Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Exercise for your Mind: Finding Images for your Viewfinder

By Christina VanGinkel

Photo opportunities are everywhere, yet there are days when I have a calling to get out and use my camera, but when I start out the door, I have not a clue as to what to photograph. Call it visual block if you like, because that is exactly what it seems like. A world around me, yet my camera does not seem to see anything. Everything looks a blur, or off, just not right for my viewfinder. An amateur photographer mind you, not a professional, I love taking photos, and usually find it to be a relaxing way to spend my time. When I am experiencing writer's block, my camera will often get me motivated and reopen my mind's door to allow the words to flow. So, when that does not work, I am often stunned.

When this happens, I do have a plan of action that I try to use, and most of the time it works. If you happen to be experiencing the same block, it is at least worth a try. First, set down your camera in a safe place, or if possible, put it completely away. The less a distraction it is, the better this seems to work. Go outside, preferably away from your normal space. If you live in the city or a town, take a walk a few blocks from your apartment or house, head to a park, shopping center, museum, or any other place outside of your normal routine. Take a walk by a building whose architecture is intriguing, or walk into an arcade filled with teenagers being teenagers. If you live in the country as I do, head to your favorite trail or forge a new one, (but do not get lost, as that will not help!). Then, take a deep breath and look around. Look up. Look at the woman crossing the parking lot with the screaming toddler in tow, or the fern you happen to be standing next too that is already changing color for the fall that has yet to arrive. Open your eyes and actually see what we all miss in the hurried lives we lead. Geese flying overhead, clouds shifting, traffic lights changing color, potted plants on the steps of an apartment building, the lines of a building, the crumbling of a wall, even the trash barrel overflowing. If it were something your sight would normally overlook, or look past, look at it.

I also do this exercise without actually getting out of the house. I do it at my desk when I am experiencing writer's block and cannot get out with my camera. I keep my eyes open and visualize the last place I went to outside the house. For me, the local Wal-Mart often is my stomping grounds. I try to recreate what I saw. A man arguing with his wife over whether he should buy the more expensive set of tires, all the colorful racks of clothes, even breathing in the scent of the perfume counter as I walked past. What you will soon learn is that even when we are running around in our hurried lives, we are seeing what is around us. What this work out does is force our minds to see what our eyes already did.

When I pick up my camera after participating in this exercise, I am always amazed at how fresh the world around me looks, and I never seem to have a problem finding something worthy of my viewfinder.

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