Concept and Intuition, Part 1: Prairie Waters

Human endeavours such as works of art, scientific discoveries and product innovations rarely proceed in a straight line.  The final outcome depends on a mix of skill, intellect, intuition, luck, research and analysis.  I see concept in photography arising from the to-ing and fro-ing of intellect and intuition.  

Some concepts arrive in a moment of inspiration.  Photographs motivated by that concept might be brilliant or dull.  The concept evolves or dies.  Something different might emerge from the attempt.

Alternatively, concept can emerge from photographs taken without specific purpose.  The conscious mind becomes aware of patterns observed through intuition.  Having noticed these patterns, a concept may be formed through focused consideration.  It is then further refined by intuition. 

Bringing the conscious mind to play is fraught with peril.  Intuition speaks softly and is easily crushed by over-thinking.  But concept plays a role in putting intuition in the path of opportunity.  A concept might be as broad as carrying a camera during daily activity.  Or it might be more planned, like an excursion to photograph peak colour in the fall.    

In part 1, of what I envision as a three part series, I'm going to discuss the role of concept and intuition in the Prairie Waters photographs.  

The project was sparked by this photograph of Cooking Lake. 

At the Edge, Cooking Lake, 2004

I had photographed Cooking Lake for several years.  Despite not looking radically different, this photograph contained several revelations.  It integrated land and sky into a cohesive composition.  It was more abstract and ambiguous.  It was distilled to just mud, water and sky.  It was epic and completely unremarkable at the same time.

With these concepts in mind, I scoured maps seeking other prairie lakes with similar characteristics.  I found Beaverhill Lake and Bittern Lake.   The following photographs are from my first visits to those lakes.       

Alien Forms, Beaverhill Lake, 2004

Angles, Bittern Lake, 2004

Inspired by the early the results I returned to photograph the lakes again.  I was amazed how different they could be from visit to visit.   Changes in weather, seasons and water levels revealed different moods.  I committed to visiting often to discover these moods.  Sometimes the conditions were unremarkable but I always enjoyed my visits.

Stained, Bittern Lake, 2004

Sacred Circle, Cooking Lake, 2004

Eruption, Beaverhill Lake, 2004

The onset of winter brought even more radical transformations.  

Crack In the Ice, Cooking Lake, 2004

Right, Cooking Lake, 2004

When I was at a location intuition took over.  The more surprised I was the more viscerally I responded.  To avoid pre-conceptions and trying to repeat past successes, I made a rule not to visit the same location twice in a row.  I chose my destination randomly or on a hunch. 

So, in the case of Prairie Waters a single photograph inspired a concept.  That concept guided research.  The resulting photographs motivated further exploration and a deep engagement with the concept and places.

In Part 2, I discuss the role of concept and intuition in the Prairie Modern project.

Last Light, Bittern Lake, 2004