Sunday, December 16, 2012

Orphan Images and the Surreal

The above image is a scene that I came upon in Arizona recently.  It is truly surreal and doesn't look like any of my other images but I really like it.  It's sort of an "orphan image."

I suspect that all photographers have "orphan images" that they really like but don't know what to do with them.  Maybe the answer is just to enjoy them on a personal level and that is enough.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Portfolio Reviews

The above image was taken many years ago in New Hampshire. The reason I took it was because I thought it would make a nice picture to hang on the wall. It had a great line, stormy sky, and the birch trees provided great contrast.

I am frequently asked to review portfolios. I always start out by asking what the photographer was trying to accomplish with the portfolio and what they expect me to take away from the viewing experience. I have yet to have one have an answer to those basic questions.

Closely related to these questions is why did he or she choose to take this picture. The answer doesn't have to be philosophically intense. Maybe it's as simple as I was trying to take a pretty picture to hang on the wall.

If there is no purpose to the portfolio, why are you wasting my time reviewing it. I can tell you what I like and don't like but I have no basis other than my own biases for evaluating your images.

My point is that a portfolio has a purpose. Be prepared to answer the above questions. It will also force you to edit your work. Remember, one of the most important pieces of photographic equipment is the wastebasket. Learn how to use it. (Not literally, but philosophically!)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Native Ground by Rob McDonald

"Toward the Amphitheater"
Rob McDonald

Every now and then we are blessed with really wonderful photography by someone who understands the difference between tools and vision. Such an exhibit is the show currently at the Athenaeum in Alexandria by Rob McDonald, Native Ground.

The above image, "Toward the Amphitheater" from Lillian Smith's home - a camp for girls that she ran with her partner, Paula Snelling in Clayton Georgia is one of many of the exquisite images in the show

These beautiful images are created using very simple, and to some degree primitive photographic tools to express a very sophisticated vision. The images are almost like memories, sufficiently defined to know what they are but not so sharp as to reveal every detail. They leave something for the viewer to interpret. That ambiguity is one of the qualities that make them so compelling.

Go see it!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A great quote

I read a great quote from Books Jensen, the editor and publisher of Lenswork, "A good fine art photograph is one that makes the viewer so aware of the emotional content that the viewer is unaware of the print." I might generalize this beyond photography but I think it really is a great definition.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vision and Visual Literacy

The Mall as Rembrandt might have photographed it.

Several months ago I taught a workshop on techniques one could use when converting a digital color image to black and white. However, as I got into the workshop, what I discovered was that the students were really interested in how I looked at a raw (not RAW as in format) image and decided what to do with it visually to make it into "fine art."

This got me thinking about the old saying that, "if I own a piano I am a person who owns a piano, but it I own a camera I am a photographer." What I realized was, that most folks working in this media, creation of the final image is almost a random walk where they think they will recognize something good when they see it but have little idea where they are going.

While this may be one approach, I have always thought of photography as a backward medium in that we should have some concept of what the image should look like and then use whatever tools are at our disposal and mastery to achieve that image. I recognize that we can see something working that may divert ourselves from our original thought path but ultimately I think we should have a concept in mind before we start on an image.

Chuck Close said something to the effect that photography is the easiest medium to master but the most difficult to express your vision. An artist for whom I have a lot of respect had a saying that craft is the language of the arts. I actually think that craft is the tool of the arts, it is not a substitute for a lack of vision. (I'm tempted to make a snarky comment at this point about all the beautifully crafted boring pictures that are made with a view camera. I'll refrain....)

I'm more and more coming to the conclusion that we teach photography backwards. I think we should teach visual literacy before we teach how to use a camera and lenses. The basics of photography should be taught after we teach how to see, not before.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lexington Rockbridge Studio Tour

The above is a panorama photo that I took this last weekend at the Lexington Rockbridge Studio Tour in Lexington, VA. (LexingtonRockbridgeStudioTour)

I was honored to be asked my good friend Ellen Martin whose studio was on the tour to be one of the guest artists. The other guest artist was Vivian Conly from Lewisburg, WV who does wonderful mosaic pieces.

To say that the open studio tour was a success would be an understatement. Throngs of folks came through the studios and were highly complimentary of the opportunity to see, feel, touch, smell the art. This was a great event that gave people an opportunity to experience art on a more personal level than is usual in a gallery

Also, each studio partnered with a restaurant or bakery to provide food for the folks coming to see the studios.

