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Create Art Through Photography

Lesson 15 of 16

How to Foster Personal Style & Distinguish Yourself

Art Wolfe

Create Art Through Photography

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

15. How to Foster Personal Style & Distinguish Yourself

Lesson Info

How to Foster Personal Style & Distinguish Yourself

So, Jackson Pollock said, famously, that his paintings begin where your imaginations end. No, his paintings end where your imaginations begin. He also said that he never made a mistake. So he would have these giant paintings on the ground and he would be throwing paintings. But he relied on his subconscious to guide his hand. Not anything that he threw down was not guided by his sense of composition, so the collective was this really in-depth painting and they were large-scale and people will just stand there for 30 minutes, staring and imagining something. Now you may not like Pollock. You may not be ready for a Pollock. Certainly I wasn't for first 30 years. But I get it now. I understand that depth in the imagination, tapping into the subconscious. And when I'm traveling in an old pickup truck in Chinatown, Bangkok, I start to see things and I know what I can do in Lightroom. I know I can crop that into a panoramic and I know that I can turn it into a Jackson Pollock. And if I showe...

d you and said this was Jackson Pollock would anybody in this room stand up and say, "No that wasn't." Of course not, because it looks just like a Jackson Pollock. So here's the playing field. You know in those old cities around the world, the messiness of Delhi. If you just start to walk around in the back alleys where no tourists ever go, and you start to photograph. And all the people that are watching you think, "Okay, here's another crazy person. "We should close our borders. "Oh boy. There we go." (students laugh) So something like that. Something like that you find on the back street and, honestly, it's a piece of art. If it's framed, if it's printed perfectly, it becomes this beautiful centerpiece. And I have sold them in New York. This young man is painting religious paintings in the mountains of Ethiopia. But, subconsciously, under the paintings is the board he's painting on. The unintended art, that, as an artist and as an observer, I find, I photograph, I frame. A metaphor for birth and renewal. So where's the shot? Where is that? Thailand. Where is it? Thailand. No. That's a great answer actually. That's a great answer. I said, "Where's the shot?" And you said, "Thailand." That's perfect. But, what I meant is, within this, (laughs) it's the floorboards. In the floorboards is this red that reminds me of the red of Buddhist culture. The metal reflects blue. I photographed it with a 50-megapixel camera and, yes, it's a piece of art. Having the imagination to see and record. And it goes on and on and on. So, why not? You know? Why not explore it. Look at those abandoned things that people walk by. Spend a whole afternoon. That's a whole afternoon right there in Chinatown, Bangkok. Looking and exploring and, at the end of it your brain is exhausted because you're so concentrated on finding the unobvious. And the hunt is exhilarating and when you get something that people go, "Wow, where's that?" It's like, "You're sitting on that." I love that. I love that. On a old train in Bolivia. My God. That yields so many shots. So many shots that are mine. Not somebody else's. So, in an age, where everybody's flocking, 'cause they have the economic means to go to Patagonia, they're shooting the same shot, they've got their bucket list. How hollow, really, is that? Is that a great motivation? I've seen it. I've got those shots. But, I'm not shooting those shots, really. I'm finding things that most people would never consider. I'm evolving. I'm communicating it. I'm teaching it. But that is beautiful artwork right there. No less than any other painter, any painters that existed. Yeah, it's a different medium, but it's the vision of how they painted and it's the vision of how I photograph that cements and connects. An old Yield sign in the Nevada desert becomes a Mark Tobey or a Jackson Pollock. Fruiting trees in eastern Washington shot like that becomes a piece of artwork. As does young saplings in early snow. Or fruit trees like this. So, they all stand on alone. They're not super amazing landscapes, but they're thoughtful and they're cerebral and they're quiet and they're mine. Training the eye to see nature in a different way. I was photographing this and people came up to me. It was in Elwha Valley of the Olympic National Park. People drove up. They jumped out. They ran towards me. I thought, "Oh my God, am I in trouble?" And they said, "Where is it? Where is it?" I said, "What?" "The eagle." I said, "I'm just photographing the alder trees." And the people looked at themselves and I ... Out of the corner of my eye ... I have great peripheral vision ... and they're like smirking, like, "Okay let's just walk away, walk away, now, "walk away fast." So when people think you're nuts, maybe you just have sompin there. So, alder trees. I showed you pictures of these earlier on showing how 50-megapixel cameras ... But, yeah. The shot itself is a quiet shot, a more cerebral shot of a forest than just a typical shot of a forest. And it will go into my tree book. So, tundra becomes a Jackson Pollock if you look at it that way. I'll talk a little bit about gesture. Gesture is the way the body stands. It's another element to work with. So you can stand like this, or you could stand like that and that we could call gesture, but is it relegated to the human form? No, gesture could be the way smoke wafts up in a beautiful way, above incense in a monastery. Or a way a Sadhu whips his hair, his dreadlocks, coming out of the Ganges. Or a ballet dancer strikes a pose. So that's gesture. But trees have gesture as well. Trees have gesture. Birds have gesture. A ballet dancer has the same form as agaves, if you care to make the connections. So, it's training the eye to look and connect various themes. And for my tree book, it'll be a book of trees with beautiful lines and textures and gesture. Won't be a catalog of trees of the world. So, line and reflections, when I saw that, I immediately thought of calligraphy. I studied the way that water is reflecting on ... or the pilings are reflecting and then I started training my camera to it and I started channeling calligraphy. Up in the Arctic, there's a way sand collects over the ice. And when I saw it, it reminded me of this. Calligraphy, I studied in art school and I tried, with sumi brush strokes and ink. And there's a beautiful edge and freedom to that. And when I was up in the Arctic and I saw this, I kept on thinking, "calligraphy." It's the way wet sand collects in the depressions of the surface of ice that builds up over the Arctic rivers. But, it's also floral shapes. It's whatever I want it to be. In that cement bunker in Astoria, there's beautiful calligraphy. Some kid has just spray-painted the wall, but he wasn't trying to create calligraphy. It was only I that came later that saw it. Or something that looks like a wave in a Japanese painting. So, in those bunkers, are all these things. Now this was shot in Laos. And it's just simply a sign to