The First Word: Complex

In one of my last posts I mentioned the exercise to find five words that we use when we describe our favorite photos. I’ve been thinking about this on and off and I’m having my difficulties with it – which for a good part has to do with the “mental connection” that this German brain is able to make with English words when it comes to visual art.

Another thing that’s been holding me back a little is the fact that – surprise! – I like the photos on this website and when I evaluate them once I found my five words, I want to make sure that the photos that I like so much do match one or more of these words. Because if they didn’t, something would be extremely off: how could I make and show photos that don’t match my own description and vision? After almost eight years of photography, there’s gotta be some consistency.

Cedar Creek, Cleveland National Forest
“Her Overflowing Heart”
Fresh green leaves aglow on a backlit Sycamore in the canyon of Cedar Creek, just below the falls. Near Ramona, CA.

So the first word that I’m certain about, and without any doubt, is “complex” (maybe even “cluttered” or “chaotic”, it depends). I certainly have images like that in my portfolio that I like very much. I find chaos and complexity in nature attractive, and I aim the camera at scenes with visual clutter, wondering if I may be able to extract what I saw in it, and transport it to the viewer. I still remember a hike with my friend Joseph when he saw me make a photo of “clutter” – he asked: “what do you see in that?” with both genuine curiosity and bewilderment in his voice. :-)

I probably don’t always succeed, and it often takes me quite a while to approach such images until I find a way to present more complex photos that is to my liking. The above photo of Cedar Creek is one such image. I made it in March 2011. One would think that the reduction to black & white makes an image like that even more difficult to take in because the separation of elements that color provides is gone – yet I found that quite often, the opposite is true: taking color away means taking an element away that adds complexity.

A couple more images that fit the word “complex” are in the gallery below:

Four more words to go…

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6 Responses

  1. I remember early on making a work with a little bird as my “subject”. It was critiqued by a seasoned photographer and picked apart quite handily. One of the issues was “it’s messy…including too much of the bush”…
    From that day forward, I understood that we don’t all see the same, and some of us are looking to make compositions that are easy, rather than truthful. The truth of the matter with nature is that it IS messy. But your photograph shows us that even in the context of the complexities of nature, a little light can fall “just so” and naturally isolate the very message you sought. A young tree pushing to the sky in the most unlikely of places.

    1. Interesting aspect, Mark. I’m not sure if that looking for “easy” compositions is an active process (as in, “I do it this way because it’s easy”) and I guess that’s not how you meant it anyway. I think it’s always what attracts our photographic eye and soul. For example, I try to exclude manmade elements from my photographs – I guess not only because I find them visually unattractive, but also because I have a longing for that idealistic image of unspoilt nature and wilderness in my head.

  2. I hadn’t thought about what your words would be but if I had then ‘complex’ would be the first. It only appears chaotic or cluttered at first. You somehow find structure and harmony within that complexity. Good choice and well thought out.

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