master too.

Technique and feel have to go hand in hand.