Sometimes, all you need is a fresh perspective. For this creativity challenge let’s read a book about our favorite topic, but this time try to find an author with an opposing viewpoint. No matter how outrageous the author’s view of the subject may seem it always helps our own mental elasticity to try to understand a topic from an alternative point of view.
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I recently had a conversation with an individual during one of my photowalks in Portland, Maine. The individual, let’s call her “Jane”, had been shooting photos for a while and had participated in a couple photo contests at a local camera club. I didn’t know Jane at very well, but it wasn’t the first of my photowalks she had attended either. Our conversation started when she pulled me aside to ask why everybody seemed so thrilled with the light from the overcast sky. I pointed out the usefulness of the lack of harsh shadows and the great fill light bouncing off the snow, but Jane was still dubious.
“It all just looks flat and grey. I can’t get my camera to make it look good, like normal.” Jane said. “How do I make the pictures look interesting?”
I went on to explain the use of depth of field, composition, and subject matter and how it helps to try and tell a story or convey an emotion with a photograph, no matter the lighting conditions. I explained that an overcast day allowed greater flexibility in composition practices because the photographer would have a wider contrast ratio to work with and wouldn’t have to worry about losing data in the blacks or whites on the image file.
After I paused to hear her reaction to my explanation she responded with, “Where did you learn about this? Did you go to school for photography?”
“Honestly” I said, “though I did have to take a class in film photography for my degree, I learned most of what I know through books and practical application. That holds true particularly in regards to light theory.”
Jane responded with, “Oh, but I hate reading. I want someone to teach me photography.”
“Have you considered taking a class for photography?” I suggested, trying not to debate that she’d have to read sooner or later.
“I don’t want to pay anyone. Isn’t there any way I can just learn it for free? And don’t say ‘the internet’ because that doesn’t work.” She retorted.
Thankfully, I was saved from arguing my point with her as other photowalk attendees stopped to find out what we were looking at. Upon returning home I started thinking about what Jane had said and her attitude toward learning the traditional way. I came up with a simple formula regarding learning any creative topic of your own volition.
There are three factors involved in choosing a source for learning: 1. inexpensive, 2. widely available, and 3. worthwhile content. Of these three factors you can only obtain two from a singular source. How does this play out? Well, if Jane wants to learn photography for free then “inexpensive” becomes the given factor for her and the source is either widely available but not worthwhile, or the source is worthwhile but not widely available. In her case the most worthwhile source would be someone willing to train her, one on one, for free – not widely available but definitely the best method according to her wants. Alternatively, the most widely available free source of learning for Jane would be the library or internet, but her attitude towards these sources indicates she would perceive them as not worthwhile. What Jane would probably be better off searching for is the tutorship found in classes (I.e. worthwhile and widely available, but not inexpensive).
So, can photography be learned for free? Yes, absolutely, if the future photographer is willing to put in the time to find quality sources through their local library, the internet, friendly tutorship, or by working as an unpaid assistant.
One source I also find invaluable is podcasts like “This Week in Photo” and “Photofocus”.
If you have no-one in your network that can mentor you in your pursuit, consider joining a photo-club and discussing the desire to be an assistant to one of the pros. There’s usually someone who needs willing interns that want to learn.
On Thursday of last week I attended the Manhattan signing of Jeff Vandermeer and S.J. Chambers’ newest release The Steampunk Bible. The book’s cover summary classifies it as “a fully illustrated compendium tracing the roots and history of this subculture, from the works of its godfathers, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, to the key figures who first coined the word that would spawn a literary genre, to the vast community of craftsmen and artists that has translated the spark into a lifestyle with clothing, accessories, and a backstory to match.” A varied group of genre fans and contributors to the compendium showed up in everything from street clothes to full Steampunk regalia surprising and confounding some of the book store regular patrons, which I found devilishly humorous. Several of the attendees at the signing were representatives of the NY Steampunk Meet-up Group in Manhattan. Other personalities such as Dexter Palmer, Aleks Sennwald, Jaymee Goh, Ekaterina Sedia, Liz Gorinsky and Ay-Leen the Peacemaker were also in attendance per their contributions to the compendium.
S.J. Chambers introduced the guest contributors as well as setting the mood for what was to be a lighthearted look at the steampunk genre and its expansion in the past several years into all areas of culture from literature, music, film, and invention to philosophical and political ideologies. Jeff Vandermeer started the talk with a quip about his clockwork lapel pin being “all that is needed to be called steampunk” and following with, “I feel like a poser if I dress up or put on a fake British accent” which poked fun at the foppish current trends in steampunk festivals. According to Vandermeer, steampunk encompasses a variety of art and industry, music, sculpture and churchtanks, yes churchtanks (see page 97). There are a variety of influences within the steampunk genre but most often it gets traced to the literary work of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells with the re-emergence in the 1980′s as read in the work of K. W. Jeter and Michael Moorcock. While the current evolution of Steampunk has moved away from its roots to a bit broader stance, the various artistic qualities still have a very definite “look” similar to the speculative/science fiction illustrations by french author Jules Verne. The inclusion of heavier than air “airships” in Verne’s Robur the Conqueror and its sequel Master of the World has sparked many artist’s imaginations and become an almost universal symbol in the Steampunk genre today. Vandermeer also made mention of Verne’s book The Steam House and its use of a mechanical elephant with mechanical automatons or golems being another common theme in contemporary steampunk literature.
