Monday, February 25, 2013


I wonder why monochrome images are more appealing to me than color images. It may be the subject matter that I like works better in black & white than in color. Or it may be the tint (lack of color) that appeals. I'll have to do more investigation to discover which is true.

Life isn't black & white, but then neither are photographs. B&W photos are rarely just black and white. Most often they are many shades of gray. The  high tones, mid tones and low tones all work together, and often the most beautiful part of images are the mid tones. In the book I'm writing I talk about the extreme road and the middle road. I am a person on the middle road of life. I don't like the extremes. As much fun as it might be to scale mountains, I certainly don't want to be there all the time.

Likewise, a good photograph is comprised of mostly mid tones, with only small areas of extreme tones. So in a monochrome image, only the darkest shadows will be black and only the brightest highlights will be white. Everything else will shades of gray, spread across the full spectrum of tones.

A good monochrome image also has good contrast: not too much contrast, not too little. The histogram should be spread across the spectrum (on most images). (If you're unfamiliar with histograms, I'll let you find that education elsewhere. I'm not an expert.) Of course there are situations that will have spiked histograms, extreme images, but most images are much more varied in tonal range.

Life too needs contrast - not too much, not too little. To be a healthy person I need to have contrast in my life.

  • I can't be all about work, or all about leisure. 
  • I can't be all about friends and neglect my family. 
  • I can't be all about people I know and never seek out new friendships. 
  • I can't be all about satisfying my cravings and never exercise.
  • I can't be all about exercise and never indulge. Of course I really should be exercising more.
Monochrome images are not always black and white; that's just one one format for monochrome. Other images might be yellow and black, or red and black (with gradients of each). So even when 'restricted' by a category like Monochrome, there are still a lot of options.

In my life I often feel restricted by my situation and my health. But I'm discovering a lot of options are still available to me. There are a lot of gray areas in my life, and discovering new shades of opportunity can be exciting and scary..

Lastly, good monochrome images focus the viewer's attention on lines, highlights and shadows. The images often become less about subject matter (what the photo is of) and more about subject (what the photo is about). Rather than a photograph of a tree in a field of snow, it's an image of loneliness or isolation. Rather than an snapshot of a mountain range, the monochrome image becomes a portrait of nature's majesty.

Where does my life focus the viewer? I know where my attention is focused. I'm focused on seeking God's will for my life, living content with my circumstances, and seeking significance in every situation. But I'm not the viewer. My life is the monochrome photograph and other people see me.

What do they see?
What do you see when you look at my life?

Only you can answer that question.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

And Implications Go To ...

"Since I don't know [who I am], maybe I'm trying to discover and express my identity through my photography. If that's true, there are implications about the nature of my photography and the direction of my creativity. But those things will have to wait for another day."

There are two ways to approach the issue.
1. I can look at my photography and infer my identity from the images.
2. I can look at my life and see which aspects show up in the images.

I'm not sure which of these approaches are the best, or most accurate, or which will yield true answers. So I guess I should try both methods.

Looking at my photos (and images from other people that resonate with me) I notice some trends.

  • Monochrome images outnumber color images nearly 2 to 1.
  • Details, especially small ones which may often be overlooked by the masses, attract my eye.
  • Minimalist images affect me deeply, almost regardless of the subject matter in the photo.
  • Long exposures are especially attractive.
  • Abstract images are among the most interesting to me.
  • Great images, without an emotional aspect, become mediocre at best.
  • The color images I like tend to be at one extreme or the other of the color temperature spectrum. I like cool blues and warm golds. But photos with middle-of-the-road, realistic every day colors don't do much for me.
I think I should discuss each of these trends independently. To put them all in one post would be too much - maybe not for a reader, but for me as a writer. Tomorrow (probably) I'll discuss my thoughts on the first trend and how I think that applies to my life.

Much to Consider

Recently I find myself putting a lot of thought into my photography. Certainly more than I put into it years or decades ago (which shows in the quality of the images), but also more now than even a few months ago. It's probably related to the extra thought that's going into my life.
  • I'm considering both the subject and the subject matter of my photos.
  • I'm working to discover - through my photography - what's important in my worldview.
  • I'm struggling to find balance between internal and external approval. I focus on the images and visions I like, tell myself that external opinions are less important, but experience disappointment when I don't receive approval.
  • I spend much more time post-processing images, searching for the right combination of composition, light, cropping, etc.
I guess the question for me comes down to this: Why do I take photographs?

There should be an easy answer to that question, and I've given easy-cliche-answers, like, "It's my creative outlet." But there has to be more to it than that. I take photos because it's a way to express myself. But that begs another question. Why am I not able to express myself in other ways? Or, What am I trying to express through photography that I'm unable to express in other ways?

Maybe my lack of a consistent voice, and frequent/prolonged periods of no more than a whisper, has limited my expression options. Photography then may have become more frequently chosen because other options are more limited. But that leads me back to, "What am I trying to express?" And for that I have no answer.

I'm unable to express the school counselor in me. My years spent in Wendell allowed me to express on a daily basis my caring for students and teachers. I don't have that option now. But photography doesn't seem like a good fit to fill that need.

I express my professional identity now through being an adjunct professor. (I don't know if adjuncting is a real word or not.) It's a different role than I've had before, but it's an enjoyable change. I taught some classes while I was a school counselor, but I'm teaching more often and different courses now. It feels ... good, satisfying, encouraging, to be asked to teach new classes. I think it means the NNU faculty trusts my ability to learn new topics and to clearly disseminate information to graduate students.

So photography isn't about my professional identity.

I express my love for family and friends and don't need photography to do that.

