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.