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Editing in the mind

EditingmindThe mind should be the artist’s first lens, writes Markosul.



11 June 2011

I recently received a wonderful writing lesson from a former Reuters photographer and fellow Braz-Am expat, Gregg Newton.

He said the secret to his success as a photographer was his ability to "edit in the head." Even as technology grew geometrically, he maintained this sense of "editorial storytelling."

We've all become accustomed to using word processors. (When was the last time you used an eraser? Grammar school?). But this "edit in the head" thing keeps informing my work. Drafting will always be essential, but there is something to the "visioneering" of mindful writing – write as if you're speaking clearly through Smith Premier typewriter.

In one particularly poignant picture, Newton was filming the rocket launch of John Glenn (1998). He left the launch field and walked over to Cocoa Beach where children were playing in the surf on boogie boards. The rocket blast, the 10-to-1 count, the thin, white arching cloud of smoke across the atmosphere...and a sublime moment double-trucked in magazines and photography books.

This was pre-digital and he did not have a waterproof camera. Regardless, his internal editorial bid him to jump in the waves and take the shot from the perspective of the children. Ignoring the modulations of the surf and any anxiety about his expensive equipment. Newton "stalked" his angle, clicked perfectly, and came up with perhaps the most timeless and historically relevant picture of the launch.

He also had several $100 in water damage, but it was, in his words "no comparison to the picture."

It tells a story and, he said, needed no "retouching." It was a complete vision. No drafts. No expectation that "photoshop can make it all better." He does not reject the programs, but recognizes that the mind and the aperture of the eyes is the finest tool. Everything else is polish and primping and pimping.

I don't know enough about instagr.am to criticize, but I wonder if it muddles the aperture of the mind's eye. Beautiful images, yes--but there is never a sense of the original. I know my reliance on word processors hasn't necessarily promoted fluency--there's always a chance to cut, paste, rinse, recycle, delete and repeat.

Both crafts (photography and writing) teach us how to see.

Shouldn't the mind be the artist's first lens?

Markosul is the nullius filius of North and South America / the bar sinister of Caliban and Sylvia Plath. He blogs at the panamerican where this article first appeared.

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