Themes. I tend to bristle at them. I always feel like there is an unspoken challenge, that someone is going to feel entitled to interpret my work and decide their opinion is fact without consulting me on the meaning.
I know that’s coming from a long history with this issue as a writer and from my experience as a student (for a taste of what I’m talking about, read this article I recently came across which only confirms what I have been saying for decades – I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems by Sara Holbrook).
But I’m learning to set this problem aside and use themes as a new way to look at my existing work and discover that now is the time to work on those pieces I have set aside to think about later. So often I download my photos to the computer and scroll through them and see stuff that makes me think, “Oh, I love that! But I don’t know what I want to do with it yet. I’ll come back to it later.”
Themes also push me to take pictures of scenes and objects that have been all around me the whole time, but I never took the time to capture. Suddenly, with a theme knocking around in my head, they jump out with much greater urgency.
And so, it was last year when faced with a “Summer” theme. Why summer? I hate summer. I do everything I can to avoid summer. I don’t have any pictures that look like summer because I hate summer and the last thing I want to do is go out and take pictures in the miserable conditions that produce pictures of summer! And I was angry. Fuming, really. Here I am with less than a month to come up with something I would never, ever have to meet a theme I want nothing to do with. But, by God, I am was going to be excluded from one of the very few local shows I have the chance to enter each year by a theme.
After I had my moment and threw my fit, it hit me. The theme is summer! Obviously, from what I said above, I have plenty to say about summer. Plenty of feelings about summer. More than enough to express about that Hellish bane of my existence. Surely, I have plenty of ways to express that visually through my photography, rather than just spewing long rants and generally being unpleasant to be around for several months out of the year.
The challenge? Stop trying to avoid summer and pretend like I’m not going through it again – show people summer. Capture the true essence of summer as I experience it.
The last few summers had been particularly bad. For everyone, not just me. Long, hot, and because of the drought and wildfires, very, very bad. That particular summer was faced with anxiety that had plagued the entire community since the previous summer. We never really got a break. We weren’t having real winters anymore. We weren’t having a few months to breathe easy and not have to worry about fires. Nothing will grow because – no water. Not enough water or food for the animals, both wild and domestic. Anything and everything could burn down at any time. Even if the fire itself doesn’t reach all of us, the choking, smoke-filled air will. The people all around me were very on edge. What’s going to happen this year? Who will lose their homes? Their livelihoods? Their loved ones? Will it be like this forever?