Kathleen Clemmons • What If?

Think about some of the preconceptions you have about your work. Whether it is a subject, season, or your type of photography, as Kathleen Clemmons says, try something new to challenge yourself

Earlier this month I attended 'Andrew Wyeth at 100', a fabulous exhibit of the artist’s paintings and drawings at the Farnsworth Museum. Wyeth’s work always inspires me and this time was no exception. Many of the paintings were of winter scenes, Wyeth’s favorite season to capture. He said, “I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape.” I spent some time looking at how he captured snow in the paintings. It wasn’t just empty areas of white, but an intricate part of the mood and story in the work.

I don’t make photographs as much in the winter as I do the other seasons here in Maine. I love to include natural backgrounds in my work and a plain white snowy background doesn’t usually interest me. It doesn’t provide the blur and distortion that I love with my Lensbaby lenses. But, the more I thought about the exhibit paintings, the more I felt inspired to move beyond my preconceptions and see how I could make the photos I love to make, under snowy conditions. I started asking myself, “What if...?”

This is something that I always teach my students. I tell them to ask themselves, “What would happen if...” and then to go and try it. If there is a secret to the way I make photos, this is probably it. I am always willing to try new things, to be open to possibilities and to embrace the randomness they can provide.

I decided to keep my process simple and headed out on a walk towards the beach, with just one lens. I chose my Lensbaby Composer Pro II with Sweet 50 optic and the +4 macro diopter from the Lensbaby Macro Kit, knowing I could shoot from up-close to infinity with this combination.

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Not having my usual subjects and backgrounds made me slow down and really look for things that interested me. I found trees with gorgeous bare branch lines, rose hips, dried blossoms, berries and leaves twisted with age. The leaves fascinated me and I spent much of my time drawn to them. I paid particular attention to my backgrounds and tried to include subject matter that I could blur and distort. I also tried to blur as much of my subjects as I could and yet still tell the story I wanted to tell; this is my favorite way to make photos.

I also photographed some amazing leaves and dried flowers, with just a plain snowy background. I have avoided this is the past, because a plain white background won’t show any detail or Lensbaby effect. But, what I learned from this experiment is that if the subject itself has enough depth and interest, blur on just the edges of the subject can be enough; and the way that blur fades into the simple white background is quite beautiful.

While I was shooting, a phrase kept coming into my head, and that was “What remains…” That was really what I was seeing and photographing. I was focused on the things that remained during the winter, the plants, branches and leaves that had hung on through snow and ice storms. Despite their fragility, I saw strength, courage and tenacity. Putting that into words started me thinking about creating a new series of images along this theme. I plan to make photographs of what remains at each season, capturing subjects that face the test of time and seasonal changes, yet persevere.

Think about some of the preconceptions you have about your work. Whether it is a subject, season, or the type of photography you usually do, try something new to challenge yourself. Finding a theme can really energize your photography and I am excited about the new ideas and directions I will be taking for this series of photos. Had I not tried something out of my comfort zone, this new project would not be happening.

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