At the conclusion of the talk in response to questions from the audience Vandermeer stated that he felt the appeal of steampunk in this age was the hands-on approach to ingenuity. In a generation of disposable iDevices with smooth corners and sealed cases there is an almost romantic appeal to the design elements of the yesteryear as well as the non-disposable build quality of things that, if broken, were fixed and not thrown away. “Steampunk is becoming something new… cross pollinating with a variety of topics,” said Vandermeer in conclusion.
In The Steampunk Bible, on pages 54 and 55, is a list of some of the more prominent cross-pollinated sub-genres within the general steampunk theme. The list includes Boilerpunk, Clockpunk, Dieselpunk, Stitchpunk and others. If you find all this a bit confusing, don’t worry. Steampunk in general is classified by an openhearted acceptance of all aspects of fandom and tinkering with a heavy nod to Victoriana and its speculative fiction.
If you’re interesting in reading The Steampunk Bible, look for it at your local bookstore or online and enjoy!
Thanks to Jeff Vandermeer and S.J Chambers for bringing together this great Steampunk compendium.
I’m posting this on my birthday. How’s that for dedication? Cheers.
This month’s featured creative is Art Donovan of Donovan Design and curator of “Steampunk: Devices + Contraptions Extraordinaire” at the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford, UK. His new book “The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement” is available on Amazon.com – currently “pre-order” status.
I came across Art Donovan’s work in 2007 via an article on “Brass Goggles”, the UK based Steampunk blog. Along with several other artists creating new Steampunk flavored designs, Donovan’s clock and lamp designs caught my eye because of their inherent craftsmanship and implementation. Where other start-up Steampunk artists are categorized more in the collage or patchwork art domain, Donovan’s art is derived from a background in interior lighting design and detailed craftsmanship. Donovan’s pieces are not only hand crafted, but more often than not made from scratch, which I find much more inspiring than the scavenging and re-purposing often attributed to Steampunk art.
Art Donovan designs for a variety of clients, most of whom are not Steampunk related. This pre-existing design background is what gives Donovan the sharply unique, custom-manufactured look that I find so appealing. His company Donovan Design was established in 1990 as a contract and residential lighting design house. Donovan’s designs have a heavy dose of Art Deco stylization which I attribute to his early influences from working with Donald Deskey, designer of Radio City Music Hall.
Art Donovan discovered the Steampunk genre in August of 2007.
“It was the most exciting new style that I had seen in over 30 years as a designer. Steampunk combined all of the interests that I ever had- science fact, speculative fiction, early sci-fi films, history, antique technologies, Jules Verne novels… It was even more surprising to discover that Steampunk embraced such unexpected things as arcane spiritualities, traditional Victorian manners and everything else that was thriving in culture of the late 19th and early 20th century.”
After discovering Steampunk, Donovan created two introductory pieces, a distressed brass clock and a Steampunk style table lamp, both of which were featured in several Steampunk blogs including Brass Goggles. His next more elaborate piece, the Siddhartha Pod Lamp, cemented his name in the minds of Steampunk fans across the globe and catapulted his design career into the Steampunk world. Donovan was recently dubbed the “world authority on the visual genre of Steampunk” and is continuing to expand his line of designs.
Much of his fanfare comes from Donovan’s having been curator of the “Steampunk: Devices + Contraptions Extraordinaire” exhibit at the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford, UK. The exhibit brought the Steampunk genre to light in the art community, and showcased the high quality artistic creations emerging within the genre. Donovan also recently wrote his own review of the experience, in which he stated, “True Steampunk would be an artifact of grace and artistic ingenuity. It would at first pay homage to the antique arts and sciences but ultimately point to a ideal or concept greater than itself.” This “artistic ingenuity” is the very aspect of Steampunk art that drew me into the aesthetic so many years ago, and I think Donovan makes a good point when describing Steampunk as an “artifact of grace and artistic ingenuity” rather than as a simple label, which I find even more appealing when tempered by a studied application of craftsmanship and pre-conceived design.
Art Donovan has new book coming out soon that promises to be a very informative look at the Steampunk art community. “The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement” will soon be available on Amazon.com, and I highly recommend you take a look at it when it arrives. More information about Art Donovan can also be found at his blog “Art Donovan: Steampunk Art + Design.”
Here on “Grasping @ Creativity” I highlight a creative each month with the hope of inspiring readers in their own pursuit of creativity. These highlighted individuals have all inspired me at various times in my life, whether through their creations or through their philosophy. It is my hope that readers will find these articles both interesting and informative, a source of inspiration, and a resource for initiating their own creative endeavors.