“What Remains Behind the Lens”
by Don Gregorio Antón
I have been asked to write down “10 Tips For Becoming A Better Photographer”. I am honored that such a question would be asked of me, but since I know very little of what could make your images better, I can only share what I use to make my own. You see, I believe there is a plane of focus that we exist upon as photographers. It can be as sharp as a razor, slicing through such things as truth and consequence, severing and revealing various forms of meaning and purpose. Yet all things sharp are not meant to be in focus. That which blurs perception often permits us to see more clearly those details that exist on the edge of memory, where focus is not determined by clarity but by the emotions it creates. There, amidst these levels of refinement, a visual range of understanding exists based upon the understanding the artist has of themselves.
So I offer you these suggestions, not for the purpose of achieving an objective, but by offering something that may help you in understanding your interest in seeing, and the reverence necessary to respect its uniqueness.
What ultimately matters is the distance that separates you from yourself, from the things you wish to see, and from the nature of your ideas. It sounds naive, but distance creates dismissal. Over time it amasses a tremendous amount of strength that provides common excuses for making one less aware. It restricts intimacy, safe guards the vulnerable, and ultimately denies what is desired most, depth. In so many ways, it often assumes untested assumptions, keeping us removed from emotion and purpose. Before you know it, it creates a vantage point that places one at a safe distance from anything, from subject and meaning, from depth and mobility. Here is where distance denies freedom, where walls are constructed to separate you from people or experience, and ultimately from what you may learn from any of them. Any wall, no matter how strong it may be, denies access to either side.
suggestion - Try measuring the distances you keep. See if there is some correlation between why they exist, and what they have prevented from happening. There is no mystery that does not require a part of you to unfold. For this, change is necessary in choosing ones direction, and choice can only be embraced by observing the enduring elements of experience. So, test the currents of experience that flow in and around you. If you do you will find that any of them will lead you to what is most important for your work to exist. It is difficult to embrace anything if everything is kept at arms length.
There is nothing worse than thinking that you are not suppose to be where you are. It creates a certain anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, that you are not getting what you were meant to have, or missing out on what others find so easy to achieve. For some, it forces us to make art that looks like art, to copy the well worn path of acceptability. Because of this, many of us became impatient from the lack of patience shown us by others. We sped up our existence so as not to be left behind, never seeing what was left behind. And what was once a personal sense of time became a converted sense of acceptance, that time should be the same for us all. From this, life forms delusion in how we assume outcomes and demand achievements. Believe me, you are not alone in this. It has never really been a topic of study, or an element of technique. Patience is the only gift you can give yourself.
suggestion - Know that patience does not demand product, but process. It permits reflection upon those surfaces that require your understanding to refine their meaning. It forms upon the edges that others miss. It allows time to sustain oneself beyond learned limitations, and clearly defines the knowledge necessary to see. In this, patience allows you to learn from anything and everyone. As in anything, do not assume that it will give you any more than what you are willing to give.
Here is where we fail most, by not recognizing the rudimentary intelligence we all possess. Your knowledge, regardless of intelligence, is an essential element of discovery. It has a wisdom and truth that is not defined by what is right and wrong, but by what is felt and acknowledged in feeling anything. To devalue ones knowledge eliminates the necessary component in understanding how and why we approach anything. Its existence depends on adding to it, in nurturing its ability of exposing itself, and in the possibilities of sharing that self with others. It is one unit amongst many that when in play, sets life into motion, allows things to happen, and permits ownership of a world that cannot function without you.
suggestion - Try not to limit yourself to what is comfortable and easy. Knowledge cannot afford a mind that is not pliable or capable of understanding change. Change allows permission, and your knowledge will have greater access to your world if you give it the room it needs to grow and the respect it deserves. The first time you do not see the importance of its value, will be the beginning of seeing less. If you value your knowledge and its importance to your vision, you will not deny other’s theirs.
I don’t believe we listen very well, and since listening is such a vital part of seeing, we often do not consider it as a descriptive tool. Why? For a lot of reasons. Most of them circulate around believing that absolutes exist. But if you are careful, you can hear the sounds of things less audible. It comes off the surface of experience, it echoes off faces, booms off structures, and resonates from vast distances of belief. If one listens carefully, you can hear it shout in what we create, how it whispers and pleads in the details of expression. Here, there is room for taking in more than what is taught in pursuing what is beyond the visible spectrum. With it you will hear voices that many more will deny, you will define meaning, sense inspiration, and see that ultimately limitations do not exist. If you listen carefully enough you will be able to interpret the voices you hear. You will speak upon their behalf of their brilliance and sorrows, their loss and value. Those voices that have often stood in the shadows might step into a brighter light. If you permit this for yourself, you will allow it for the rest of us as well.
