Photography as Voice in a Single Image


Personally, I’ve been interested in photography as an artistic medium for over forty years. Art in general has been in my genes since childhood with drawing and sketching becoming my initial form of self-expression, right up until my late teenage years. I would spend hours attempting to sketch portraits of celebrities or animals (ironically, from photographs) to try and perfect realism in my work. Eventually I became discouraged after judging that my drawing skills were not nearly up to snuff with those of my peers at the time (yep, the cardinal sin of all artists — I compared!). This was about the time I put down my pencil and shortly thereafter picked up a camera. I was instantly hooked — mainly because it appeared to me that realism was “built-in” to the medium itself. But there was definitely more to it than that — something I would discover later over time.

Photography became a life-long hobby at that point, but certainly not a career. Working life was a reality for me up until the fateful decision to attend a photography school to potentially change my career — some place called RMSP. The photography bug had never let go of me, and it germinated to the point of changing the direction of my entire life.

Fast forward to today. Although I’m certainly no professional photographer, I have been fortunate enough to have been around and inspired by photography and photographers, professional and otherwise, for over fifteen years by way of employment with RMSP after initially finishing up school here. And one key aspect I’ve discovered over all of this time is that photography is evidently a medium of projection rather than that of capture. Any “reality” expressed by the result is all in the mind, heart and soul of the photographer. This may seem counterintuitive on the face of it, but allow me to explain.

As it is that no two people are exactly the same, it is true as well that no two photographers are exactly the same. One’s life experience, one’s perspective, one’s artistic sensibilities and one’s personality all come into play with every image an artist creates. I have gotten to know some very good photographers, and it is evident to me that after they’ve had the opportunity to learn and indulge themselves in their passion with time, their voice is expressed in their imagery ‐ sometimes without their conscious brain being aware of it.

Those with a more sensitive side to their personality tend to project a softness or empathetic nature in their work. Those of a more analytical or perhaps regimented mindset can sometimes elicit linear or intentionally constructed illustrations with their photography. And it matters not the subject matter or genre. Whether it’s portraiture, landscape, documentary, macro or astrophotography, a certain language is being spoken by the creator. Whatever the case may be with the personalities involved, their imagery tends to reflect their inner selves. This is definitely a fascinating phenomenon for me to witness from my perspective.

A fine case in point for me is this image created by none other than my boss, RMSP School Director Forest Chaput de Saintonge. This huge printed image currently “lives” on the wall just above my workspace and I stare at it every workday.

To create this extraordinary image of the total solar eclipse of 2017, Forest incorporated just about every technical skill and creative impulse he possesses (and believe me, that’s a lot!) to “project” his own inner self in spectacular fashion. It took months (more likely years) of planning to be in exactly at the right place at exactly the right time with exactly the right amount of knowledge, experience, equipment and passion to do justice to this extremely rare and beautiful celestial event.

For those of you unfamiliar with Forest, he graduated with an astrophysics degree from the University of Montana. The eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to project his own personality on the experience, although I doubt this was his conscious intent going in. Since he’s grown up around cameras, computers and digital technology in general, he put his whole brain and eye to the full test. In preparation of the event on August 21, 2017, he had programmed his camera gear to track and take over thirty-five separate high-resolution exposures in increasingly half-stops increments within just a few minutes throughout the totality of the eclipse. Afterward, he went to work combining all of these files together using both astrophotography-specific software plus additional Photoshop editing tools. The end result is truly, epically, celestial.

In the final print (produced by the fabulous Paper & Ink Studios here in Missoula), which is blown up to 35″ x 44″, the centered eclipse, while floating in dark and negative space literally and figuratively, accurately depicts the Earth’s full umbra (shadow) in nearly pure black with the Sun’s glowing corona surrounding it, outlining and defining the Moon’s disk-like shape. With a closer look, what is truly remarkable and clearly captured, are the bright burnt-orange solar ejections or flares protruding into the white corona. The contrast is simply stunning for its shear simplicity and uniqueness. This is not your average solar eclipse image; it’s a lifetime of passion and the will to achieve the nearly impossible by way of a single individual’s innate drive and talents. The final product of this image, including the huge print of it, are a product of Forest’s true nature. It could not be more “him” in scope of effort, magnitude and even physical presence.

So, next time you see an image that speaks to you, ask yourself whose voice is it that’s speaking. What are their life experiences, passions, curiosities, skills and points of view that brought them to that singular point in time — to capture, create and speak at the same time? Chances are, if you happen to know the person, you’ll see and hear exactly who they are.

About the Author

  • A Southern California native, Bob came to Montana and to RMSP as a Career Training student in 2004 to attend both the Summer and Digital Intensive courses. His love of photography began in high school and he decided that a career change in pursuit of this passion was in store after spending the previous 20 years of employment in retail management. After completing the program, Missoula felt like home to him so he pursued a job on staff with the school, and as a result, currently serves as an Admissions Counselor. His day-to-day activities at the school involve discussing photography with many like-minded individuals interested in learning more about their passion.