The theme of my work is everyday life in Europe, and my paintings are based on candid travel photos. When I travel, my main goal is to get enough images to work from over the next year. I'm always thinking about what locations and situations will give me the best chance to capture something wonderful. Then it's a matter of luck, intuition, and patience.
The Roman philosopher Seneca said that "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity". Well, I work to be as lucky as possible with my photos! Chris and I visit lots of locations like parks and cafés that might work well. And I make sure my camera is at hand as we sightsee so I can quickly photograph anything I notice. Sometimes it's best to just sit in a likely spot waiting for people to compose themselves in an interesting way. But this requires patience, which is not my strong suit.
On our last vacation we traveled with a tour group part of the time. I had told my fellow travelers that I was an artist and that I painted from my photos. After they noticed me lagging behind the group (or running in front) to get photos of something, they asked what I felt made a good subject. I said that I was looking for "attractive people, doing interesting things, in a beautiful setting, in the perfect light." Which NEVER happens. I never get all four things at once. But if I can get two or three of these I can make it work.
I do have certain themes I like to revisit. I'm drawn to café scenes, waiters in uniform, people with hats, red cars and scooters, bicycles, beaches, umbrellas, and people experiencing something wonderful together. I'm always on the lookout for these as we spend our day sightseeing. If I keep my eyes open and don't rush I'll frequently notice something that will become a great shot. Also, Chris knows my themes and is great at spotting potential subjects for me.
Sometimes I know right away when I take a photo that it's a winner, but often it's not until I comb through my photos later that I figure out what will work and where I can combine photos to tell a compelling story.
Once I've located my prey (ahem, subject) I use my telephoto lens to get the photo without being spotted. I try hard to not be intrusive because I know that Europeans consider it rude to take someone's photo without their permission.
I understand this, and in general I agree with them. But for my work it's essential that my subjects don't realize they are being photographed or they might become self-conscious and my photos would loose their natural feel. What I can't explain at the time is that the people in my paintings are never recognizable, because I paint very loose, generic features.
So that's why I use a very small camera with a longer than normal zoom lens, stand far away and be as unobtrusive as possible. It's kind of like working undercover! :-)
Next month: How I Compose My Paintings From My Photos