Here are some things that caught my eye, and ear, on social media this week: #fbf
Archives for April 2017
Sometimes it’s difficult to fall asleep—your mind is racing; you’re tossing around; sleep just won’t come. I’ve tried various strategies over the years, and the one that works best for me is sleep-inducing music. It started several years ago with Brian Eno’s sonic masterpiece “Discreet Music” — calm, slow-paced music that comes in waves and is meant to be played at a very low volume. Eno says in the liner notes, “This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music–as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience. It is for this reason that I suggest listening to the piece at comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility.”
After I tried listening to “Discreet Music” at low volumes and found it effective, I experimented with other music played the same way. Jefferson Airplane, John Coltrane, and Erik Satie worked for me. Not only are certain songs reliably sleep-inducing for me, there are exact places in a song where I fall asleep. On John Coltrane’s “Shifting Down,” I nod off during Kenny Dorham’s solo at 6:45. On Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” it happens right around the start of the third verse, which begins at 1:43 (after first listening to the first two tracks on the album The Worst of Jefferson Airplane.)
Lately I have been listening to the Miles Davis album In a Silent Way as I fall asleep. I always seem to drift off at 4:50 into the song “Shhh/Peaceful,” during a high trumpet note.
While I’ve found music to be remarkably effective (I rarely have insomnia anymore) and, for me, strangely predictable in its effects, I’m searching for other ways to fall asleep quickly and easily. If my trusty iPod fails, I need a backup.
A new mental imaging trick, “the cognitive shuffle,” aims to silence fretful thoughts by deliberately filling the brain with benign images. In a recent article in O (the monthly magazine from Oprah Winfrey), writer Kelly DiNardo quotes sleep researcher Luc Beaudoin from Canada’s Simon Fraser University, who devised this strategy for falling asleep. “The brain’s sleep-onset control system need not know what you’re thinking or imagining.” he explains. “It just needs to notice that there is mind wandering and that there is visual imagery, as if you were hallucinating. Unless the brain is on drugs, these clues generally signal that the cortex is ready for sleep.”
In an article in The Guardian, writer Oliver Burkeman says, “The cognitive shuffle involves mentally picturing a random sequence of objects for a few seconds each: a cow; a microphone; a loaf of bread, and so on. It’s important to ensure the sequence is truly meaningless; otherwise you’ll drift back into rumination. One option is Beaudoin’s app, MySleepButton, which speaks the names of items in your ear. Another is simply to pick a word, such as ‘bedtime,’ then picture as many items beginning with ‘b’ as you can, then ‘e,’ then ‘d,’ then… Well, by then, if my experience is anything to go by, you’ll be asleep.”
I may try listening to music while thinking of random words. A cognitive shuffle with Miles Davis dealing the cards.
What interests me about this insomnia-defeating strategy is that it’s another use of created imagery in our lives, but it’s entirely mental imagery. Like photography, it’s a way of playing with things you see (or “see,” in this case) and combining them. Like photography, it has a lot of elements that you control and, especially as you’re slipping toward sleep, some that are out of your control. Like photography, it probably gets much easier with practice.
Yet, unlike photography, it’s utterly personal, so much so that the series of images you create can’t be shared with anyone else. It’s a reminder that our interior worlds affect us in so many ways, every hour we’re alive. As Professor Dumbledore famously says near the end of the final Harry Potter book, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Let me know if you try the cognitive shuffle. And sleep well!
George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company, once said, “Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Light, along with time, is a key ingredient in the photographic process.
Many photos posted on social media seem bland–they may have interesting subject matter and location, good colour, even a good moment, but what they often lack is good lighting. I have heard that Lee Friedlander chose not to shoot on overcast days because he didn’t want to take lifeless photos.
The photo at the top of this blog was taken in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1980 –my early days in photography. It shows a certain type of high-contrast light that I was photographing that day for, as far as I can remember, the very first time: sunlight, directly overhead, shining on pavement. The effect is even more pronounced if the pavement is wet. This lighting situation is great for silhouettes and good for isolating people and cars and seems to work best in black and white. Any time I see this king of light, I’m eager to capture it. (Yes, thirty-five years later.)
For me, then, this is a well of inspiration that never dries up. I go back to this high-contrast light again and again, always stopping to get my camera out, always pulling over to the side of the road and standing on the line down the middle, checking over my shoulder for cars coming. How is it that something can so capture our imagination that we never tire of it?
I think it’s partly that photography, even when it’s pretty much taking the same photo for the hundredth time (as my family likes to remind me) has an always-fresh quality. This photo is, by definition, not quite like all the other photos, no matter how similar they may be. For the person holding the camera, and later looking at the image with attention, the details add up to something wholly different. The balance, the atmosphere evoked, the contrast, the mood of the moment–these are all going to vary.
Moreover, for the photographer, there can be great satisfaction in dealing with the learning curve. This is essentially a private endeavor; that’s why my family isn’t really able to appreciate it when I stop the car. Sure, if I show my wife a photo I took as a student side-by-side with one I took last week, she can observe, “You’ve really improved.” But the incremental changes, the tiny little notches of achievement or refinement in being able to capture what I’m seeing, are perceptible only to me.
Photography is a way to share your vision, but it’s also an individual journey. No one else is on it with you, or not in quite the same way. It’s important for us to honour where we are in terms of what we’re discovering for ourselves over the years.
Light is a key part of every photo we take. The hard, brilliant light on a wet pavement is for me, for some reason, one of life’s great joys. It fills me with happiness to see these black-and-silver vistas stretching in front of me. I think I would reach for my camera in my sleep, confronted with such a scene.
Whatever impels you to reach for your camera again and again, it’s worth paying attention to why you’re drawn to it, how you’re photographing it, and how your photographic eye for the subject you love is improving over time.
Here are some things that caught my eye, and ear, on social media this week:
I have always thought of black and white photography as an abstract medium and colour photography as a psychological medium. American photographer Elliott Erwitt said, “With colour you describe; with black and white you interpret.” If it’s true that colour appeals to our emotions and leaves less to our imagination, then it makes sense for us to be judicious in using it.
This can have a lot to do with how the photo is framed—how much of a particular colour, or colours to leave in or crop out. When I view a scene, then, I look for ways to combine colours–for me, it’s about balance. Sometimes a tiny splash of red is enough to counteract a sea of green, or a little orange goes well with a lot of blue. There are no hard and fast rules here, but the conscious combining of colour is something to keep in mind when you’re out taking photos.
On Instagram there are dozens of filters to choose from, each giving the image a certain look, but it seems the most-used Instagram filter is “normal”–that is, roughly the colours our eye sees. And that’s good news for an old-school guy (like me!) who believes that colour is something to be observed, not added with a filter.
“Autumn Playground” appears on Photo Vogue