Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Zen of Palm Fronds

On a recent grip to Joshua Tree National Park we came across a wonderful oasis that was sort of off the beaten path.

There were a number of palm trees that had not had their fronds trimmed and I found these much more interesting than the usual well-trimmed palm.

One of the finest photography publication today is a magazine called Lenswork. Their print quality is uncompromising.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the magazine is that all of the images are printed in a brown tonality that is close to sepia. I suspect that this is done because of the difficulty of printing a truly neutral black and white image. Whatever the reason, the reproductions are beautifully executed.

I was attempting to create a tonality that was close to that which Lenswork uses. In doing so I tried the above image to see how it would look. To wit, it came alive.

A great image may be a destination, but the journey to get there can sure be interesting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Photographers Met

One of the great things about being at the Torpedo Factory Art Center is the folks you get to meet and with whom you get to visit.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting two photographers who were new to me and see the new website of a dear friend and terrific photographer.

At the Torpedo Factory we frequently get school groups visiting because this is one place where they can actually talk to working artists and see them at work. For some groups this is just a day to be out of school but every now and then we get a group of students who really want to visit with us, pick our brains, and get involved with what we are doing.

One such student was Hannah Brookhart. Hannah was very engaging and a terrific photographer. I wish I had had her kind of talent when I was in high school. You can check out her work at her site.

I also met a wonderful photographer, Tre, whose work is some of the most creative I've seen in a long time. You can check out her very modern, creative work here.

Lastly, I'd like to recommend the website of a personal friend, Christine Bernstein. Christine is a wonderful photographer and has traveled the world taking beautiful pictures. Her landscapes are exceptional.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Web Update

If there's anything more boring than updating your website I don't know what it is. There's only one thing that can go right and about a thousand things that can go wrong. It's kind of a constant back and forth between the website and Dreamweaver to catch/correct what you didn't discover when you were doing the update.

Anyhow, I finally did an update to my website by adding three new galleries, XIII, XIV, and XV. Please check them out when you have a chance at

Monday, November 15, 2010

Art Speak

In discussing my work recently I stated that I thought the quasi-innovative monochromatic schema represented in my early work had been replaced by my more spontaneous totemic tonality to bring my current vision more in keeping with the current proto-evocative gestural illusionism so rampant in the current art market. I think in the next few years we will see progression to the personal archaistic simultaneity so rejected by current art critics with their limited vision so attuned to the primitive plastic iconography.

This was too good to pass up. A friend gave me an article by Donald Holden in which he created a Chinese Menu for Art Lovers consisting of three columns. You can pick a word from each column and generate totally unintelligible phrases that sound like you know what you are talking about in the art world.

In keeping with the theme, the above pictures of dead, rotten, smelly, decaying fish on the shores of the Salton Sea have been transformed into into the patterned perceptual construction so evident in today's art scene. ;-)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Problems with Firefox

If any of you are using Firefox as your web browser you may have trouble posting comments to the blog. For some reason other browsers seem to work fine but Firefox does not. This problem has been known for sometime but apparently neither blogger or Mozilla seems able/willing to fix it.

Conceptual Art

Conceptual art is so "in" these days. This is art created as the end product of the concept. The concept is everything. The resulting manifestation is almost irrelevant. If you want some really good "art speak" on the subject check out Wikipedia.

It must be difficult to hang a concept on the wall!

A lot of it looks like rejects around which a justification for their existence is created. I often suspect that the "concept" came after-the-fact, not before.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Who Will be Remembered?

I drifted into an interesting discussion with my fellow artists at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The conversation revolved around who, among photographers living today, will be remembered in a hundred years. That leaves out most of the 20th century's great names.

I'd be very interested in who you think will be remembered and why.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I recently heard an interview with a symphony conductor who said music was just notes on paper until someone realized the potential of the score. This reminded me of Ansel Adam's famous quote, "the negative is the score and the print is the performance."

One of the great impediments to becoming a good photographer, as opposed to a snap shooter, is being able to look at an image and develop or understand its potential. Furthermore, it's one thing to be able to recognize the potential and another to be able to execute. This is where the marriage of vision and craft come together. Recognition without the craft to execute or craft with no vision is worthless. It takes both to create a great image.

For the most part, craft can be learned. Vision has to be developed and nurtured.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Beautiful Picture

What are we to do with the "pretty picture?" Is pretty enough to sustain a long-term relationship?

I often think art critics (Critics with a capital "C") write more for what their peers will think of their reviews than the public. In general they seem to always be thinking of heavy issues like influences, urban grit, importance (please, it's a painting, not brain surgery), visionary statements, the meaning of existence, or why is there anything rather than nothing.

One wonders if they ever just enjoy the art and don't try to evaluate and analyze the image. Whatever happened to statements like, "Artist X creates really beautiful picture and I just enjoy looking at them."

