Nobody likes a rejection letter but I like to think it is just a necessary test that one must go through to further personal development in whatever creative enterprise you are dreaming of. Last fall I decided to submit some of my black and white bird portraits to a magazine which specialized in black and white images. What I really liked about the publication was that their mission, unlike many photographic magazines, was more about the art of photography than the gear. The format was for project and series oriented groups of images. At that point in time I had quite a few monotone portraits and thought I’d escape my usual zone of reluctance and take advantage of the invitation they extend to readers to submit projects. For the project submittal I enjoyed seeing some of my other images in a different light for a black and white interpretation in order to provide a varied set. Despite the fact that I could soooo see some of my pictures on their pages, obviously from my introductory line my submittal was not selected for publication. One of these days I’ll chat up the magazine here on the blog, as despite my disappointment, I enjoy what they are doing very much.
They had a very specific format for a submittal with quite a few text requirements to go with the images. A lot had to do with the artist’s inspiration to do the series. While I probably exceeded my word count which was specified, I’m not sure I could explain why I began looking at my bird shots as portraits rather than documentary observations in fewer words. One thing I debated was which birds to include and what to title the series. I was sorely tempted to call it “At Home with Herons” since so many were in a nesting colony heronry. But, I did include some other birds and decided to keep it simply “Bird Portraits.” I hope you enjoy my attempt with the series introduction to Bird Portraits. And, the bird that really turned my thinking into making bird portraits was the Great Blue Heron image below. I thought it was an amazing bird when I saw it. Originally, a color image, I thought the fierce gaze expressed well in a black and white treatment. So this has been the Intro to sharing the Intro!! My story so similar to others who after raising children return to passions and interests of their own youth.
Bird Portraits as a project arose gradually over time. When my last child graduated college, I returned to photographic interests I’d set aside so many years before. Remembering the serenity of Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp and its misty mornings, I wanted to photograph the primordial mystery of the glades and still dark waters silently mirroring majestic cypress trees. But, in the process I became charmed by the ethereal flutter of white wings dematerializing into the depths of the swamp and the haunting calls of birds unseen, but echoing in the distance. Soon, my quiet scenes of trees, water, and sky seemed empty without a bird to claim its home.
Since that time birds have increasingly occupied a special place in my viewfinder. While I did not set out to become a bird photographer, increasingly I sought out cypress scenes, mangrove settings and rookeries to observe and capture images which concentrated on the presence of the bird itself. The idea of bird portraiture hit home as I was photographing a Great Blue Heron surveying its wetland domain with such a fierce gaze and regal stance that it was surely channeling the spirit of a great Seminole Indian Chief. It seemed the ancient heart of the everglades was embodied in the bird. I wanted to capture that presence.
I could say that famed field naturalist and artist, John James Audubon, was the seminal inspiration for my work, but oddly, it is true in a reverse sense. It was only after I began capturing images of birds did I fully appreciate the complex artistry, beauty and accuracy of his drawings. Audubon captured not just the detail of feather and form, but his work was infused with a sinuous, living quality. My viewfinder became a time portal opening the view of a Louisiana heron tending its nest, or a Great Blue Heron asleep atop its incubating eggs, or a White Egret standing staunchly over its huddled chicks in a Florida rain shower. My camera provided me continuity with the past revealing glimpses of bird life much as Audubon witnessed and recorded nearly 200 years ago in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana.
According to William Faulkner, “The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.” Ultimately, this was my greatest influence. I wanted to overcome the stasis inherent in any still shot and avoid a flat, immobile characterization. Portraiture should give dimension to its subject – showing more than its beauty and textures, but also, its mood, fierceness, tenderness – its life! I hope to have overcome a static portrayal to convey the intimacy of the nest, the character, and living artistry of some of the birds I’ve been privileged to observe and photograph. Whether a White Egret adorned with a bridal bustle of lacy aigrettes, the fierce profile of a Great Blue Heron, or the inquisitive meanderings of young chicks, this Bird Portrait series opens a portal into their lives.
… enjoying the view!!…
I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view. – Michael York, actor