Pushing new limits and expanding my creative practice

A December to remember and a news way of working in 2024.

Viewfinder Vol 1, Issue 12See all issuesSubscribe to Viewfinder

A special warm WELCOME to new subscriber: Jason, and a huge THANK YOU to all subscribers, old and new, for reading and being a part of this community.

In this issue:

  • December recap
  • Very large, very close, very small images
  • Onward in 2024
  • 2024 Experiment #1 – Color-field collage

Hello and welcome to the first issue of Viewfinder in 2024!

I hope you had a safe and fun New Year’s. Here in southern Washington we’re having the warmest, driest winter I can remember, which has been a boon for my daily photowalks and perhaps less so for the local flora, which seems confused by the ‘balmy’ (40–50ºF highs) temps. The warmth is set to continue, but it looks like we’re finally getting the months of unending rain which typically characterizes a PNW winter. All these rainforests need rain, don’t yah know?

December recap

Speaking of daily photography, I managed to photograph 30 of 31 days in December, which is pretty great for what turned out to be a very busy month. Each day did not necessarily produce a ‘winner’ (definitely not) but I put in the reps, did the work. I continue to be energized by photography and feel like making a daily practice of it has benefited me in numerous ways.

Looking back at the ~800 pictures I made in the month, it’s easy to see progression in the work; trends in what (visually) I responded to in the moment, to note what I found interesting enough to post-process (e.g. edit), and what I chose to share with others, either here or on Instagram. Speaking of Instagram, I recently started using the website again and invite you to connect with me there.

Photography, as an art form, is distinct from other mediums in that it’s (mostly1) reductive. You start with the possibility of the whole world, narrow down to a location, and then select some of it to include within your frame. You capture fractions-of-a-second. You reduce the three-dimensional space into a 2D representation. Perhaps you reduce the color to shades of gray. Reductive, reductive, reductive.

Similarly, even the most talented photographic artist makes far more images than they’ll ever share. Most will make multiple images with the same content and form, choosing those that best convey the intended meaning. One might make 100 images, of which maybe 10-15 are ‘good’, and from those, 1-3 are deemed good enough to share / include in a portfolio / etc. Call it a 3% “success” rate. It’s a numbers game… this is the way of things.

And very different from painting or collage or writing, where the artist starts with a blank page and additively constructs the artwork. An author can work on a novel for years, building their narrative word-by-word over time. A very productive painter2 might make one, ten, or perhaps even a couple of dozen paintings in a year, including most of them in their body of work. Or at least, more than 1-3% of them.

So, with this in mind, you can see a selection of my images made last month. These are my 1-3%.

I will note that it’s been my experience that I can’t objectively look at my own work until I distance myself (in time) from it. I will, inevitably, come to dislike some of these. For example, I recently went through several portfolio boxes of old prints and was able to look at earlier work with fresh eyes (which is another way of saying, “images I once thought were good, aren’t”).

Very large, very close, very small images

Thank you to everyone who shared images of something very small as large, something very far away as nearby, or something very large as small. This was a lot of fun, and interesting how each of us interpreted the prompt. Sharing your images helps others see that we are a community of artists and curious creators. Remember, regardless of your preferred medium or experience, you are welcome here!

Two black and white photographs of a man's cast shadows. In one, the man's arm is much larger compared to the rest of his body. In the other, his arm is much smaller compared to the rest of his body.
Barry M. Large and Small 1 (above) and 2 (below).
An abstract color photo of a seed pod from a tree.
Tish L. Small largeness.
A color photograph close-up of a leaf, with trees and the sun in the distant background.
Brian A. Untitled. Fuji XT4 with 8mm lens.
A color
Craig L. Calm before the Storm.
A close-up color photograph of a small plant, using a upward angle to make it appear large.
Kelli J. Something small as big.

