On Taking Pictures Shifting the Way I Blog, On Blogging Changing the Way I Take Pictures

heading in

Dean Shareski’s post reflecting on his experience with the 366 Photo Project and Alan Levine’s comment back to him about using metaphor on/in both image and writing have me thinking again about the relationship between image and text in my blogging and more actively creative explorations. Like Dean, I’ve written numerous times about the power of images in my work, in my case, in the writing classroom, about how taking language away can reinvigorate one’s relationship with it, and how images extend text and vice versa rather than illustrate one another when they are at their best–or when they create, yes, metaphor. The sum should be greater than the total of its parts.

walking on the beach

I’ve been noticing something shifting in the way I blog and in the way I take pictures: how using language and taking photos often–not always but often– influence one other, intersect with one other, complicate one other as I am in the act, and not just once they are placed down into a post. In other words, I not only lug my camera with me wherever I go and take lots of pictures (except when I intentionally leave my camera behind so that I have to relate to what I am seeing with myself alone, something I do pretty often, actually, as an important exercise), and try with every click of the shutter to do so actively, mindfully, thinking of that image on its own distinct from any other image I’ve taken, so as to keep growing as a photographer, but–and this is a real change for me–I am increasingly unable to disentangle the picture-taking moment from writing, and the writing moment from picture-taking, at least the writing moments that interest me. As I frame a shot, I feel a story suggested, or a point I want to make on blog or in a digital multimedia piece or in a talk. And I don’t mean in a representational way or even in a clearly metaphorical way. Something about the color, the saturation, perhaps, or the angle, the contrast, and not necessarily the subject at all.

Photos for me are never isolated incidents or expressions, then, but part of other things, or preludes to other things. I guess that is why the 366 Project isn’t my thing–I am too messy, too discursive, a storyteller working in bursts from a center, building towards something–I usually know not what until I am well into the creating. Take how did I get here this image, for example. As soon as I started playing with shots of the koi and duck, a post about collaboration started unfolding (in process right now); and this one island prow suggested to me when I saw it before I put camera to eye, the geometry of opposition, another post-idea floating about or perhaps a part of the collaboration post, and then I sought a way to create that sense in the image. I wasn’t, in other words, just looking for an interesting image that would stand on its own. I am finding that my words need my images, and my images need my words. And thus my Flickr sets and my text-only notebooks are sketches only and not as interesting to me as my stories, my presentations, some of my blogposts.

I’m also finding the way I explore online spaces shifting. I go to Flickr as often as to Bloglines and leave comments on photos as often as I do on blogs. (I really should use images to respond to images, I suppose…will have to try that.) I follow several blogs devoted to photography, multimedia and/or vernacular creativity including Dawoud Bey,Bagnewsnotes, Exposures, Magnum, and Do You Know Clarence (thanks to Leslie Madsen-Brooks).

I’m interested in Roy Ascott’s work, in Ron Burnett’s thinking about art, in all manner of theorists, philosophers and artists who write about the visual. I’m searching for explorations, commentary, meditations on this reciprocity between online digital writing and digital picture-taking, not as ekphrasis but as part of the online writer’s process of conceiving narrative and meaning.

I wonder if others are feeling this way, though I don’t often see posts using images in interesting, provocative ways (that s not to say that the way I use images always works–au contraire; mine are often glorious failures!) Because taking images has become an act of writing for me, I almost never (except in presentations) borrow other people’s photos (not a true mash-up artist I), but I would like to do more of that. I think it would be a good exercise, and I wish I had explored mash-ups more with my students when I had students. 😉

the world in an eggplant

Now it is time to take next steps, exploring more ways to push image up against text, to move them together and apart and see what I learn about what I am trying to say through the process of finding modes of expression new to me. I know I am hampered by my lack of skill, and so I need to become more versed at multimedia expression, the kind I am already doing, but also moving beyond the simple rotation of text and image, or of image with text written on it, or collage. Time, I think, to learn Flash. Time to get more creative, more bold, more experimental, perhaps, as a way to think about what it is we are doing in this creative/expressive/communicative/connective medium. Time to do more with audio, too.

How lucky we are to have this flexible medium that acts at once as palette and vehicle, as idea-source and expressive connector, as reflective/reflexive space and contact zone. How remarkable our students who often stun me with their creativity with this medium (oh, I will miss that!). As Janet Murray writes in Hamlet on the Holodeck: “As I watch the yearly growth in ingenuity among my students, I find myself anticipating a new kind of storyteller, one who is half hacker, half bard. The spirit of the hacker is one of great creative wellsprings of our time, causing the inanimate circuits to sing with ever more individualized and quirky voices; the spirit of the bard is eternal and irreplaceable, telling us what we are doing here and what we mean to one another.” (p.9) Is this what I struggle towards but have not the skills for?

So much to learn!


