Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reflections on Peter Turnley's lecture, "Visual Notes from a Life in Photography"

I just walked out of a wonderfully moving lecture by Peter Turnley. With his background, I had somewhat expected him to be detached and aloof to his audience at B&H. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He told his stories with compassion and elegance. He allowed himself to be emotionally moved during the retelling of his stories and experiences. Of course, Peter’s vast portfolio is absolutely wonderful and ranges from both sides of the life experience spectrum, from both heart-wrench and heart-warming.

It’s hard to actually describe what I experienced during his lecture. His lecture didn’t focus on his images, at least not in the way I am used to viewing the images of a photographer, and he definitely did not focus on what camera or lens he used. His images by themselves are incredibly moving, but instead of just talking about his pictures, we were invited to share in the power of Peter’s memories that come with the images. And to be allowed to watch a photographer react to the power of his memories, well, that’s something special and unique. The experience felt both raw and pure, and was also very genuine, even in a room of 20 strangers.

Maybe it was just my experience with the lecture. I doubt anyone walked out with the feelings I’m having, but that’s the beauty of life. A room full of people can experience the exact same thing and be moved or unmoved in a thousand different ways.

Peter’s lecture connected with me on a very personal level and allowed me the space to think and process some of my own personal conflict. During this past summer, photography has been a part of my life like it has never been before. I’ve survived (a.k.a made some money) as a “full-time” photographer/photography assistant. I’ve had the wonderful honor of working in the studio with acclaimed wedding photographer, Julia Newman, and have also had the opportunity to assist her on shoots. I know that right now, I am learning more than I even realize.

It wasn’t until I was looking at Julia's blog with Danny that I realized how much I have picked up from working with her. I can discuss her use of lights and darks, her focus on detail, and how she interacts with her subjects to get the reactions she is looking for. But one of the things I admire most in her work is her composition. There are so many layers and so much depth to her work. She is truly a storyteller.

I experienced similar admiration today with Peter’s work. He tells very difficult and very beautiful stories with grace. You can see and feel in his photos that he cares deeply and passionately for his subjects and the stories he tells. It was refreshing and inspiring to experience someone that has so much personal investment in his work.

Something I noticed during his lecture was that whenever Peter talked about the act of making a photo, he almost always referred to it as “making a picture.” It’s the difference of a single word, but “making” a picture versus “taking” a picture convey two very different feelings. Making something means that you are creating and eventually sharing something. Taking feels as if you are stealing something and that you are only doing the act for yourself. I want to “make” pictures, not take them. I want to give pictures and share pictures, not keep them just for myself. I want my pictures to open the door to new connections with people and to not close the door on people with suspicion. This minor difference in terminology can affect how you interact with your subjects.

My most fulfilling shooting occurs when I approach my subject(s) with genuine curiosity and interest. I have a motto that I live: I believe that if you approach people and topics with genuine interest and compassion, then people will open up to you no matter how difficult or sensitive the topic. I also think that this belief has led me to some of the most life-changing talks, sometimes with complete strangers. Everyone has something valuable to share if you take the time to listen and ask questions.

Here’s to feeling inspired and truly motivated to make the world a little bit of a better and brighter place…


Jérôme Aoustin said...

Hello Kaity,

I've had the honor to meet Peter last year during another of his lectures. You've recounted your experience beautifully and I can totally relate to it.

Check out the post I wrote following my own experience, I think you will like it too:

Let's get together sometime. My offer to help out still stands, I am just very busy at the moment.


Diana said...

What an experience! You have so much to bring, so much to share, my friend.
You mention your curiosity and your sincerity, which are two of the qualities I most admire in you.
I look forward to years and years of watching you make pictures.