This blog post is based on a series of images that I posted on Facebook earlier this week. I entitled that series “Creativity Run Amok” and I am sure you will soon understand why. Over the course of my development as a photographer (a process that will continue for the rest of my life), I have grappled with many of the same questions we all do. What is a photograph or digital image? At what point is a photograph no longer a photograph but rather some other type of art form? What is creativity and how does it apply to photography? Is photography an art form at all? And on and on, ad infinitum. After a while, you come to realize that many of these questions have no definitive answers and we have to be comfortable with where we are as photographers, as artists.
Over time, I have become very liberal in my personal definitions of what is a photograph and whether what we do is art. I am very comfortable with where I am even if others may not be. To this end, I find myself very willing to use every tool available to me. Certainly, I find myself most often lovingly attaching a piece of L glass to my Canon 5D Mark II and shooting very traditional landscape images, flowers, buildings and so on. But I don’t turn up my nose at HDR photography either and use it extensively where and when I deem appropriate. And at times, when the mood strikes me, I pull the L glass and put on a Lensbaby with a fisheye, soft focus or a plastic optic just because it feels right and my creative tendencies demand it at that point in time. I will say that, over time, I have learned that other folks either love the Lensbaby images or they hate them. You know what? I don’t really care. It is an outward manifestation of the creativity inside me and that’s what counts.
The same holds for infrared photography. I had my trusty old Canon Rebel XT converted to an IR camera and love it. I don’t use it often but again when the creative juices boil over in that direction, I am very comfortable pulling out the IR camera and making IR images all day. Interestingly, I find IR images get the fewest comments when I post them but again that’s fine by me. I like them.
And then there is the iPhone. I happen to know a group of photographers who feel the iPhone is the next big thing and make some truly remarkable images with their iPhones. I don’t feel as “smitten” as they are but I do have an iPhone and I do have about 10 different camera apps and I do have maybe 40 different photo processing apps and at times when I am feeling the need to express myself and it is the only camera at hand, I am very comfortable just letting it rip.
At this point, I’d like to share a couple of quotes I made in reference to the “Creativity Run Amok” series on Facebook because I think they are appropriate here as well.
“Sometimes you turn where the GPS tells you… and sometimes you just follow the road wherever it takes you.”
“Remember, most everybody can see what is. But to see what could be, that takes imagination… that takes creativity… even if sometimes it runs amok.”
… which brings us to the case at hand.
Earlier this week I ventured to Steel Stacks, a brand new arts center built on the brownfields that were the Bethlehem Steel Company plant in Bethlehem, PA. As you stand outside the arts center and look in any direction, you will see what is left of that once proud company – rusted blast furnaces, crumbling walls, broken windows. To their credit, several groups including ArtQuest are working at saving and “restoring” as much as possible, what is left – a piece of history and the place most of my family (father, grandfathers, uncles, and cousins) worked.
I went there not to photograph but actually just to buy the tee shirt that I didn’t not buy on a prior visit. But when I came out of the Steel Stacks building and looked around again, the juices started to flow. I took out the iPhone and started to make some images knowing they would later turn into something very different but not really knowing what. Here are the images pretty much straight out of the iPhone camera. The processed versions follow below.
I was drawn in by the brick sidewalk surrounding the arts center and decided to photograph my foot stepping onto the bricks.
And then there are the fences. Everything is fenced off to protect us from wandering into the crumbling buildings. But how I wish I could penetrate those fences and get up close and personal with the places so many of my family toiled.
And so many of the windows are broken or missing.
And finally, I stopped to photograph the rusty old fire escape.
As I said, I knew from the moment my creative urges told me to take out my iPhone camera, that the images were going to be very different from what came straight out of the camera. My creativity was yearning to run amok. Rather than turning where the GPS told me, I just followed the road. And here are the results, processed entirely in the iPhone.