11 Responses

  1. […] post hints this.  Today I see Barbara Ganley, who is one of my longtime blog heroines and thinkers refering to the post and of course takes the idea much further and further complicates and spins the idea of writing and […]

  2. Barbara, I love how you articulate your learning process. We get to see you figuring things our as an active learner. This post is one of your most explicit about how and what you are thinking moment to moment. We are taking the journey from “here” to where you want to go with you. This revelation of the way you direct and expand your learning let’s all of us learn from your explorations.

    I’m inspired by your example to continue and expand my own next steps. As part of an online course, that I’m not taking for credit, I find myself pulled into trying to meet the expectations of others. Your post draws me back to defining for myself what I want to get out of my interactions with others and with the topic. I need to focus on and write out again what is in this course for me.

  3. This clip with Barbra Streisand from an interview on Inside the Actor’s Studio) might be relevant mental-process-wise as she talks about the movie she made as a picture and then as a series of paintings and also that the color of the sets matter a great deal in telling the story.

    I’ve got almost no experience with this sort of thinking myself, but in the bit I’ve tried the amount of text gets reduced dramatically, so I’d guess it to be quite challenging to have an abundance of both.

  4. Nancy, thanks for the lovely comment-I’m glad that my thinking aloud isn’t useful to me alone or just clogging up the blogosphere! I’m delighted that you are defining for yourself the goals of taking the course–we are so conditioned to follow directions handed down by an “authority” that we don’t often take ownership of learning experiences. I had to push my students to question & challenge me, the course, and each other as well as themselves. Made them pretty uncomfortable initially.

    Your response gets me thinking about another aspect of the process of creating these more personal posts in public spaces. Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody writes about how people on cellphones in public places feel that the little bubble they are in is private space, and anyone listening in is invading their space in a sense. I think some people who blog their thoughts and feelings (the open diarists) must feel that way too.

    But when I post decidedly I-narratives, it’s really to enter a contact zone with myself as well as to see if anyone out there finds it interesting enough to respond to and make me stretch my thinking. Blogging itself–knowing that whatever I write here, in posts I will publish (I have over 50 drafts right now sitting in the unpublished back drawers of this blog), could be read be others–makes me read my own posts/thoughts/ideas from a bit more distance than I might if they’re in draft form only. I’m tryng to get a bit more daring with that, allowing myself to be more of an open laboratory as I move into a new space. To hear that it was useful to you is wonderful! Thanks!

  5. Lanny,

    Thanks for Barbra Streisand clip. I hadn’t seen it.

    As for text being reduced, that’s really a good thing for me. I tend to over-write and need to pull back the number of words. The 100-word exercises over on bgexperiments have helped me a good deal with that as have using images.

  6. I like your references…;)

  7. Oh, I loved this article…..and it resonates within my so completely as well.

    In my blog, which features intentionally my photography and writing combined, creates in the process a whole new medium that I find myself “dumped into” whether I like it or not! Sometimes the story comes and then I start thinking about the image that should be included. The image search may take me afield so that I go out and capture, as near as possible, “just the right image that can speak with it’s own voice. Other times, something more subconscious is going on, in that I go to my photo files and find exactly the image for my story.

    Other times I can sit staring at an image I created and then see and feel a story rising up from the photo, When this happens, I usually print out the pic, prop it up nearby and start writing about it.

    Thank you, your post was inspiring!

  8. So my first day of teaching is tomorrow. ENWR250, INtroduction to Creative Writing. I already feel sorry for my students. If they were lucky they’d be in VT taking the course with you. I fully intend to follow in your footsteps by offering a course that is geared as much towards the writing SELF as it is towards writing. Oh, would they were they all as lucky as I was… You are missed and loved and I need an active email address for you.

    Your blog is gorgeous.


  9. Kevin, I’m interested to hear that my process resonates with you. Thanks for the feedback and the explanation of your process!

    Memory, it’s wonderful to have you find your way back to bgblogging years after leaving Middlebury, going o two grad schools and now entering the creative-writing classroom as teacher! Terrific! I still refer to your innovative use of a digital story as the framing event of your thesis defense. You are a natural working in this medium, and I hope you will take your own students on adventures blogging and creating multimedia writing.

  10. Thank you! This post is so exciting to read/see/experience!

    I’ve personally been feeling this new medium of literature that you describe forming inside me for some time … and it’s very exciting to see it emerge in the world around me.

    I too carry my camera with me everywhere (except when I consciously don’t, as you say) and think in beautifully complex (or beautifully simple) combinations of image and word – seen, imagined, spoken, written.

    When I read posts like yours, and hear of creative media projects/courses like Kate Pullinger’s in the UK, it feels as if we are collectively birthing a new (multi-sensory, multi-modal) awareness & its dynamic expression is already growing healthily.

    I can’t help but feel invigorated by the collectivity of this experience – like there is something much bigger we are tuned in to, and it’s exciting for me to find one of my “tribe” in this sphere… I’m inspired by what you’re doing, and even more by what you’re saying & thinking, so I’ll be sure to keep tuned to you for more and share what comes up in me as response.


  11. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It gives off some clues for all who might be interested in experiments in writing and visual arts.
    Art et Poesie
    Continuous Poem

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