Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.
Are photographers “born to see?” At birth, do they have an eye for compositions like musicians have an early ear for melody and child writers have a seemingly innate sense of how words work? That question forms a serious study for academics and a lively debate for the rest of us. But based on my experience, the answer is yes.
Some years ago I read an interview with a British photographer whose work was being honored with a retrospective exhibit. She was asked if she considered herself an artist. She demurred, saying “I’ve always had a knack for seeing pictures.”
Knack. Interesting word, I thought. It’s defined as “a natural skill at performing a task.” “Knack” seems to describe unique abilities certain people naturally have. I’ve known two fine carpenters, both left handed, who could casually sketch a prospective building dimensionally. Using nothing more than their minds, their sketches showed not just the outline of the future building but also its intricate depth. Watching the building take shape on paper was like magic. Knack? Art? Both?
As a boy I failed at music. No amount of practice, teaching or experience was going to change that. I couldn’t “hear” music. My parents finally sold the cello and bought a new vacuum cleaner, thereby instantly improving the soundscape in our house. But in art appreciation classes at the Toledo Museum of Art I could see how a painting “worked” before the docent described it.
Now I am one of those docents. I teach “vision” in photo workshops, not technique. I do so because I think photographic seeing can be taught. I’m right about that to a limit. Students, I’ve learned, exist on a spectrum. A few naturally understand the relationship between line, form, space, light, texture, and color. They can easily integrate those raw visual elements into compelling compositions. Others are blind to those same things. Some have the knack, some don’t.
This brings us to this month’s fine, pastoral photograph and the thoughts of its author, Sandy Hodge of White Hall.
“I am primarily self-taught. Photography comes naturally to me. I tend to “see a photo” in that I see something and then see the photo in my mind. For me, the camera is just a “translator” to capture that image so it can be recorded. I rarely crop a picture; I tend to frame it in my mind/eye and then take it through the camera. I have been told I have “an eye” for composition but honestly, I don’t think about it. I see something I want to capture and take it.
“Our home has a deck that faces south and west and when the sun is setting, and storms are passing by to the south, we get some spectacular skies. This was one of those evenings. I made the photograph around 7-7:30 in the evening as a large storm passed to the south while the sun was going down over the Blue Ridge.
“I was struck by the amazing lighting and composition—the dark skies, the sunlight in the foreground and the quietly grazing horses with those rioting clouds above. I didn’t have to do much to capture this landscape, just step off the deck. This particular evening, though, was great because of the storm clouds.”
Perhaps because of her natural-seeming eye Sandy’s interest in photography began early. “In my teens I picked up a Polaroid camera. I loved those instant pictures. In my late teens I received a Canon SLR. I loved all that was involved with it, too—using handheld light meters, changing lenses, etc. In college I took one fine arts course in photography and got to experiment with an 8 x 10 camera, infrared film. I also made use of a darkroom (black and white only). I did my own film and print developing and got to know the different types of photographic papers.
“I got B.A. in journalism and did some photojournalism for a newspaper, which I really liked. In the early 70s I worked as a professional photographer for the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce magazine but didn’t like the pressure and the subject matter was limiting. After that I just took pictures because I loved to take pictures.
“I practice photography year round and don’t limit myself to landscapes. I’m interested in people, animals, unique buildings, exotic cultural locations—pretty much everything. We live in such a beautiful area and around almost every turn there is potential for a good photo. Have to say I am partial to White Hall, though!
“I belong to the Charlottesville Camera Club and have to add a plug for them. I encourage photographers—both budding and seasoned—to join. There’s a tremendous amount of expertise in the camera club and great opportunities to learn more about making photographs.”
You can find Sandy on n Facebook and Instagram @Sandy Hodge Photography.