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.