Sunday, January 5, 2014

Walking in a Winter Wonderland. The difference between subject and subject matter.

We have been listening to carols for the last few days on the radio and on CDs. ; a mixed blessing, this combining a variety of different songs for different tastes. A few day's ago we had several inches of snow which transformed our forested property into a beautiful, if dangerous, 'winter wonderland' ( dangerous, because of falling branches and trees laden with heavy wet snow). I had such mixed emotions as I headed out with my camera because some images would end up being pretty snow photos just like the saccharine carols we have been listening to and it could be difficult to find something original to say amid all that splendid white stuff. Because snow is transformational in our dark green winter rainforest, from the first fragile perfection of early morning - the flakes still sifting down through the tree tops -, to a dripping disintegration later in the day as the warm front filled in, there was plenty of subjects available.

The idea that the subject of the image is not necessarily the same as the subject matter is a novel thought for many when they bring their cameras up to take a shot. The subject may be philosophical or scientific, newsworthy or emotional, but the subject matter in front of the camera is chosen to represent that broader viewpoint. We are aware of this in written work be it a novel or popular song: a theme/subject of loneliness, for example, is expressed by subject matter, “Hear that whistle blow”.The snow of early morning in its perfection can offer a different subject than the same snow sliding off branches and puddling on the ground later in the day.

When we take our photograph we need at some level at least, to be aware of the expressive potential of the subject matter, and compose our image, even as we take it, so that our communication is clear. Without words to make our intention more precise, a photograph can be interpreted in a variety of ways, so everything we can do at the design stage to emphasis our intended subject is important. Thinking about the tonal range, (the amounts and placement of darks or lights in our viewfinder), considering the colours with their emotional values, and planning our image so that the textures, forms or lines contribute and do not distract, is what makes photography challenging and interesting over the long term. Taking a photograph is dead easy, but making one that is interesting and communicates clearly is an endless challenge. 

This business of expressing the subject through the subject matter is challenging for me because sometimes I am only dimly aware of my real subject. I am attracted to certain subject matter, frame it carefully and later I process it in 'Lightroom' as though I know what I am setting out to say, but if asked I realize that my subject is still only partially conscious and that much of my creative thought is below the radar. It is in struggling to make my process conscious that I develop my Self as well and that is a long and rewarding path. It could be said that I make photographic images and that they in turn develop me.

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