Monday, May 15, 2023

Guest Post: Photography, by Jonathan Montgomery Pollock

Note from Amelia: Jonathan and I have been married for lucky seven years this month (May 8!) and I asked him to be my guest writer. Jonathan is a man of many talents: musical, photographic, and he's the alchemist behind the divine scents and sensations at Amelia's DragonGoddess Boutique. Here he shares a little more about his creative process as a photographer. Jonathan's beautiful photography can be experienced through our Pathways Notecards (Set of Five), with some of the featured images from that collection shared below. Currently, his music can be experienced at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago exhibit:

Electric glow buds in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Jonathan Montgomery Pollock.
While scrolling through thousands of thumbnails in order to pick a few of my favorite photographs to share on Amelia's blog, I tried to pick ones I could write something about. I recently helped build an immersive projected art installation at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum that features the nature photography of Mike MacDonald. In addition to being a brilliant photographer, he is also great at talking about his work. His presentations are poetic narratives that extol the majesty of urban nature, and I bet he can tell you the story behind every one of his photographs. When I finally picked a few to share, I struggled to verbalize reasons why they are particularly meaningful to me. I will instead try to articulate my creative process.

For me, photography is very Zen. I'm usually "zoned out" and operating in the periphery of my conscious awareness, working intuitively, and shooting almost indiscriminately. Setting the shutter speed, lens aperture, and ISO are conscious and volitional acts, but once I make those technical choices, I commit to them and don't think about working the camera again.

Prairie path near Horseshoe Mound Preserve in Galena, Illinois.
Photo by Jonathan Montgomery Pollock.
When I start shooting, I quickly become aware of the rhythm of my breathing. I don't use a tripod, and I use a wide-angle lens that doesn't let much light in, so I need to be very still. I usually press the shutter button right between inhaling and exhaling, taking a single shot at every interval. Once that rhythm is set, most of the actual compositional work is done by my subconscious. Form, lighting, color, rhythm, texture, depth, contrast, and space are being assessed below the level of my conscious awareness. When the shoot is over, I go through the entire batch one time fairly quickly, jotting down the file names of only the photos that induce an immediate emotional response. Usually, I end up with between two and ten keepers after a full day of shooting. Since I'm only partially "there" while shooting, I get to feel like an observer when I look at my own work, which is pretty cool.

I take my best photos when Amelia and I are on our adventures, visiting cool places. That's a big part of my formula for success: if you go to interesting places, you'll end up with interesting photos. The other part is to just start shooting—and keep on shooting!

Haunted Willow Creek Farm in Shannon, Illinois.
Photo by Jonathan Montgomery Pollock.

Jonathan Montgomery Pollock is an independent recording engineer, photographer, guitarist, botanical perfumer, and museum exhibits specialist based in Chicago. He is, of course, also my partner in life and crime.

"Photography" (essay and photos), copyright 2023 Jonathan Montgomery Pollock