An article about being vulnerable in art and about the making of “Unknown Prophecy”, my latest image, that explores this idea. Being vulnerable in art is one of the prerequisites of great art. It allows the artist to explore more honestly his emotion and transmit it in his work, so he can connect with the viewer more directly and efficiently.
“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
– Swami Vivekananda
I have shot this image that I am calling “Unknown Prophecy” in Mycenae, one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, and one of the most mysterious and profound cultural places I’ve ever experienced. This is the inside of the Tomb of Agamemnon, or the Treasury of Atreus, as it is also called, and it is a space where I personally feel an intense energy and very deep emotion. This photo is me trying to convey the things I feel inside this space combined with me seeing photography as a spiritual tool even more than an aesthetic one, and much more than a documentary one, a tool capable of going deep into our minds and souls and project outside what lies there.
I think photography is much more than an image. Of course it can be just an image, it depends what we are using it for. But in my vision photography can be much more and this is how I’m approaching it. Photography can be an instrument to tell the story of our own lives and of the lives of those we encounter in the world. It can literally be a way of expressing our deepest feelings and a way of researching the world.
HOW I CREATED “UNKNOWN PROPHECY”
A few words about the making of this image and then I’m going to share with you some thoughts I’ve made lately about photography and how we use it to express ourselves.
This image is a vertorama made of two vertically stitched images taken inside the Treasury of Atreus in Mycenae. I’ve shot the images with Canon 5DMKIII and my Canon 17 mm TS – E tilt-shift lens. Because I couldn’t set up the tripod inside this space and I had to move quickly so I can get the shot without other people inside the space (which believe me, is almost impossible, since this is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece and in the world) I had to shoot handheld. But the space is really dark (like a tomb dark) so I had to boost my ISO quite a bit. Happily my Canon 5DMKIII is dealing very nicely with noise so I could use an ISO 4000 and still get very good images to work with and lots of detail.
This image, like all the images with this amount of detail and complexity of shape, was processed mostly using selections made with luminosity masks combined with a few regular selections, which were painted over using Dodge and burn, gradients and a limited amount of curves adjustment layers.
You can see in the video below how this image evolved from the phase of a RAW file till the end result that you can see above.
I hope this image will give you some inspiration and ideas for your own photography. For me it is a very symbolic image and I’ll try to elaborate on this further in this article. Just grab a cup of coffee and I’m wishing you a pleasant read, and I hope what I’m saying here will give you some food for thought.
ART IS NOT ABOUT “MAKING ART” – ART IS ABOUT BEING YOURSELF
I’m making fine art photography but I think making photography with the intention to create art is the wrong way to approach it. I think this is the wrong way to approach any kind of art.
Art is not a set goal. Art is the result of who we are. If we don’t feel it, then there’s nothing there. If we don’t manage to do it instinctively and without thinking, it’s not going to be personal. This is why I always start from inside and I try to go as deep as I can and leave everything I find inside come out to the surface and express itself in the images I make. This doesn’t mean I don’t think when I do photography or that I don’t care about the technical part. It just means I try to go beyond that and I don’t rely on my mind only and even less on technique to create the image, but I allow my deepest self to come out in the photograph I make.
MAKING PHOTOGRAPHY LIKE WRITING A NOVEL – INTERPRETING THE WORLD THROUGH A SELECTIVE MIRROR
I truly believe photography is like writing a novel. It is in no way different from that and this is what I’m doing. I happen to be better with images than with words and this is why photography is my best tool for telling my story and the story of those I come near to. They may be people or places I come in contact with just for a short while, but they leave their imprint on me and they create who I am. This is the story I am telling through photography. I am not telling their story. I am actually telling my story. Or I may say that I am telling their story reflected on me. It is like mirroring what happens around me but keeping and showing only the things that change me.
It’s a selective mirror I am placing in front of the world and this mirror sees through my own prism, and filters life according to a mechanism I am not even fully aware of because it is mostly subconscious.
This is what I call my vision. It is a combination of conscious and subconscious decisions and reactions that make us who we are and that reflect in the most honest way in our photography. I am talking more about interpreting the world through our vision in my Guide to Vision and Finding a Personal Style.
This is why I’m saying that one has to be brave to really create art because art means to be able to leave your soul naked in front of the world telling your story. There will be many who will not understand and this is a risk you take but there will hopefully be those who will understand and then your goal is attained.
ABOUT BEING VULNERABLE IN ART
For me art is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. This is one of the most difficult things to do and this is why being an artist is so difficult. But photography, just like any art, is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be a way of communication and real and meaningful communication is never easy. It is not only about communicating with the world but it is also about communicating with your own self.
It is much easier to hide behind your photography than to show yourself in your photography. It is the fear of being judged or of not being understood that kicks in, it is the perfectionist in yourself that censors the way you express yourself and doesn’t allow you to go deeper, it is the limited capacity of our society to understand what is different and exceptional and what doesn’t obey to rules.
These are serious obstacles on the way of an artist, either he is a photographer or any kind of artist, and I think in order to overcome them, we need to make a serious effort of not being conditioned in our work by what others say, by what common sense says, and by what our own critical self says. We need to forget all that and just rely on the emotion because this is the most direct way to communicate with others. For me this is the best way of telling my story and of telling the story of others through my own experiences.
PHOTOGRAPHY AS A SELF-COGNITIVE ART
By telling your story through photography you learn things about yourself that you never knew were there and you would never have a way of knowing without using the symbols you can use in photography. We need to speak in symbols so we can make ourselves understood and the subjects we photograph are symbols we can use in any way we want. They give us the freedom to express ourselves and it has no importance if the subject in architecture, or landscape, or people or anything else. It just matters what we want to say and how we use the subject to say it.
THE BIRTH OF A SERIES – HOW IS IT HAPPENING
If you look at my latest images you can see a pattern. I can see it myself even if I wasn’t completely aware of it in the beginning. This pattern is about light as far as visual representation, and it is about looking into the future as deeper content of the image. I am not calling yet this sequence of images a series but it may very possibly become one and these images represent the moment where my vision is starting to unveil.
I see these images as a start in a transformation process I’m going through and whose results I’m starting to see. It is a transformation process that started a few years ago and went on in the underground, in my subconscious, before slowly rising up to the surface. I think I am now at a moment where I’m starting to realize this process of artistic transformation and I am preparing myself to fully accept it. All these experiences are for me part of the creative processes and part of the art itself. The images I’m creating are just the tip of the iceberg but they reflect everything that is happening underneath and this is why they are symbols.
FURTHER STUDY RESOURCES – FINE ART BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY, ARCHITECTURE, LONG EXPOSURE
You can find more tutorials on fine art black and white photography, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography and architectural photography in my extensive collection of photography tutorials. To receive my future tutorials directly via email you can subscribe to my website.
More about how to create fine art photography, from vision till processing and the final image you can read in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, and in my video tutorial Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)Visionography a hands-on tutorial accompanied by an eBook presenting my processing workflow, or attend one of my workshops.
Julia Anna Gospodarou – (en)Visionographer
Julia Anna Gospodarou is an internationally acclaimed photographer, author and educator, teaching workshops and lecturing around the world. Founder of (en)Visionography™ and Photography Drawing™, co-author of the best-selling book From Basics to Fine Art, with high distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide, published internationally in numerous books and magazines, Julia is passionate about art and striving to spread it into the world.