a men's room. But, though, even that sign to a men's room becomes a piece of art if you care to look. So all of these things, elicit in my imagination something different. It's a poster on a wall that's been pulled away, but it becomes a Chinese vertical landscape. That becomes a Chinese vertical landscape. So, if that's a landscape, other things can be landscapes if I have the imagination to look. I love to shoot something that's not so obvious. You know, sometimes, as I said before, I'll shoot something tight and let you finish the story. I want to involve you in the work. Because, if it's spelled out completely, you kinda leave it early. So, I wanna challenge you. What are you looking at? In this case you're looking at the south side of a north-facing camel in Rajasthan. For some reason, the Rajasthani people love painting the rumps of their camels in these abstract ways. Here's a Galapagos sea lion just under the surface so the clouds reflected above obscure exactly what you're looking at, but it's there, as is this sea turtle in the Galapagos Islands. I may never have shot it before, but now I'm shooting these things that involve line, color, distortion and ambiguity. You saw that earlier. It doesn't spell it out, but it's one of my favorite shots from Cuba. Or a detail. You don't need to know what the person looks like. So, all these are kinda along the journey. This was the cover of one of my books. You look at it. At first glance, it's a lid on a basket of fish, and then you see the hands. And the hands force you to recalculate what you're looking at. Suddenly you realize the lid of the basket is the hat. There's a human under that. So, I'm involving you. You get there, but it may take you a little bit of time. I'm asking you to participate in looking and experiencing the photos. So, having said all that, where is the volcano in this picture and, Vickey, you know. You've been in a class before. But, Gabriel, do you see a volcano in this shot? Am I putting you on the spot? Somewhere in that shot ... This is, by the way, an iPhone that I'm shooting with. Okay, well let me make it very obvious for you. You got it? You got it? Okay. Who doesn't have the volcano? Or am I just teasin' ya? The volcano come forward. Have to have your imagination. So we call these metaphors. When they look and remind you of something else, it becomes a metaphor. And I love the hunt for these things. I'm in Svalbard this Arctic Islands north of Norway, and it's as I shot it. But when I saw that, I thought, "Mergansers." Mergansers are these water ducks that preen. So, yeah, I shot it that way, but the way I was gonna present it is that way. So, it's an abstraction of birds preening, bending over and ... okay. So there's human in those rocks up in Point Lobos. There's humans on those oil drums in Astoria. There's Venus figures on the walls of the bunkers in Astoria. There's human form if you care to look. There's Olympic divers in those torn posters. I shot this because I like the lines, but it was only after I shot it that I saw a woman's torso. Even as trained as I think I am, I miss most of the shots. That's quite honest. I am missing most of the shots around me, but every year I get better and better and better at seeing. Huddled masses in old logs. Bodies, as you know. Sometimes I gotta stop because I get too excited. (students laugh) So this was just recently in Norway. And people were sayin', "Art, you're spending an inordinate amount of time "photographing those rocks with snow." I said, "I know." (laughs) (students laugh) So, faces, faces everywhere. So, I am tapping into my imagination. It's almost playful. You know, when I was a art teacher, the children in grade school were so creative until they turned seven years old. And then they were trained to draw within the lines. You've heard this before? It is extraordinarily true. So tryin' to rediscover your imagination is part of the process. You think you're alone in that forest? No, there's things out there waiting, watching. They're everywhere if you have the imagination to look. I photographed this in Buenos Aires and when I was driving by, it looked like Jesus. Now I can't re-see Jesus anymore. But remember, 15, 20 years ago, 20,000 Catholics showed up on some stained wall. Spiders in the forest. You know The Scream? There's The Scream. (students laugh) Okay, so that's kind of, almost childish? But the point is serious. Yeah, looking for faces isn't gonna elevate your work into being fine art, but the more you can connect, and I'm connecting with these famous artists. Like the famous Wave I saw in these frozen trees in Finland last month. If I see something that reminds me it's not unlike those patterns in the bubbles on the beach. If I can see it and I can imagine some other work, then it reveals itself to me. Torn paper becomes The Wave. A little geyser basin detail, maybe two feet across, looks like an aerial over the Himalayas. Stained walls in Svalbard, Norway become landscapes. And why not? If I call it a landscape and I frame it as such, why is that not a landscape or this a landscape? These are imaginary landscapes. If you've ever been in the Amazon as I have, there's tendrils of steam and mist coming up out of the moist forest. Not unlike these columns that are really stained paper in Hilo, Hawaii. So, Hawaii and the stained paper set me out on a journey to find imaginary landscapes. I could visualize a book I've never done on imaginary landscapes with Haiku and poetry, the Karst mountains of China. The inverted waterfalls in Utah suddenly look like those Karst Mountains. The kind that I studied in art school 40 years ago. And those paintings by the sumi brush artists, and the real mountains themselves, taken years ago. But there they are again, in a metal door in Havana, Cuba, waiting to be discovered. Mountains upon mountains. Imaginary landscapes. Wouldn't that be a cool book? Imaginary landscapes rather than the shots of Mesa art or Grand Tetons for the hundred thousandth time? All locked up in a abalone shell. Or in a harbor in Borneo where gas was mixing with seawater. It suddenly had this rainbow of water and color. Or the rocks on Point Lobos were Edward Weston and Ansel Adams made famous with their large-format cameras. Suddenly you see mountains and rivers, planets ... Yeah, there's a lot to be out there. There are auroras, not unlike the auroras that I photographed last week in Norway, or waterfalls coming out of the Tepuis in Venezuela. You just have to have that imagination. In eastern Washington, there's this beautiful landscape called the Palouse. Wheat fields and clouds with virga. Virga is water that falls from the sky. Rain that falls from the sky that never reaches the ground, but is right there in some old rusted hulk that I photographed and found. These are new landscapes. They're landscapes for the imagination. And it's everywhere. And it's not necessarily on top of a volcano in the Congo. It could be in that abandoned building down the street. Or on the outskirts of the town you live in just waiting to be discovered. And if you attempt that, you will grow. You will start to see broader subjects than the obvious. And that's the evolution and the journey as an artist and we all should be ascribing to being artists, right? Because we all wanna live longer lives.

