Flock leader is nervous. Calling out, he alerts the flock to watch out for a man crawling toward them. Instantly, the flock obeys his call and walks in single file across the mudflat. They turn, facing into a fifteen mile per hour wind, readying their sixty-inch wings for take-off.
The man stops. Nothing moves, save for pink feathers on the birds backs. The wind calms. Flock leader stops, settles. A female comes nearer to him. Courting, he entwines his neck in hers and they dance. It is mid-February 2012, on Acklins Island.
Belly down in the wet, muddy sand, I feel my heart beat. I am smiling as I squint into the bright Bahamian sun. Twenty- one greater flamingos are just 300 feet away, their bodies making the only color on the mudflat. Above, teal-tinged clouds glide past the sun and their pink hues fade. Sunlight reappears, and they preen their feathers. The sight keeps my heart pounding.
The flock seems at home in this part of the bay in saltwater shallows. Brine food is plentiful here and they are all well-nourished. At sundown, they take flight into the wind to move off to a nearby pond that is protected from the winds by mangroves.
As I gaze at the flock, I’m reminded of the joy of doing photography – the creative process.
Photography is about heart, mind and image.
First, we try to photograph subjects that make us feel something in our hearts. Later on, when we edit, we shift from our eyes to our mind’s eye, engaging new ideas and associations.
Weeks later, crafting new flamingo images, I break out a set of software tools to make changes. It is time to change the images, and my mind ponders these questions: Can flamingos be shades other than pink? What happens if I reduce detail? Are there abstract shapes that call forth new ideas within the images?
Setting aside a stretch of time to practice post-processing techniques, the editing process is a series of playful mental exercises. Visual editing is like playing a tune on an instrument. As I train, I improve. As I improve, I improvise.
A photo editing process is the visual equivalent of an auditory music jam session. There are no right or wrong notes. It is O.K. to go out to the edge of thought, to an uncomfortable place, to let go and to play in a different key. As my fingers tap the software interfaces, I find my initial impressions of the flamingos changing and new images emerging. Preconceived ideas of what a flamingo should look like vanish. From start to finish, photographing the flamingos propels me beyond eye and camera to heart, mind and image.
by Jim Austin
All text and photos: © 2012 Jim Austin. All rights reserved.