This brings me to the subject of the pretty picture. It's always seemed to me that we tend to put down the "pretty picture" because pretty is not enough. Beauty alone doesn't appear to be sufficient to justify critical consideration. Pretty just doesn't seem to have substance or gravitas.

I was recently in Chincoteague, Virginia (heat, horses, and mosquitoes) for about a week. I've been going there off and on for over 40 years. I love the area, not for photography, but for what it does for my soul.

Every time I go, I photograph. I think it's safe to say that I've never taken a picture there that I felt really expressed my personal vision, whatever that is. Maybe when I go to Chincoteague my personal vision takes a vacation too, but that's a topic for another time.

However, one evening we were driving around the wildlife loop and this fantastic cloud formation appeared. Braving the mosquitoes, capable of carrying off small cars and horses, I took this picture. It's a beautiful picture but........

Now I'm a little like the dog that chases the car. Once he catches it, what does he do with it? It seems too beautiful to ignore but I don't know what to do with it. This may be part of my integrating the dark side (color) into my vision. If this image made a good black and white I'd print it without a second thought. Somehow being in color, I'm worrying about whether or not this is just a pretty picture and is that sufficient?

Black and white is an instant abstraction. We see the world in color and thus the monochromatic abstraction of an image compels us to view it in a manner inconsistent with our vision. The question then becomes can the image work in color on the basis of the color itself combined with the content of the image? The answer is obviously yes but how does one translate that answer into the evaluation of a beautiful image and how it should be treated photographically?

When someone walks into my studio and comments on the beauty of a black and white image I say "thank you" and don't give it a second thought. If I do give it a second thought it's probably about what a discerning eye they have for great art!

With this image I don't know whether to just enjoy it myself or print it big and put it in my studio along with the black and white landscapes? Perhaps I'm over-thinking it. In Nike parlance, I should just do it!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Color and Coltrane

There is a story about the great jazz musician, John Coltrane, that I think applied to something I am going through.

Over the last year and a half I have been experimenting with extreme color, a total departure from what I have done in the past. I have done virtually no black and white since this started. I've converted some of my digital work to black and white but have not been fulfilled by any of the results.

Supposedly Coltrane was playing one evening when he took his saxophone out of his mouth and started singing. Never in the past had he done this.

His drummer asked him what was going on and why had he done this. He replied something to the effect that there was nothing left in his saxophone.

I am sure I will return to black and white in the future. However, right now, I feel like there is little or no black and white left in my vision. I still firmly believe that black and white is the most expressive photographic medium. The abstraction rendered by black and white invites the viewer into the image in a way that is much more difficult in color.

That said, I am fascinated by the way we interact with color and the way that colors interact with each other. From my association with painters at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, I think they have a much better understanding of color both from their formal training and their experience as painters. They understand color as a visual communication tool.

A number of years ago I took a couple of workshops with Christopher James, one of the most talented artists and teachers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The workshops were on the extended print, i.e. what else was possible other than just making a darkroom print. (Digital imaging wasn't available in those days.) We explored hand-coloring, cyanotypes, ink transfers, etc.

About half the class came to photography from the classical art media such as painting. The other half came from the photography side of the street. It was amazing to me how much more visually advanced were those coming from the non-photography side. That is one of the reasons I have always encouraged my students to look at, enjoy, and critique paintings. It will broaden their vision.

Right now I am enjoying the departure from black and white. I'm having fun with what I am doing. No one but me may like it but it's scratching my itch. My photographer friends think I drank something strange. My painter friends think I'm starting to be a true artist!

Stay tuned... ;-)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lexington, Virginia (A Best-Kept-Secret)

For some time I have wanted to make a few comments about Lexington, Virginia on my blog. I hope that my recommendations don't overwhelm them with tourists and destroy what makes the area so special. (Just kidding.)

I have some very close friends who live in the Lexington area. Several times a year we go to visit them and I have taught several workshops and given programs to the Rockbridge County Camera Club. I am always struck by the beauty of the area , how nice the people are, and how support and love for the arts is so much a part of the community.

It's a small college town with both Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) located there. What's more, when you walk across the campuses students actually smile and say "hello" at W&L and refer to you as Mister or Ma'am if you speak to a cadet from VMI.

It's also the hometown of Cy Twombly and Sally Mann.

The surrounding areas are beautiful! There are many interesting side roads that lead into the nooks and crannies of the landscape, up to the Skyline Drive, and to Goshen Pass. It's beautiful anytime of year.

While you are in the area, you might want to drive on down to Roanoke and see the O. Winston Link Museum. Link, you may remember, photographed the trains with huge lighting setups and a view camera. The entire museum is dedicated to him and his photography.

Equally interesting in Roanoke is the Virginia Transportation Museum. They actually have a train yard where you can go climb on the engines, kick the tires (so to speak), and take pictures of the real thing.