suggestion - Slow down, try to be still. See at what point you become frustrated, or disinterested in what is in and around you. It is usually then when you listen less to what is most important. You’ll see it happen. Soon your vision will have less to do with what you and had in mind, and what you had hoped to see. You will find less of a reason to pick up your camera. It won’t mean that you have lost what you own, it will just indicate that you’ve misplaced where you put it. Listening requires a tremendous amount of commitment, and it takes great care to listen well. And what will you be listening for? The voice of reason, the sound of your own unique self, those details that locate your position and its importance in your world. To do this is to merely become familiar with the sound and tenor of your own voice.
five - FEAR
Fear does not always lead to failure, if you are careful. At times it may be the best resource for understanding why it exists. Really. Fear reveals assumptions. It defines how we compare, believe, and see ourselves in relationship to others. It is a choice in how much we are willing to accept our thoughts about its nature. You see, most of us were introduced to fear because we learned failing first. For many, we devised our self worth in front of those who would praise or dismiss us. We would weigh their judgment of our abilities and then process our own, thinking only as far as we were allowed. Soon we began to misinterpret out strengths, outthink our sensitivity, and undervalue the worth of our thoughts. Fear’s job has always been to separate you from yourself. Your job is to bring together those things that should never have been separated from what makes you stronger.
suggestion - Try not to be afraid of fear. Rather, be more afraid of not knowing it, and how it affects you. Use it, as it has always used you by not respecting how it held its sense of you, by understanding its shape, and how it was formed. It can be made into a useful tool if you are willing to understand what it has always been trying to teach you. What is that? That it has always been a product of your mind, a doorway that must be passed in order to go beyond. Here is where your vision comes in. Where it is possible to envision such things that have stood in your way. From this, there is no lack of subject matter, no limit to the images that might free you from its presence. But just know this, that fearless images make others fearful. Most will not wish to follow you into a deeper darkness than their own. They will see it as threatening, a reminder of issues they have put off themselves. Do not assume who may follow you, rather see your chance to lead yourself where only you may go. It is not the audience, but your attention that makes it necessary to see.
Without a doubt, the majority of us usually need a measure of certainty to do just about anything. We expect a level of achievement that assumes success when we take a class, pay for a workshop, or participate in a portfolio review. We want to hear what we are doing right, be certain that it is leading somewhere, and be seen as an equal to others. So I will say this at the risk of alienating you now, I believe our preoccupation with certainty makes us inflexible. Hmm...yes. I am sorry if I have offended you, but there are very few things that are certain about making art, and I find that what usually gets in the way of our imagery is our certainties about it. In doing so we limit our attention to whom and where we believe answers should exist. We rely on others accounts of achievement and notoriety to pave a path of certainty for ourselves, never taking into account that the best answers are to the best questions you are able to ask yourself.
suggestion - There is nothing more rigid than a mind inflexible to change. Rules of certainty find comfort in themselves, but when freedom is allowed in places once cordoned off from expression, the perfectionist stumbles, the formula fails, and old structures shift. There, amongst a more pliable sense of wonder, an adjustable response is created that does not answer to theory but practice in initiating a new response to old understandings. For this, perfection is not the answer that certainty proposes, but rather, flexibility creates the catalyst necessary to let things happen so that other things may begin.
seven - LANGUAGE
This is a hard one, because much of our visual language is fashioned after others. It was assembled by teacher and friend, by what we believe in, and what we hate. So much of it was created by how we thought we should see, and in turn, how we would then be seen. A visible language often manifests misunderstandings for the simple reason that it is ineligible to those who cannot read it. Why is that? Well let me ask you, do you remember at any one point in school when you were tested on personal courage? You see a visual language depends on how courageous you are to make what is invisible visible. This is not easy, as it means taking a chance in the way you visually pronounce yourself, and how you create that perceptible threshold for others to see. I believe it is one of the most difficult things to learn and the greatest solitary act to perform.
suggestion - Do not wait to see what you need to do this. You already have everything necessary to make this happen. Merely unpack those things that belong to you, those memories you’ve carried for so long. Practice pronouncing them visually. Optically annunciate their relationship to you, where they fit in your personal cosmology, your sense of wonder. If you practice this to any degree, you will sense a shift in value in what you will visually have to say.
eight - KINDNESS
There seems to be very little of this going around right now You may think it has nothing to do with photography, but I would have to disagree. Even though it is not something that can be programed into your camera, it is an essential element in seeing. You can clearly see what its absence amongst us has achieved. Children killing children, victims created out of negligence and greed, and the desensitizing of ourselves to each other through a society less aware of its responsibility to itself. You may wonder why I bring this up. Well, I believe that we absorb much more than we are aware of. As visual beings we internalize what is set before us. In turn, it affects our response in what we see and in how we feel about anything. You know this. It is not something new. We were hurt and then we hurt, we were marginalized and then we save those margins for others. This is what sets the world on fire that which ignites those souls nearest you. Kindness cannot be enacted, if not given its action to oneself.
