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Move closer: the power of words

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Do you find it hard to write about your art? Perhaps the answer is to read more. This time I've found another piece of writing that resonates with me.

“Move closer and different images, different perspectives, swim into sight.”

I had a collection of non-fiction books that I’ve read, enjoyed, and hung onto. I always find it hard to let go of a book; they seem such precious things such is the power of words. Some of them survived the inevitable clear out associated with a house move. It’s only recently, as I’ve finished reading the new, that I’ve come back to them. I’m finding inspiration for new work in unexpected places. Last time I shared with subscribers that it was Nan Shepherd’s “The Living Mountain” and I've now put the text into my blog in a post titled 'Why Creativity Still Matters', as I think it's worth hanging onto.

This time it’s Richard Mabey’s “Beechcombings: The Narrative of Trees”. It’s been good to be reminded of its eloquence. Yes, that first sentence belongs to the trees:

“Trees, even the teeming mosaics of individual woods, alway vanish in the long view. Move closer and different images, different perspectives, swim into sight.”

But for me, it perfectly explains my obsession with the ephemeral pools along the edges of the moss (lowland raised bog). At the moment, even after some exceptionally heavy rain showers, there’s nothing there but moss. Photographically frustrating, but it’s giving me time to ponder what it is all about, and to experiment with how I might depict some of what I see. Which is a good diversion to have, as foot and heel pain during spring and summer have ended the plans I had to explore further. I miss my daily walk.

In extreme close up only small parts of birch branches appear in focus, dark against the soft green leaves and a background of blue sky

Move closer… Most of my photography in recent years has been very close, often with a macro lens. There’s always something different to see and, as I adjust from the dynamics of moving water to something that is usually still, I’m enjoying exploiting the perspective that close-up brings, and playing with distortion. I touched on this in ‘Revisited’, published in On Landscape magazine in May and which you can now all read should you wish to. My vision and practice are both now decidedly abstract.

"I know no other way of seeing."

So here are some of the photographic images from my 'Ephemeral' pools. They’re very much made ‘for me’ (is that selfish? I know no other way of seeing) but it’s been good to learn on social media that they resonate with others. I’m confident that they make for beautiful fine art prints, but I’m looking to see what other outcomes are possible.

Currently I’m digging into the rhetoric, the rationale for the series. I’m not there yet, but it is throwing up some interesting leads to follow. And I confess I've really enjoyed the creative writing for the introduction to the new gallery.

So why might this help you if you want to write about your art?

Some of you are seasoned pros at all of this, but if you’re finding it hard to set down your thoughts, write and even share what you do, first of all be kind to yourself. Like any muscle, exercise and repetition build strength. Keep a note book or journal and write thoughts and phrases down as they occur to you. I’ve been doing this a lot this year - it’s much better than scraps of paper, and I am finding that with time it both helps me think about creative direction and is something I can draw on. The introduction to the 'Ephemeral' image gallery is an edited version of a stream of consciousness writing exercise that I did earlier on about why I was drawn to photograph and make art about water.

Speaking of editing, separate it from writing; don’t try to write the finished piece, just write (I’m guilty on both charges of trying to do this). Write at a time and in a place that works for you. You don’t have to do it all at once. If you think of something great, make a note or record it – we always think if it’s that good we will remember. Guess what?

There are plenty of resources about writing better, some of which can be overwhelming. Start small. Write a caption about an image – what drew you to make it? what you experienced on the day… Not everyone reads social media captions, but they are good practice and if you create the text in a separate file it can be kept, used again and built into something longer. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t write. It’s not uncommon for me to interview someone for 'On Landscape', have them say they’re not very good at putting into words what they do or just haven’t done it before, and then they write something special.

The likelihood is, if you enjoy reading, you will quite like writing too. Sometimes the hardest thing is getting started. If all else fails, read more. You might just find when you’re least expecting it a sentence or phrase crops up and sparks you into action. It’s happened to me again recently; I have yet to write about it, but it’s reinforced what I’ve been doing outside, prompted new experiments, and made a connection between this and my photography series 'Ephemeral' when I had been struggling to see it.

And finally, write for yourself. Several things I’ve written to try to understand where I was going have ended up as blog posts or gallery intros or even articles, but they started off as something that I felt would help me, and were later edited for an audience.

If you've enjoyed reading this, I hope you'll take a look at my portfolio of, and inspired, by water.
At approximately monthly intervals, I send out FLOW to subscribers which is evolving into a medley of image and word, reflecting current and new directions in my practice.

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