Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunken Sea Treasures

Every time I set out to create a new photograph, I feel it’s as if I am embarking on a journey out into the sea’s uncharted waters, in search of a sunken treasure. Although I always take with me specific preconceived ideas and aims, most of what I encounter once I enter into a photo shoot remains oddly unpredictable. Variables, such as sudden changes in the natural lighting conditions, (which I always prefer) or weather, can act like waves that inevitably cause me to redirect my vessel’s course, changing the whole predicted outcome of my photography session. For this reason I prefer to take pictures without any rigid expectations of how they’ll come out.

The vessel which moves my photographic creations is my imagination. Fueled by my emotions, it begs to bring back evidence from the new territories I’m exploring within my self. Like the sailors of antiquity who brought back gifts for their queens, in executing a self-portrait I hope to bring back proof of my own preciousness. What I return with is nearly always such a surprise, I rarely make maps of where I found it. This secures that each time I set sail on a photographic journey, it feels like a maiden voyage to me, preserving a certain level of excitement and spontaneity I draw from when I create.

As a little girl, I spent hours watching my father artistically craft beautiful replicas of ancient maps. It was his hobby and he delighted in it. Much of his pleasure was derived from the fascinating narratives he uncovered while researching the details in each map. These were intricate tales of the legend and lure the sea held over many cultures, for extended periods of time. So, as I watched my father mark the nautical courses of legendary mariners in elegant calligr

aphy, I learned about Neptune and Yemanja, Atlantis and mermaids, sea serpents and giant squids, pirates, Medusa and sunken ships full of treasures. As a result I could think of nothing more exciting than exploring the mysterious seas!

It is said that the depths of the human psyche are oceanic in proportion, and as unexplored as the sea’s canyons. I believe that every self-portraiture artist is a pioneer upon this terrain, and I like to think of the camera’s lens as an instrument of navigation, which might point us towards new discoveries about ourselves. Like the Jacques Cousteau documentaries I used to watch with my father when I was a child, beyond the right equipment in any expedition exists the proper attitude. As I understood it then, it was one of bravery. The importance of risk-taking was thus instilled in me. There was a need to cross frontiers no one had ever crossed before, and do so in spite of any initial fear or hesitation.

Hundreds of years ago, when Europeans erroneously embraced the view of a flat Earth, sailors were cautioned not to sail too far from the shore lest they sail off the edge of the Earth itself! To this day I can clearly see the drawings in my mind my father adeptly sketched to illustrate the preposterousness of this idea to me: a flat surface sustained by four giant elephants, standing atop the back of a gargantuan turtle. He then drew water rushing off the edges with little boats falling into a bottomless precipice, followed by an enthusiastic speech on Galileo and his expansive views. I remember being struck by the way Galileo had drawn inspiration to prove that the Earth was indeed an orb in motion by his observations of the ebb and flow of the sea’s tides. My father always taught me that we have a lot to learn from the seas, and everything surrounding them. However, to explore a new idea, one often has to be willing to relinquish an outdated one. This is where the risk factors come into play.

When I feel myself getting too comfortable with one style of photography, or too set in one approach, one technique, one method, I make a conscious effort to set sail for new, unexplored waters. If the journey feels a little bit threatening, I ask myself questions like these: What exactly is being threatened here? Am I scared of sailing off the edge of the world? Am I scared of getting into the submarine? Or encountering sea monsters along the way? When the process of expressing myself through a self portrait stirs up such nervous energy, I play with it (through poses, and camera settings, lighting and shadows, photoshop brushes and crops), until it turns into raw excitement. And until there is nowhere else I’d rather be than creating that photograph, no matter what perceived risks I associate with that experience. Who knows! I might yet return with some sunken treasures!

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