suggestion - I make this with all due respect to you and what you believe in. Please leave space for kindness to occur. Let it happen when you are badgering yourself about your work not being as good as others, or when you last sold a print. Get off your back about when your last show was, or how it was received. Stop condemning those things that come from you. Why? Because we need to parent ourselves better than we do. We need to learn the patience that others would not afford us. You need to find ways of affording yourself enough belief to nurture that part of you that can only function when it is given space to do so. If you are unkind, you will not make time to do what is most important. You will not see how your actions affect those things you love. You will certainly not give yourself a chance to go out and play, and to appreciate the delicate nuance that is often subdued by a cruel and selfish mind. If this happens you will eventually tire and soon abandon what you believed in. There will be less to teach you, less to make special what was once so very memorable. You will poison what you drink and soon abandon it all together. Kindness provides hope, and hope provides possibilities for all those things that still sit waiting for you.
nine - TRUTH
No one can lead you to this. If you believe they can, you will more than likely discover their truth, rather than your own. Your truth is so much more crucial to understand, and that it is why it is so difficult to approach at times. Yet, in it lies those clues that make up the way you see, the way you hold what is essential, the fragile and the rough, and the complexities of how you weave your understanding into them. These are what make up an artists voice, and how their origins can be traced to every detail that created them. Here, lies are tangled in truth, weaknesses are imagined as strengths, and opposites attract with such force that they spin off and reform your reality. The question is this reality, and how it may be of use to you in understanding it. This takes practice to become familiarized in how your truth responds when it it is questioned. For some it quickly runs away, makes excuses, or changes shape. It is often threatened when approached, not for what it holds, but from it not being regularly consulted about its state of being. Like any of us, we know less of what little we use.
suggestion - So here is where you can approach an old issue with a new perspective. If not, you will risk the same corners you normally find yourself in when asking the difficult questions that have provided more doubt than answers. It all has to do with something that many of us have a hard time with, and that is being honest.  Really, honesty. If ever I see students suffer the most it is often in what they become when trying to achieve what others demand of them. They live other peoples lives, believe in others beliefs, and eventually convince themselves that someone else knows what is best for them. Honesty is an invitation to do something different. It proposes that you have a conversation with yourself. It helps you with answers that we often keep hidden. It allows you to asses the size and shape of fear, permits you to measure your distance from what you really want. If you are honest you will see how it carefully holds your knowledge, and affords you the flexibility to speak your own language. Your truth lies in this honesty and in how it permits you to be kind enough to yourself to listen to what resounds in your own depth. The only thing truth really needs to be honest is patience. Do this and you will have more to work with.
ten - BELIEF
In the end, belief is only as strong as the believer. It can only function when there is enough of it to create more. It can only breathe in what your presence allows it. Belief is that lone and fragile filament that illuminates everything else. Without it there is little that can be done to motivate or inspire, little to be seen of energy or purpose. It is the one true thing we overlook most that restricts sight all together. But with it, belief sustains us. It makes our solitude not a curse but an a ally in understanding the spaces we occupy. It adds to voice and tenor, refines our focus and creates a depth of field like no other. Belief in itself, is a belief in self, and in the wonder that still exists. It happens if you have not lost yours, if you have not let it get mangled in the elements of doubt and confusion. To approach it you will have to be aware of what it requires to sustain yourself in its presence. To be nimble in your approach, and to not take what you have for granted. Do this to anything, and that thing dies. Do it to belief, and you lose a part of yourself that is never easy to get back.
suggestion - All I can say is to see more where there is little, and be more where there is less. Belief is essential for belief to happen.
In conclusion - I have written a lot here, and I want to thank you for going this far with me. All of it comes from me asking questions that my camera has answered, those things I wish were covered in class. It may sound too emotional for you, but I am certain that you will be able to find the hard and fast suggestions of technique on line. All I can offer is that if you have any questions, or you wish to disagree, that you contact me (dga2@humboldt.edu) and maybe we could figure what it is you are looking for together. Thanks!
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Latinos Behind the Lens #4: Interview with Photographer Don Gregorio Antón
(Now available free on iTunes)
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from diverse directions of practice and purpose.
Increasing the awareness and participation of Latinos in photography.
Latinos Behind the Lens is about the why of photography - the meaning behind why do we take the photographs we take. It is where you can connect with and learn from like-minded photographers. In an attempt to improve your photographic  skill set.  LBTL is most certainly meant for Latino photographers. But it’s also an open platform for the discussion about photography.
The editor, Ramon B. Nuez Jr. is a writer/photographer who has aligned his unique perspective in addressing the evolutionary growth and contributions of Latino photographers. His intention of “building stories one photo at a time” is a testament to his own prolific photographic imagery which embraces an enduring curiosity of an ever expanding vision.
To find out more about the many features presented by Latinos Behind the Lens go to: http://www.latinosbehindthelens.com/