The only need I can think of that isn't being met is my personal identity, maybe even my value and my worth.

Other than what I do and who I'm related to, who am I? I've been struggling with this question for a long, long time. The question itself can be interesting.
"Who are you?" 
"I'm Chris McNaught."

Technically I've answered the question with my name, not "who" I am. But most of the time when people ask, they're really asking, "What's your name?"

"What do you do?"
"I'm a school counselor and an adjunct professor?"

The question asks about my activities, but I start my answer with "I am." That seems to be less about what I'm doing and more about who I am. But a school counselor is not who I am, it's something I do/did. 

I could answer with my life roles: I'm a son, brother, uncle, friend.
I could answer with non-professional activities: I'm a writer, golfer, photographer.
I could answer with beliefs: I'm a Christian, a conservative, a minimalist.
But do any of those really answer who I am? Maybe the sum of all these answers is the true answer.

"Who are you?"
"Who am I?"
"Yes, who are you?"

"I don't know."

Since I don't know, maybe I'm trying to discover and express my identity through my photography. If that's true, there are implications about  the nature of my photography and the direction of my creativity. But those things will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And Then? ...

This topic, I'm sure, is a repost/rehash of things I've written about earlier. But it's on my mind today so I need to explore what I'm feeling and thinking.

My life feels like I'm in some sort of limbo, and yet I'm busy and involved. I thought I had a new direction: pursuing a doctorate in counselor education. All the doors seemed to open. And yet that didn't work out. Physically it wouldn't have been possible.

I thought I had made a new commitment to exercise, but my attendance has not been consistent. I know I should be going every day, but I wake up in the mornings so exhausted, apparently from doing nothing.

I'm seeking a life of contentment, but that doesn't mean I've become complacent. I still need goals and a clear direction for my life. But I don't know what those goals should be, and I don't know which direction to head. So I exist, letting life come to me and responding. I'm not sure that's the best way to live.

I'm teaching some classes for NNU's graduate counseling program, and loving it. I appreciate the interaction with the next generation of school counselors. They keep me in touch with the profession. They provide excitement and new information and fresh perspectives. Plus, having to be prepared for classes is expanding my knowledge. It's challenging and I enjoy it.

I'm involved with the Boise Camera Club, as the newsletter editor and a member. The relationships I'm building with other photographers, and all that I'm learning is definitely improving my photography. I think I'm beginning to find my creative voice, to be able to identify the images and subjects that resonate with me and create emotional reactions. My technical skills are improving, which help my images more closely resemble my vision.

And yet, still directionless.
Am I supposed to be a life-long adjunct professor? I don't know.
Will photography lead to a career? I don't know.
My book is getting closer to being done. Is there another book in my future?
Will I become an author? I don't know.

So I guess at this point in my life I have to be content not knowing. There are so many things I don't know, and I'm not talking about things I shouldn't know or don't need to know. I don't know how a nuclear submarine works or why One Direction makes little girls cry and squeal - but I don't need to know those things.

I don't know important things like who I am or who I'm supposed to be. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. There are times I'm not even sure what I want to be doing.

I wonder what will happen in the near future and distant future and all I can do is just let life be what it is.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Future Self

I have changed so much the last few years. My health, my possessions, my career, hobbies, friends, house, education, etc. Compared to the person I was when I was 36, there's not much about me that's the same. Of course this isn't unique with me. No one is the same person they were 10 years ago. Life changes and we adapt, which means change.

I recently read an article about an experiment in which psychologists compared how people viewed their former selves, their current selves and their future selves.
Your Elusive Future Self

While we are able to see the changes between 10 years ago and today, we are less able to project change into the future. Despite knowing that the future will change us, we have this perception that we've reached our true selves in the now, and will be that person forever. But it's just not true.

In the study the authors advocate looking at examples of my possible future for an indication of what I might be like. What are 56 year old single men doing today? That generalization certainly won't tell me what I will be, but it might give me clues.

So what do I do with this information? Recognizing that I will be a different person in 10 years, I can either wait for the future to change me, or direct that change. It's true that I cannot anticipate what life will send me during the next decade, but I can make plans and work toward the 56 year old version of myself.

I am making some decisions about the changes I will create during the next 10 years.

  1. I will be a musician in 10 years. I'm just learning the ukulele and I don't feel I've made very much progress over the last year. But in 10 years - I could see incredible improvement in my skills. While I can't become a ukulele virtuoso tomorrow, I can work 15 minutes at a time. Multiply that by 10 years (15x365x10) and that's more than 900 hours of practice. I won't become Jake Shimabukuro, but ...
  2. I will be in better physical condition in 10 years. I decided that today was the day to stop making excuses, so I went to the Rec Center this morning. I have decided that regardless of how I feel, I need to go every day - even if all I do is walk in and walk out, I have to go every day. I need to create a habit of fitness.
  3. I will be closer to fluent in Spanish. Like the ukulele, I need a little bit of practice every day.
  4. I will be better educated. I don't know if I'll have a doctorate in 10 years; I thought this year was the time to start a doctoral program. But I'm just not healthy enough. Will I be healthy enough to complete a doctoral program in the next decade? I don't know. But regardless, I will be better educated. I'll take classes and workshops, and attend conferences.
  5. I will be a published author with more than one book. Book one is almost ready, and I have a good idea for book two. I just need to complete them.
  6. I'm still working on a goal for my photography. How will I be a different photographer in 10 years? I'm not sure. I hope by then I'll have a more clear definition of my vision, my creative voice, my style. But I'm not sure how to define the change I want.
  7. I'm also working on other changes. Who do I want to be when I'm 56?
That is my elusive future self.