Idaho photographer and educator Mike Shipman guest blogs in this week’s regular Friday edition.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a writer; which was after I had passed up opportunities for lead guitarist in a rock band, pro football player, archaeologist, and architect. Words were escape, and still are; a transportation to another time and place, a transformation from one being to another, one lifestyle to another. And, words were (and are) therapy; sometimes, or often, expressing triumphs and failures through made-up situations and characters. When I write, and when I read, the words inspire pictures in my head (as I’m sure they do for you as well), whether Abbey or Leopold, Nabokov or Asimov, Feynman or Gould, poem or newspaper. The images are recalled part (or all) from past experience, knowledge and familiarity of the subject, or completely made up from my current knowledge, my emotional state at the time, or the flights of fancy driven by my imagination.
For example, this poem written by Bret Harte (1839-1902), published in 1880, evokes a variety of images:
The Two Ships
As I stand by the cross on the lone mountain’s crest,
Looking over the ultimate sea,
In the gloom of the mountain a ship lies at rest,
And one sails away from the lea:
One spreads its white wings on a far-reaching track,
With pennant and sheet flowing free;
One hides in the shadow with sails laid aback,
The ship that is waiting for me!
But lo! in the distance the clouds break away,
The Gate’s glowing portals I see;
And I hear from the outgoing ship in the bay
The song of the sailors in glee.
So I think of the luminous footprints that bore
The comfort o’er dark Galilee,
And wait for the signal to go to the shore,
To the ship that is waiting for me.
These words bring to mind a photograph I made on the Oregon coast:
In turn, pictures inspire words. When I look at pictures – paintings, drawings, photographs, moving images, or shadows – I can describe what I see, feel, how I react, in words. I become aware of various associations and “resonances” awakened by the image that can also inspire new and unrelated words and stories completely out of context to the picture’s original content, intent, subject, or subject matter. It’s important for visual artists, like photographers, to be able to describe their creations in words. It helps the viewer understand what the image is about, how it came about, what it means to the artist, and helps the artist understand for himself what the work is about. And when you write words inspired by pictures those words, coming full circle, need to inspire pictures in the mind of your reader.
It might be easier for some people to find or create pictures from words than to craft words from pictures, and vice versa. But, with practice, illustrating what you read and writing about what you see becomes easier and, being interconnected, help improve both.
“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.” John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)
Mike Shipman is a freelance commercial, editorial and fine art photographer and educator in Nampa, Idaho, and owner/photographer of Blue Planet Photography (www.blueplanetphoto.com). He is an Idaho Commission on the Arts Teaching Artist and leads workshops and classes in the western U.S. and around the world. His work is found in private and corporate collections across the U.S. and exhibited in the Boise, Idaho area. He believes everyone is creative.