In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
This famous Zen proverb means openness and spontaneity often lead to new insights, but accumulated knowledge and practice can blind one to them.
Transposed to the world of photography, the amateur’s eye, one might say, sees endless pictorial possibilities, while the professional’s eye is often blinkered by preconceived ideas of what makes a “good” picture.
So it is with photographers Denise Weldon and Tom Epperson’s “Works”—an exhibit of still lifes for the photography section of Art Fair Philippines 2019, which opens today, Feb. 22, at The Link Carpark in Makati.
Weldon and Epperson have been professional photographers working mainly in advertising and editorial photography.
Weldon spent years as a commercial photographer in Hong Kong before moving to the Philippines. Epperson has lived and worked in the country since 1985, and made a name for himself shooting covers for glossy magazines such as Pulp and high-profile ad campaigns for San Miguel and Nike.
Both have given up commercial photography to focus on their personal work, and, in the process, rediscovered the initial spark that drew them to the camera in the first place.
“This was a departure not only from what I normally show, but from the way I usually approach photography,” says Epperson, who calls his collection “ec.lec.tic.”
“I didn’t put any thought into what to photograph. I had no agenda. I just had fun with the camera, the way I used to do when I was just starting out in photography. It just happened organically. But when I got back and started to look at the images, I realized, ‘Hey, this is nice work!’”
During his travels, Epperson turns his camera on the mundane—flotsam on a beach, plant life in a dried-up riverbed, the silhouette of a flower—things we look at every day but don’t really see.
Of course, there’s no way to unlearn decades of experience composing elements within a frame, seeing both foreground and background, mentally calculating contrast ratios.
Even shooting freely and spontaneously, skills honed through years of repetition kick in, which is what separates Tom Epperson’s photographs from Tom, Dick and Harry’s Instagram posts.
For Weldon, the camera has been a helpful tool in her personal search for the essential truths.
“My commercial work and personal work are intertwined in different ways,” says Weldon. “Both are about connectivity, dialogues and relationships… My personal work is more fluid and intuitive, and the outcome is for my pleasure.”
Weldon’s specialty is natura viva e natura morta—nature in the process of living and dying. These are still lifes, usually in extreme close-up: a mushroom growing moldy; a banana plant’s “heart”; the impression a sleeper leaves on the bed.
“Each of us moves through and captures life in a way that is unique to us,” she says. “It’s really about witnessing life and life force in forms. I observe their transformation, or cyclical dance if you will, and it leaves me in wonder and awe, and I love being in that state. The unfolding is magical.”
She adds: “I like to collect, sleuth, scavenge and explore things from markets, woods and anywhere, really. The objects, or objets, can be fresh and beautiful, dried and divine in design, or quirky and curious. They find their way into our home and then occupy space in our daily lives. There is a story associated with the object—where was it discovered, what was unusual about it, or if were you aware that its color or shape changed in a certain way over time, the way things felt, or the way the light moved.”
Epperson and Weldon are also acutely aware of the dilemma facing the photographer in the age of Instagram: how to compel attention when everyone with a cell phone is a photographer. What is the value of the single image when we are flooded with images every time we log on to the internet, or drive through Edsa?
“Photographers have a knack for seeing things we don’t normally see,” says Epperson. “I don’t wait for projects, I just start things. I started a series on guys who vape, I also started shooting parents who walk around with babies in chest harnesses. Shooting complete strangers. I like people with character—when you look at them they don’t fit into what society considers the norm. It’s like going back to being a young kid. I’m more excited now than when I started out 40 years ago.”
Says Weldon: “I love the wise words of my Filipino poet and sage friend Butch Santos, ‘Don’t rush the duwende.’ And I add, ‘And always create space.’ When you make space, discovery can happen at any time. Space is where the creative expressions of dance, song, words, and art happen. Space is like a studio, a place where you create, study, are inspired and intrigued. It happens with oneself, and with kindred spirits and souls.”
“Works” is part of Art Fair Philippines’ push to promote photography as fine art. For this year’s fair, Weldon and Epperson share space with fellow photographers Neal Oshima, MM Yu, and Silverlens Gallery. They expressed hope that this augurs well for Philippine art photography.
“While Philippine collectors are decades behind Europe and the US in the appreciation and collection of photography, I am optimistic that there is a change in tide,” says Weldon. “I wish that more Philippine and Asian art collectors broaden their perspectives and understanding of photography as a creative medium and a form of artistic expression, and that we see more photography gracing homes, corporations and public spaces soon.”
“Works” by Denise Weldon and Tom Epperson, Level 5, Art Fair Philippines 2019, Feb. 22- 24, The Link Carpark, Ayala Center, Makati City