So, if you are looking for a nice getaway that offers a lot of wonderful photographic opportunities try Lexington.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rothko meets Max

I think I must be going back to a 50's or 60's thing with these surrealist creations. It's probably just a phase I'm going though but I seem to be drawn to extreme color these days.

One of my fellow artist commented that this sort of looks like Mark Rothko meets Peter Max.

Comments are welcome.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Never Trade Luck for Skill

Many blog posts ago I commented on how terrific the National Building Museum was. The interior is amazing.

Freud was wrong. Sex is not our strongest drive, the urge to edit is far stronger! Particularly if it is not your own work.

Along that vein, I was exploring how layers blend in Photoshop and needed an image. For reasons totally unknown, I picked one of my images of the interior of the National Building Museum. Yes, there is also an urge to edit your own work also. Nothing is ever as good as it could be.

I was merrily creating new layers and changing the blending options when one came up particularly dark. I wondered what might really be there if it were lightened. To wit, I lightened it and to my surprise this psychedelic neon image appeared on my monitor.

Not content to leave well enough alone (i.e. anything worth doing is worth doing to excess) I started fooling around with the color pallet. Voila! The above image came up.

As any good photographer knows, skill and cunning not withstanding, nothing beats pure dumb luck!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Trashing the Masters

I recently had someone suggest that I start writing about my pictures. So, here we go.

I'm not really sure where the inspiration came from but I had done a series of photographs on dumpsters in Chinatown in DC. They were a little bit dull so I decided to pump the color to see if they would become more interesting. Remember, I'm a guy who has done black and white all his life so this was a big step just shooting in color. I guess I've entered the digital age. But I digress!

Several weeks ago, while driving to my studio at the Torpedo Factory, the idea of putting paintings on the sides of the dumpsters popped into my head and I thought it might be fun to try. Fun is the operative word because if it isn't fun, why do it.

I started looking for interesting images that might lend themselves to "dumpster placement." For some reason, Mona just called out to me. So much for deep introspection, I just did this because I thought it would be fun and I was right. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Great Quote

"Photography is the easiest medium to master and the most difficult to express your vision." Chuck Close in the HBO special "Smash His Camera" about Ron Gallella. WOW!

I like to say the craft is not a substitute for vision.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Several weeks ago a person stuck his head in my studio and asked me if there was such a thing as a bad photograph. I was very tempted to make a snarky comment about I often wondered if there was such a thing as a good photograph, except for my own of course!

However I sensed that it was really a serious question that deserved more than a flippant answer. It was a particularly relevant question considering that I had had several conversations recently with photographers whom I respect about how it was almost impossible to take a technically bad picture these days with the sophistication of the auto-exposure systems built in to the most unsophisticated cameras. By "technically" I mean that the exposure and focus are almost always reasonably correct. Composition and subject matter are a whole different discussion but I'm sure the manufacturers are working on that too. It's probably just a matter of time before cameras will be so automated that a red light will blink in the viewfinder to tell you that the subject is good and well composed. However, I digress!

When people show me their work today one of the first questions I ask them is, "Why did you take this picture?" That usually elicits a pregnant pause because they rarely thought about it.

I think it was Andy Warhol who said that he photographed something to see what it looked like photographed. This is a very legitimate reason. It doesn't have to be profound. It can be as simple as I want to record the day-to-day event of my kids' lives. Or, I'm new to photography and I'm just learning to use my camera and want to take some better pictures.

The second question I like to ask is something like, "What do you hope I will take away from the viewing experience?" This is probably a nicer version of "Why should I care?" This usually brings on another pregnant pause because they rarely, if ever thought about it.

These two questions are loosely related but not interconnected. Why I photograph what I photograph is frequently an internal motivation. What I choose to show to others involves decisions on how and why I wish to share my visual journey and what I want the viewer to experience.

Alexey Brodovitch, the great art director for Harper's Bazaar, said to his photographers, "Astound Me!" He also said if/when you look through the viewfinder and have seen it before, don't click the shutter. On the other hand, Thelonious Monk, the great American jazz pianist and composer said something like first you imitate, then you integrate, and then you innovate. I guess you didn't show it to Alexey until you reached the innovation stage.

I don't have any earth-shaking conclusions other than I wish folks would give a little more consideration to why they photograph what they photograph and even more thought about why their images might be compelling to others. If more photographers gave these questions a little more thought they'd be on their way to being better photographers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Role of Creativity

I am often struck by how critics often equate creativity with good. Being creative simply means doing or expressing something in a manner that is new or different. It doesn't mean that what was created was actually good.

