Half-week homework: A turn for the worse

Standing in an interminable line and questioning the necessity of the small assortment of groceries I was waiting to buy last weekend, I was struck by the depth of anxiety in the air based on the then-developing forecast for this week’s snowstorm. As Monday rolled by into Tuesday and enormous flakes began to accumulate on the day of promised snowmageddon, the fixation reached a fever pitch: on the radio, at bus stops, on the phone with friends and family, it seemed like it was impossible to go fifteen minutes without some mention of The Storm.

Fortunately, it hasn’t crushed the state so far—we are Coloradans, after all—but there’s some rich food for thought there. What do we do when things head south? Expected or unexpected, within or without our control, suddenly or gradually, entropy is inescapable and situations will, sometimes, fail to work out the way we had hoped. It’s an uncomfortable part of life, but in the spirit of Halloween*, it seemed like an appropriate time to take a look at loss, dilapidation, and disaster… and, from misfortune, make art if we can.

*Not in the fun, spooky way, but in the “contemplation of mortality and ghosts” way.

The subject of this week’s photo challenge is “a turn for the worse.” You don’t have to seek out a real tragedy, of course, and please don’t create one, but do ponder the fragility of modern life and—equally importantly—how to respond to its collapse. A few suggestions lie below.

Architectural photographers: capture some of the chaotic beauty of a run-down, abandoned building. Extra points for learning more about its history in your community. Double extra points for coming up with a story about how it fell into its current state.

Portrait photographers: some of the most complex emotions we experience are those that get us through a bad time (or keep us trapped there). Work with your model to pull what you can from that deep, deep well. The obvious draughts are rage and grief, and very powerful feelings for portraiture they are, indeed, but remember that people also come together in love during times of trial. Social creatures that we are, we support each other with strength equal to the challenge presenting itself. A hand on a shoulder can make for as moving a photo as a tear-stained cheek.

Landscape photographers: perhaps what is now nature was once something more—Angkor was once the most powerful city in Asia; but now its temples and palaces lie dormant, less-touristed parts being absorbed back into the jungle. It’s heavy stuff, and supplementing your landscape with a ruin or other remnant can completely change the experience for your viewer.

Conversely, potential environmental or anti-developmental messages abound, if you’re so inclined. Contrast nature’s beauty with something you think, perhaps, oughtn’t be there, or photograph a landscape’s dramatic change (after an excessively dry summer, say).

I hope this makes for rich discussions for some of you, or maybe even helps you cope with a downturn of your own. Most of all, I hope more meaningful photographs are introduced into the world. If you’d be willing to share, your fellow photographers—including those of us at your local camera store—would love to see. Post to our Facebook page or on Instagram tagged #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework.

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