I'm sure this will be the first of what will be an annual event. A big tip of the hat to all the folks who worked so hard to make it a success.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Orphan Images

The above is what I call an orphan image. I really like it for some reason but it is totally out of character with the other work that I do. I have a number of these images that I've taken over the years and I'm never really sure what to do with them.

Suggestions are welcomed.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Plot Continues to Thicken!

The linked article from PDN details a law suit filed be a collector against Egglestone, et al over the making of additional prints. See the article here.

Several issues are raised. Did William Egglestone violate a contractual agreement or did the collector make unreasonable assumptions about the rarity of what he was buying or what license the photographer had in reproducing his work in the future. I am not familiar with New York law on this subject. What this really start to address is the role of the "limited edition" in photography.

Limited editions came about with print makers where the plate deteriorates over time. Theoretically, the plate is cancelled when it deteriorates to the point where the later prints are distinguishable from the earlier prints. In recognition of this distinction, earlier numbered prints were frequently higher price that those that were pulled earlier, even if one couldn't tell the difference.

The concept of the "limited edition" has crept over into the photography world. One fine art photographer prints, say ten platinum prints, at the same time. All are identical but he prices those that have lower number higher than those print with higher number. As a collector, you have the choice of purchasing a print and paying on the basis or the number. Give me a break!

In the interest of full disclosure, I don't number my prints. As an artist I reserve the right to print what I want, how I want, in whatever size or number without restriction. I tell folks who are interested in one of my prints that they should buy the one they see because there is no guarantee that I will ever print it that way again. Besides paper changes, ink changes, and printer changes to say nothing of my opinion of what the image should look like. The three images above demonstrate how I may modify the same image to create three different images.

Many "limited edition" statements are no narrowly defined that the slightest change constitutes a different edition. I have seen statements that limit the edition to prints of exact dimensions. Any deviation from those dimensions is permitted and becomes a different edition. Sometimes the edition is defined by the paper on which it is printed. I have seen ads for "limited edition" prints where the number printed will be limited to those placing orders for the print before a certain date.

The message here is not for those who create limited editions but rather those who purchase them. Understand what you are buying.

In this specific case, it's possible that the collector's prints will actually appreciate since they are dye transfer prints. Dye transfer prints are rare and no longer produced.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Jobs Effect

This photograph has nothing to do with this post. I simply liked the image.

Maybe it's just that I am reading the biography of Steve Jobs or maybe it's a review of a high-end DLSR that I've recently read. I find my self asking, "what kind of a camera would Steve Jobs design?"

I sort of think we have lost sight of what a camera is supposed to do, that is take a picture and do it well. For the most part, what else it can do is secondary. Higher-end cameras today seem to be designed to do all things for all people.

Based on the review I read recently, you would not know that the camera was to take a still picture until about 3/4 of the way through the review. I heard about the terrific video capability, low noise at ISO 100,000+, etc. It wasn't until much later in the article that I found out it could actually take a good picture. A good picture is inevitably demonstrated by someones jpeg. Trust me, you can make a jpeg from a cheap point-and-shoot look good on a monitor.

I want to be able to download a raw file and process it myself! What's more, I want a variety of raw files showing a number of different subjects so that I can evaluate the camera myself.

I want to say to those doing reviews, first take a picture, at a low ISO, on a tripod with a prime lens at optimum aperture. In other words, show me an example of the best image the camera is capable of producing. If you want to show me it's performance under varying ISO and lighting, fine. However, do this AFTER you have shown me the best of which the camera is capable.

This gets me back to Jobs. He might have been obsessive about design and function being tightly integrated but he would have designed a camera that performed its primary function first. He would have them made sure that whatever else it did contributed to it's primary function, did not get in the way, and make its operation more complex.

Whatever happened to the digital equivalent of the Pentax K1000 or the Nikon FM?

Thanks for letting me rant. I feel better.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Digital Coming of Age

Recently some of William Egglestone's photographs sold at auction for a record $5.7 million. See the details here. The significance of these prices lies in the fact that these were all digital inkjet prints.

Egglestone is someone whose images were traditionally printed with the dye transfer process, one of the most elegant and permanent color processes. If digital inkjet is good enough for Egglestone, there is no need for those of us who have been toiling in the digital world for years to apologize for digital technology that we use today.

Today we are blessed with both traditional and digital technologies. May both live long and prosper!