I am frequently asked how I did something. While I have no secrets about how I did something, what always goes through my mind is what difference does it make? If the image works it doesn't matter how I got there. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter how I got there. Tools are tools. They are not a substitute for lack of vision.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Maybe I'm Missing Something

I'm amazed at the number of people who walk into my studio and ask me if I'm the photographer who took the pictures(yes and an understandable question) and if I went to these places? DUH!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Content vs Process

There is probably no art media that is more geeky and nerdy than photography.

I just read a thread on a photography website comparing the technical quality of an image from a $2500 digital camera with that of an $8000 camera. To everyone's amazement, the $8000 camera had a "slightly better" image than the $2500 camera. This observation and conclusion is a major step forward for mankind. Just imagine that you can spend $5500 more and actually get a better technical image! DUH!

If most photographers spent even half as much time worrying about the quality of the content of their images as they do about the process of creating them, they'd be infinitely better photographers. It's not about the process, it's about the image.

If an image works, it doesn't matter how I got there. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter how I got there.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Picasso said, "good artists copy, great artists steal." There is a an equivalent saying for photographers. The difference between a good photographer and a great photographer is frequently editing.

I always tell my photography classes that there are two pieces of equipment that will actually make you a better photographer. One is a tripod and the other is a wastebasket.

If you can only afford one, pick the wastebasket.

Learning to edit is one of the most essential skills a photographer can learn. I think it's a skill unique to the medium. Painters may sketch but they don't paint 500 pictures and then choose one to show. Photographers on the other hand and particularly now in the digital age, may shoot thousands of images but, hopefully, only show a few.

Photographers are notoriously poor editors of their own work. This is understandable since every image we create is wonderful! (Sarcasm!)

Every photographer who wants to improve needs to have folks whose opinions they respect and are good enough friends that they will tell them when a photograph sucks. (Hopefully in a constructive manner.) They also need to develop sufficiently thick skin to take the criticism. Good criticism is one of the finest gifts a photographer can get.

One last comment about the wastebasket. Don't take throwing away your images literally. I only mean it figuratively in the sense of heavily and critically editing your work. The "Delete" button is the devil's playground and I guarantee that sometime in the future you will regret deleting some of your images. Storage is about $80/terabyte and will probably get less over time. Don't delete your images, store them.

And while we are at it, always shoot RAW if your camera permits. You can always convert to JPEG later but you can never recover what you have lost when you shoot in JPEG. Remember storage is cheap.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Digital v.s. Traditional

One of the great debates of the last decade has been the traditional vs digital darkroom.

In the early days of digital imaging, the prints were extremely fugitive and no one who cared about the long term survival of their work printed digitally. The materials were not created to serve that purpose.

We in the digital photography arena owe a great debt of gratitude to Graham Nash (yes, the Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) and Mac Holbert (his tour manager). Nash and Holbert are as responsible as anyone for grasping the potential of the digital media for creating beautiful black and white images and investing the time, money, and effort to modify the equipment and develop the digital workflows that are the precursors of the technology that we have today.

Their greatest contributions may not have been technical but rather their pioneering of digital imaging as legitimate and acceptable fine art media. This did not come easily.

Mac Holbert tells of a photographer who, upon learning that the prints that he thought were the best he had ever seen were printed digitally, spit on him! Fortunately we've come a long way since then.

Another great innovator and pioneer is Jon Cone who developed the concept of using multiple shades of black ink to create a smoother and more nuanced black and white digital prints.

Today, many of the issues with "archival" characteristics have been addressed through the development of pigment inks, improved paper, and the way inks interact with the coating. However there is still a debate going on. Darkroom prints look different from digital prints. Film, with its grain structure, creates a different look and feel than a digitally captured image. Notice I say "different", not better.

For those of us coming out of a traditional darkroom background, this difference is significant. There are times that we would like to photograph with a digital camera but create a print that looks like it was captured on film. I think this is particularly important in landscape photography where a certain amount of tactile detail is necessary. Conversely, I think the smooth look of digitally captured images in the studio for portraits and nudes offers an improvement over film.

Over the years there have been a number of approaches to trying to make digitally captured images look like they were captured on film. Most of the software solutions to adding "grain" to a digital image were awful. The results may have looked OK to someone who never worked in a darkroom but to those of us who have it looked as phony as a $3 bill.

This is a long way of getting to a favorable comment about a Photoshop plugin from Nik, Silver Efex Pro. This is one piece of software that actually creates a realistic grain pattern that looks like film. Not only does it look like film, it allows you to actually select the brand of film you desire. There are many other controls in the software but the creation of realistic grain is sufficient reason to check it out.

No, I have had no contact with Nik and I bought the software with my own money.

For what it's worth, I'm really glad I have both workflows available to me. I'd hate to give up either. We are in the infancy of digital imaging. It's a one way street. It will only become better, faster, and cheaper. Issues that we have today could be solved at 3:00pm next week. On the other hand, it could be 3:00pm ten years from now.

Stay tuned!