More Than Just a Tone Poet

Colorful abstract of cave house architecture on the island of Santorini, Greece near the town of Firostefani

Being a tone poet is wonderful but, as a photographer, you can also be a “poet poet.” Using photography, we can listen to a song, bring words to life, include metaphors in our work. We can engage in a sort of “visual haiku” that plays with the viewer’s sense of reality all the while presenting our unique perspective on a scene. Now, mind you, I’m not above being a tone poet. Heck, if I could manage it, I would be a tone poet each and every day. Tone poets make things look easy but, in some ways, it’s easy to be a tone poet as well. I mean, all you have to do is present us the most perfect composition with the most perfect, subtle, shaded, contrasted, lighting and BAM! you’ve got it. (OK, so I did actually admit it wasn’t *really* all that easy now, didn’t I?)

Seriously though today I pose this question. Is it easier to be more of a pristine photographer, to be more “classical” in the true sense of the word? Is it easier to craft the most absolutely perfect shots down to the minutest nitpicking detail? Or would it actually be more difficult to forgo that and instead focus on the challenge of seeing something differently? Are the two really mutually exclusive? I wonder about that sometimes, but not too much, as I have never actually been blessed with the luck (or acquired the skill) to master the notion of tone poetry. If I’m being honest here, I must confess, the entire concept of the tone poet somewhat escapes me. It’s just not my wheelhouse, no, rather I’m more aligned in the slightly off kilter, crazy, wacky, did you really just take a picture of THAT kind of camp. And, frankly, I’m not sure I would change that even if I could. I mean, I do admire the work of the tone poets but, if I’m being honest here, not sure I would really want to burden myself with being among that group even if presented the opportunity.

For those who formally study art, there are generally accepted elements in art and design. Roughly speaking they are things like: line, form or shape, tone, texture, perspective, and scale. Many people believe they are just not good at art and that’s possibly true but probably more likely is the theory that most people excel at one or two of these elements but not all. There is a bell curve at work here which dictates we mostly fall into the big lump in the middle, as it were. That is to say, most of us are maybe good at line but, perspective and scale? Not so much. I’ve been convinced, either through study or just to lean on as an excuse, that my “tone” foo is a lot less than my “perspective and scale” foo. What can I say? I’ve grown to accept (be it true or not) that I just don’t have all that much going on in the tone department. As an artist, I’ve grown to accept this and quietly move on. Sure, I’d love to be able to work with tone more and it is, in fact, a big part of what we do, but I also recognize my limitations. Creativity and perspective are my sweet spots, at least that’s how I’ve always viewed myself as an artist.

No, I think it’s safe to say I’ll never be a tone poet along the line of a Michael Kenna or a Joyce Tenneson but that’s alright. I can still be a “poet poet.” I can still have fun with visual metaphors and haiku. I can still bring song lyrics to life visually. There is enough in my playground to keep me occupied and I’ve grown to accept that. My joy is quirk and I’ve grown to enjoy playing in that particular sandbox.

Until next time…

PS This one taken with the Canon 5dMarkII and the walkabout lens in Santorini, a dreamy city view indeed. 

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