Class Description

Photography is more than just a click of the shutter as it can create a statement or evoke a feeling and thus becomes a powerful art form. Internationally acclaimed photographer, artist and educator Art Wolfe joins CreativeLive to teach creative professionals how to see and make art in exciting new ways. 

In this class Art will share:

  • How to maximize photographic opportunities while traveling to unique and beautiful photographic destinations.
  • The best ways to take those special images efficiently. 
  • His favorite technological advances and how he uses them to enhance his creative vision. 
As a special segment, Art will preview how knowledge of art history provides a creative foundation and show students how to apply these principles to enhance their own compositions. He will also include a live critique of student images and, using Adobe® Lightroom® CC, will guide students through the editing process to transform the images into stronger artistic statements.



Thank you, Art Wolfe and Creative Live for this outstanding and astounding invitation to open my eyes and mind to a new way of thinking based on classic elements of design. This set of video lectures is a rich feast for the brain and heart willing to consider change. Art explains the elements of design such as texture, line, etc., and then shows how he has applied those basic principles. He explores metaphor, ambiguity, graphic design and negative/positive space--all with eye-popping examples. Wolfe takes us through the galleries of the Impressionists, Abstractionists, and Pop Artists to show how visiting our local art museums with a photographers eye can teach us to see in new ways. I love the way he shows, for example, a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollack or a Hokusai painting and then segues beautifully into examples of his own work inspired by those greats. Never does Art lose sight of the mission he has in this series, which is to inspire serious-hearted photographers to rise to new visual heights in their own work. He has a way of seeming to say, "Look. If I can do it, you can do it. Here are my secrets--let me break them down for you." To me, it was a privilege to take this class--my brain is exploding, and I'm itching to get out and shoot! Thank you so much, Art Wolfe and the Creative Live team--you are both amazing! Sandy Brown Jensen Eugene, Oregon

JIll C.

After watching Art Wolfe's presentation for just a short while, I have an almost irresistible urge to pick up my camera and get out into the world to look for the abstracts that can make stunning images. His body of work is simply stunning, and his verbal patter is mesmerizing. He proposes to find beauty in decay, and to train our eyes to see what others overlook. This is not a technical class, and there is no discussion of gear or camera settings. I found it very inspiring, and his ideas will surely help me to overcome the lethargy that has overcome my photography hobby.


Wonderful lecture with tips and tricks of how he shoots, what gear he uses, suggestions for comp, and samples of how he processes a RAW file in LR. Art was just as awesome as I had heard he was in person. I'm a professional photographer and definitely came away with many new tips, perspectives and inspiration to see your image differently and to look closer at the less obvious scene. Thank you Art for sharing your talent, its so very much appreciated!!