Form and Photography

Artistic growth and the quest for creativity

By: Brenton Mitchell

Coloring books made sense, requiring only a pack of crayons and a steady hand, each color bringing life to monochrome outlines. Dirt simulated by brown, grass with green, a yellow shaded Sun and bright blue sky. With an understanding of color and working set of eyes, I could create a reflection of reality.

Sitting in the little elementary school classroom I worked from the outside in, moving slow around edges to avoid crossing the line. I’d occasionally peek at the work of a nearby student to compare their consistency of color, and overall cleanliness of the work. The coloring was as much an exercise in procedure as it was creativity, the time spent on finer details a source of catharsis and pride.

More extravagant coloring books posed a greater challenge. How could I possibly presume the color palette of a dragon? In what way could I surmise the details of an extra-terrestrial horizon? I did my best by working procedurally, filling piece by piece, each color choice picked with purpose. Colors fitting snug within the lines, thoughtful choices providing a method to the madness.

Another year of elementary school and I encountered one of life’s great enemies – the blank page. It’s impressive how much anxiety an 8 ½” x 11” inch piece of paper can produce, frustration created not only by it’s blankness but the anticipation to be filled. Any creative spirit I had was crushed by clumsy movement, stick figures sharing attributes of degenerative disease. This brought a hard truth: I am not artistic.

Some would say that coloring books were the problem. “The dependency upon someone else’s outline of an object makes children much less confident in their own means of expression. They obviously cannot draw a cow as good as the one in the coloring book.”, said by Penn State professor Viktor Lowenfeld, author of the book Creative and Mental Growth. I swear if I could even draw a cow as good as the one in a book I’d quit school and become a farmer.

My father a math teacher and mother an accountant, I was born into a family of analysts. With any affinity for math evaporating by eleventh grade, my shining talents were in language arts.

So in early September 2016, it was on a whim that I bought my first camera – a Nikon D3300. I’m still unsure why I bought it, maybe inspiration from a friend or my habit of spending money without thought.

The first day with my camera I went for a walk, roaming my neighborhood in search for something worth capturing. At some point I found myself on a small island of concrete looking over at New Jersey smog. The sun was setting, orange lighting up smog with a pleasing glow. When I looked left I saw an old ship docked nearby with the bridge in the background. Inspiration still fresh I checked my settings, framed the shot, and after a sharp snap of the shutter – there was art.

With photography I can make the art I was never able to, needing no paper or pencil while retaining the necessary eye for detail. Once again I can start from the outside in, the lines of the viewfinder providing a workable space to capture the world. Assessing the lighting, adjusting for color and perfect exposure while thinking about potential post-processing to bring my vision to life.

A photo is a moment in time, a lasting piece that can revive a memory or change a generation. Photography has fundamentally changed the way I see the world, searching for possibility in the mundane or an interesting angle on an ordinary street. I’ve become more aware, noticing the details of the world around me and the immense amount of potential that lies within it. A year after I started and I’d say I’m still not artistic. But I’m getting there, one snap at a time.

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