Define It

Several weeks ago, a photographer, a writer, and I were having a drink. (Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?) We talked about this and that, and finally the photographer, who does a lot of floral images, said that he wanted all his images to be sensual, but was having trouble making that happen.

“What do you mean by sensual?” I asked. It turned out that he did not know exactly what he meant by the word; it was more one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” kinds of things. We batted it around for a while and mostly discovered, at least for him, what sensuality wasn’t. It was sort of this and sort of that and a little of the other thing. He said it was a feeling but couldn’t get much more concrete than that.

“Have you ever tried to really define it in words?” the writer finally asked.

“Well…not really.” was the response.

“Maybe you should try.” she said. And we moved on to other things.

It turned out that the writer’s advice struck the photographer, who has spoken to me about it several times since. First he asked me if I thought it was really a worthwhile pursuit. I told him that, in my opinion, if he did not know where he was going, he could get there only by accident, and went on to explain to him the principle of the “directorial image,” a concrete image that many stage directors use to encapsulate their interpretation and guide the play toward a specific audience reaction. I understand that he is talking about a body of work rather than a specific picture, but the principle to me seemed to be the same.

In our next conversation, he told me that he had been doing some research—mostly into the dictionary definitions. He had explored sensual (of course) and sensory and sexual and erotic and titillating and carnal and on and on. None of the definitions had fit exactly the response he was looking for, but he had decided that knowing where he was trying to go was more likely to yield results than striking out blindly, although it was far less romantic.

In our third conversation, he said that he was very close to having a definition but that it was currently “too many words” for his comfort and “not exactly right yet,” and that he was trying to refine it. “More important,” he said, “it’s already affecting what I’m doing. I think about shoots differently, and my work is consistently getting closer and closer to what I want it to be. It actually helps my creativity; it’s like having an abstract aiming point. This is really a worthwhile exercise.”

And that last conversation made me think that this story was worth sharing. Many of us who work in the arts have never actually defined what it is that we are striving to accomplish. We move from project to project trying to realize the potential of each individual project without stopping to define exactly what we are trying to do. We, like the photographer, may not find an exact definition for what we want to do, but just the attempt to define our artistic goals can help focus our work.

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Date: Sunday, 1. March 2020 23:55
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Photography, Theatre

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