Onward in 2024

As I begin the new year, I’ve thought a great deal about the trajectory of my art practice. To date, it’s been focused on (re)establishing an art making routine and practicing seeing. For these, it’s been successful. But as a whole, I haven’t been satisfied with the work. I need to expand my zone of focus. I need to work with other tools. I need to explore and play and discover and find new directions. I need to do more things. 

So, below is my plan for the coming year: to carry on with photography in a larger way while I aggressively explore other media.

1) Carry on with photography.

  1. Continue to photograph (mostly) daily. This has been a source of personal satisfaction and feel that getting out to photograph has contributed to my general well being. It will be more difficult to continue outdoors in the coming months, but I will push myself out into the rain and cold as much as possible.
  2. Use ‘better’ tools. I have become increasingly dissatisfied by the results from my cell phone, and have reintroduced a ‘real’ digital camera to my practice. I intend to use better quality tools and discontinue using my phone as my primary camera. I am being mindful of how this will slow me down. We’ll see what happens.
  3. Print more. If I could give new photographers one piece of advice, it would be this: print out your photos. Do it frequently, live with them, have them around, experiment with sequencing / discover diptychs and triptychs, cut them apart, overlap and recombine them. And so, I intend to do this more myself.
  4. (Tentative) Re-engage with ‘traditional’ photography. In conversation recently, I noted that I have a wealth of knowledge about ‘traditional’ photography tools, and for the last 15+ years, these skills have been completely unused. Film photography, darkroom and platinum printing, building cameras… I’m interested to discover if any of these might have a place in my life today. 

2) Explore other media.

Compared to photography, my experience working with other media is quite limited. I’ve dabbled with collage, digital drawing, assemblage and sculpture, and many others. These ‘dabblings’ have never ‘gone anywhere’, but the act of doing them has been rewarding.

It’s easier to explore without preconceived notions of ‘proper’ practices (e.g. adopt a beginner’s mind), though I admit that I am often disappointed with the results (which is to say, my vision outpaces my skills). I’m working on letting this judgment go.

So, in 2024, I’ll explore new ways to make art, using new tools. I’ll share with you my rudimentary attempts, my failures, and my thoughts about the experience. And maybe, I’ll discover something new!

  1. Complete 18 experiments. About every 3 weeks, I will begin a small exploratory project, defining boundaries for myself and set working hours. Three weeks seems like a reasonable commitment and enough time to try some things. The only desired outcome is the act of doing the work, to see where things take me. Hopefully each experiment will lead logically to the next. I’ll share work-in-progress here.
  2. Engage with ‘humble’ materials. Art making need not be expensive (unless your work dictates otherwise). Since I have no such requirement, I’m choosing to explore readily available, low-cost materials whenever possible. This will also make it easier for you to join me in these experiments, should you choose to.

2024 Experiment #1 – Color-field collage

As I pursue these experiments throughout the year, I invite you to join me! At the start of each, I’ll share the parameters I’ve set for myself… feel free to adopt or disregard them as you desire. If you’re joining in the fun, shoot me an email and let me know how it’s going.

When: Early January, 2024.
Materials: Paint color samples, ink, glue, cardboard, paper, paint.
Description: Explore abstract collage using sample cards from the paint section of the home improvement store, and other common household materials.
Inspiration: In a previous issue, I shared a bit about Matisse’s Cut-outs. I thought I’d start with experiments with a spin on that (though with some significant limitations).

A color photograph of an artist's worktable, featuring colored paper, ruler, scissors, and a collage artwork in progress.
Already started with these materials.

Sharing is caring

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  • Share details about your projects. This supportive community would love to hear about what you’re working on, what you’re thinking about, what you plan to do next. Send an email: ron@startphoto.com.

Your pal,

Cover image: Big Bang No.2. ©2016 Ron Johnson

1 Mostly reductive. Of course, some photographers (for example, those who work with still lifes) function in ways similar to painters; they start with an empty scene and add elements to construct their images.

2 I know this is a gross simplification, as painters will often make numerous exploratory studies and quick sketches before tackling a large painting. And there are painters who work quickly, especially those who explore abstraction and minimalism.