Creative Photography for the Soul. Part One.

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Creative Photography for the Soul. Part One.

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Nov 13, 2012

I arrived on Molokai one Saturday afternoon as vog rolled in from the south and filtered the horizon in haze. It made for some interesting sunset photography. But the vog’s appearance also meant no cooling trade winds to take the edge off the intense sun, and so, in three words, it was hot. But the weather would change throughout the week, as it does in Hawaii, along with my spirit.

Three days before I left for Molokai, I made an emergency trip to the dentist, where I learned the abbreviation, “EXT” meant “extraction.” I certainly wasn’t prepared to have a tooth pulled when I talked my way past the receptionist to see Doc Baird because of a growing fistula along the gum of my right, lower jaw. But I filled a prescription for pain meds—just in case—and flew to Molokai, anyway, for a seven-day photographic retreat with National Geographic photographers Rikki Cooke and Dewitt Jones and Photoshop/Lightroom guru Jack Davis. It turns out I didn’t need a single generic Vicodin, but I did drink the iPhoneography Kool-Aid that all three photographers were pushing. And more.

It first happened on day three, high above the lush Halawa Valley on the east-end of Molokai, and I remember it well. Jack’s assistant, Cherrie, parked the van on the cliff-edge side of a stretch of one-lane road just beyond a blind curve. I tumbled out from a seat in the very back, tired from an already long day in which we’d photographed a tropical flower farm; traipsed the beach shooting moving water; trained an infrared camera on a church draped in greenery; and explored the ruins of another church, this one crumbling from decay and counting nature as its only parishioners. If I’m being honest, I will admit that I was also tiring of people. Not any people, in particular, but all people. I’m a bit of a hermit and eight hours, much of it jammed together in a van, was crumbling my edges. 

But, then, Jack shoved his infrared camera in my hand. “Take a panoramic,” he said. I owned the same Canon G9, but Jack’s had been converted to infra-red. It also had a panorama feature that I’d never used. Infra-red + panorama = magic at my fingertips.

And, then, I pulled out my iPhone and snapped an image of the bay. 

Hundreds of feet below, a north swell wrapped around the boulder-lined book-ends of the bay. Waves ran ashore in white froth. From the valley, a waterfall cascaded into a stream and greeted the ocean waves. It was a rather picturesque scene. Except that I was there in the middle of the afternoon with the wrong photographic light. Coupled with that, the same drought that has left its mark on the mainland had done its work here, browning a cliff-side of bushes. 

I don’t know what made me do it or why it took so long. Maybe my exhaustion had peeled away the thinking, reasoning mind, and I was willing to try something new, just for the heck of it. That new thing was the world of iPhoneography apps. I started with Dynamic Light. “Try the Orton filter,” Cherrie said. “It’s my favorite.” I did. And that’s the exact moment when I drank the Kool-Aid. The addiction was instantaneous. I was on the juice from that point forward.

Speaking of juice, Dewitt told us a story about meeting a five-year-old boy named Adam at a photographic workshop in British Columbia at which Dewitt was teaching. The boy asked Dewitt, “Do you have a camera?” Dewitt was draped in cameras. “I have a camera,” Adam said and held up a plastic camera. It was yellow with a blue lens and red eyepiece. Its turquoise rewind knob had a plastic straw sticking out of it.

Adam followed Dewitt around all afternoon, waiting for Dewitt to set up his tripod and get his shot, then squeezing in between the legs of the tripod to get his own. Finally, as Dewitt set up his very last shot of the day, Big Boy Camera, filters and who knows what else piled on top of his tripod, Adam asked Dewitt, “Does your camera have juice in it?”

“No,” Dewitt said.

“Mine does,” Adam said.

Dewitt went on to share that story with thousands of people for nearly 20 years. He surmised its lesson to be about passion and vision, the first necessary to achieve the second and both required to realize dreams.

I didn’t attend Creative Photography for the Soul workshop with any concrete reason in mind, other than as a big boost of inspiration, sort of like going in for a B12 shot at the start of flu season. I didn’t necessarily want to fall for Snapseed, Pro HDR, Dynamic Light, 360Panorama, or Painteresque. Five iPhoneography apps that, today, have earned a spot on the home page of my iPhone. I also didn’t necessarily want to learn Lightroom as an alternative to Photoshop, but in two hours, I used more features in Lightroom than I have in 10 years of using Photoshop.

I’ve heard a Hawaiian legend that tells of a person’s spirit entering and escaping through the big toe. I imagine the creative inspiration and knowledge that filled me up to overflowing during my photographic retreat on Molokai may have entered through a gaping hole in my head the way a genie morphs into a cloud and streams in and out of its bottle. We take in food as nourishment through our mouths, so why can’t we take in creative nourishment in a like manner? Because it’s no exaggeration to say that I ate up everything Rikki and Dewitt and Jack shared, from Rikki’s porch-side, philosophical pontificating; to Dewitt’s celebrations of what’s right in the world; to Jack’s rabid enthusiasm for imagery taken any which way you can get it—with an iPhone shooting out a moving car window, with a Big Girl Camera set on a tripod, with a waterproof point-and-shoot inside the curl of a breaking wave, and with a plastic camera with juice in it.

To use one of Jack’s many metaphors, I left Molokai with a box of 64 crayons that includes metallic and iridescent colors and a sharpener on the side. Slow shutter. Fast-action. Panorama. Infra-red. High-definition range. Night sky. iPhoneography. My cup is overflowing with photographic possibilities. I am drinking the juice of passion and vision. Heck, I am just plain full.

For nearly 20 years, Dewitt has told his story about Adam. Then, recently, Adam contacted Dewitt through Facebook. “I will be your friend if you can answer one question,” he wrote to Dewitt. “What did I mean when I asked you if your camera had juice in it?”

The question made Dewitt re-think his interpretation of Adam’s words. As Dewitt would say, he put on a new lens that allowed him to see the question differently. And he wrote back, “You were asking me, ‘Does your camera have truth in it.’”

I’ll leave you to ponder that piece of wisdom from a 22-year-old man.


Pam Woolway | Nov 14, 2012 07:24 AM

Fun stuff kimmy. Thanks. I needed this little reminder on passion while suffering (another) case of burn out. Much love and gratitude for your precision and metaphor.

JoAnne Tompkins | Nov 17, 2012 01:52 PM

Passion, creative nourishment and celebrating what's right in the world: not only does this post make me want to hop a flight to Hawaii but also to just head out into a gray Seattle day and find beauty "any which way" I can. Thanks for the inspiration, Kim.

Kim | Nov 17, 2012 06:23 PM

Thanks, Pam & JoAnne. The whole "art in your pocket" concept, as created by the iPhone, makes finding beauty and passion so much easier these days. A simple little, "artist's date," as Julia Cameron called such things.

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