The following is a guest post by Jayne Marek, whose photo “Bright Kelp Cosmos” appeared on the cover of issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.
Lying face-down on the dock, I stared into a shallow pond edged with ice. It was February. The surface of the water reflected low winter light. Underneath, plants, leaves, sticks, stones, and bubbles created multiple layers of interest; there were even insects. I hung onto my camera—no dunking!—and tried to capture this complexity.
I was at an artist’s retreat in a remote location, with plenty of solitude to think, write, and take pictures. Back in my room, I sat down with my laptop to consider the pictures I’d taken. It was one thing to adjust exposure to emphasize clouds, shadows, and landforms; it was another to coax depth and definition out of a photo with limited lighting. But I wanted to try a particular tactic. A family friend had told me how he arrived at an abstract image after photographing a stream: he repeatedly cropped and adjusted one picture until a shape emerged that he hadn’t fully noticed.
Simple as it was, that process of discovery seized my imagination. I realized that I could train myself to see designs that an initial glance might miss. And I remembered being intrigued by designs in some of my husband’s photographs—angles and shapes that I had overlooked, say in the green geometry of topiary at a French château, or a boat’s sail almost intersecting a distant sloped roof. I wondered what additional imagery I could find in my shots of the pond.
Photo editors at the time had limited capabilities, and I have never learned any professional programs to engineer sophisticated changes or overlays. Still, with patience, I began to see unexpected colors emerge from the dim subject matter. Sticks and leaves could become abstract masses if I played with overexposure or different sequences of contrast and tone. Snowflakes on ice could be tweaked to resemble constellations. An underwater stub suddenly glowed yellow, a rock’s gnarled heart shone blue.
Ever since, I have learned to ask what else any photograph might reveal. Even the most unpromising might be persuaded to show colors or patterns that break free of simple representation. Light is a trickster, as is water. When I shoot into bodies of water, I know I will always be surprised by some of the results. My cover for Typehouse #21 began with what appear to be drab fronds of kelp and sea lettuce in a tidepool; I was delighted when my experiments brought out shining blue and green shapes, thin blue tracings, red accents, and flecks of dust like stars.
This is why we create art—to surprise ourselves most of all. We write, paint, sculpt, collage, compose, dance to make something out of our inescapable solitude. Now that we are coming out of a year of enforced separation, I appreciate the reminder that our solitary times can push us, sometimes, to flourish.
Jayne Marek has provided color cover art for Typehouse, Chestnut Review, Silk Road, Bombay Gin, Amsterdam Quarterly’s 2018 Yearbook, The Bend, and her recent poetry books In and Out of Rough Water (2017), The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling (2018), and Dusk-Voiced (2021). Her writings and art photos appear in One, Eclectica, Salamander, QWERTY, Folio, Gulf Stream, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Grub Street, Spillway, The Cortland Review, The Lake, Bellevue Literary Review, Camas, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere. Instagram: @jayne.s.world