Between the Bridges

Between the Bridges – by Rocky Berlier ©2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The History Of Photography

I revel in the joy of being a student of history. I think I learn more about a subject by digging into the back story of a subject than a thousand classes or instructors could ever teach.

I find it so enormously useful to understand the giants who shaped this art into what it is today. It gives such a rich depth and color to the art.

I love this shot by Gertrude Kasebier of showgirl Eveyln Nesbit from 1902. It has a timelessness about it as well as a classical painting look and feel. Hard to believe that this was taken 95 years ago. It could easily be from the portfolio of a contemporary photographer today. The softness of tone and light is extraordinary.

Recently I purchased a book by National Geographic called The Book of Photographytext by Anne H. Hoy. This has got to be one of the most comprehensive books I have ever read on the subject of the history of photography!

What an amazing compilation of photos and historic research. I highly recommend it to anyone who desires to go beyond simple point-n-click photography. I’m almost embarrassed by how cheaply I purchased this gem of a book. It retails for $40 but I paid a paltry $3 for it (new!) from a dealer on It’s both joyful and sad to find such a bargain. On one had, you get the deal of the century for one of the best books ever written on the subject and, on the other hand, it is a sad SAD testimony to how devalued history has become in our popular culture today.

I think what I like most about studying the history of a subject is how it gives a context that you simply cannot get otherwise. It’s like knowing a dirty little secret to how a process, style or technique evolved. When you know these little secrets, it both inspires and opens your consciousness to explore your art with new eyes.

~ Warmest regards, Rocky

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Portfolio IS Me

Well, I just got back from PhotoshopWorld 2007 in Las Vegas. I love going to this conference and EXPO every year but honestly, it’s just getting harder and harder to find a workshop or class that truly gets me “fired-up” as in previous years. Granted, I know more now than I did then, however, it seems as if many of the classes are simply the same information being repeated over and over again. Consequently, when I come across a class or instructor that really inspires me, it is a rarity of which to take note. Such was the case with Chris Orwig’s two workshops on building an online portfolio.

It felt like everything he said was aimed specifically at me. It was just what I needed to hear at this particular moment in time. He thinks about creative things in a philosophically “big picture” way that I do as well.

I did pick up the odd technique tidbit here and there from other instructors at the conference (which should, hopefully, prove useful for me later this year), however, Chris’ workshops were light years beyond the mundane, process-oriented, cookbook-recipe-type work flows of other Photoshop classes.

Most notably, when he speaks of the ‘whys’ of building a portfolio, it resonated deep within me. What is a portfolio? Who’s portfolio is it? This little exercise (which is actually a monumental life process) is essentially about defining who we are! I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing in this life that is more illusive than getting clarity and insight about this profound little question of, “Who am I?”

There is, of course, a double edged sword that comes with defining anything. The moment we define that thing is the moment when we change it forever. That’s pretty intimidating! Now suddenly it has boundaries and limitations that just moments before were wide open with possibilities and potentials.

There is an innate freedom that comes with being undefined as a person as well. You can make of yourself and your life what you want. The question then becomes, “well, what do you want?” Finding the answer to this can be just as formidable as “who am I” because knowing what you want is a component part of knowing who you are. So, we never get very far from that original quest. There's a quote from someone I can't remember that goes something like, “Those who never set goals, end up exactly where they planned.” Or something like that.

I’ve been fond of saying through the years that it is fundamental to our quest of self-discovery to learn as much as we can about each other. When I know who you are then I get just a tiny bit closer to knowing who I am as well. I consider that one of my personal pearls of wisdom. We don’t come to planet Earth alone and it’s virtually impossible to exist here without interacting with others. It is through our ability to compare our lives against each other’s that we truly learn about who we are as individuals.

The whole premise of art presumes a culture of people. People communing, interacting, loving, hating, wondering, learning, imagining. Without them, where is the audience? Art (and photography in particular) is a substantial way to reveal “the other” and in turn reveal ourselves. We see people living their life in one manner or another. Glamorous or glamor-less. At work or at play. In sadness or in bliss. Expressive and expressionless. The human equation is a great mystery to unravel... and so are we.

Our entire character is built upon a guidance system within that is created by our likes and dislikes in life. These preferences are the “cookie-cutters” for the pattern of choices we make and ultimately the personality we become. They are like the compass that points our ship in the right direction.

The moment you make a commitment to a path is the moment when all that freedom of indecision becomes focused through an aperture of decision. It's like the shutter release of a camera. The moment is right and the choice is made. Everything becomes filtered through the lens of “our choices.” However, if we rotate this notion around and look at it from another angle, you just might see that having a “plan” can actually provide an even greater freedom than would be immediately apparent.

Where there was once unfathomable disorder and chaos, there is now order and structure. A plan, a choice, a path. When there is a plan, things become easier simply because you are able to eliminate distractions which pull you away from the intended goal. A plan is the pattern-recognition part of our brain telling us what makes sense in a world of chaos. Chris mentioned a quote from Igor Stravinski that goes, “All art presupposes a work of selection.” [my emphasis]

The word “selection” here means being selective as in “editing.” The process of editing one’s artwork is similar to the process of choosing a path in life. It is a process which not only defines art but a person’s life as well. The filter in this case is our own vision of who we are and what we want to project to the world. Ironically, what we see in a work of art is also revealing something of ourselves.

Thanks Chris for providing much to think about.

~ Warmest regards, Rocky