Friday, May 5, 2017

Past Prime

I have been taking pictures of flowers that are past prime.  It’s easy to say that this is a reflection on my own life, but that is too easy.

I am struck by how interesting they become.  Some retain their color and form.  Some change form and some change color.  Most become more interesting. 

Certainly scale has something to do with it.  Seeing them on such a large scale makes it easier to see the details and colors.  Size does matter.

I recently returned from a trip to Death Valley.  I took lots of landscape photographs (see above) in hopes of having something new with which to work.  I told myself that I was getting tired of the flowers.  However, when I got home I went right back to photographing flowers.  I worked on the landscapes but I found many of them boring.  The flowers kept drawing me back.  There was on infinite variety and the price is right.  I even brought back flowers from my trip.

I guess this is my way of saying that the flowers are here forever.  Landscapes and nudes are fine, but the flowers never get too old to photograph.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Visual Literacy

Over the past several years I have taught a course that has varied in title from "Color to Black and White" to "Visual Literacy and the Digital Workflow."  The change in title effectively came about half way through the first time I taught the class when I realized that the students were more interested in "what and why" I did something to an image rather than "how."

I came to the epiphany that most of them sort of recognized a good image when they saw it but were incapable of looking at a "raw" image and deciding what it needed.  I concluded that this was the result of a several of factors.

  • they had never looked at good work critically and tried to understand why it was good
  • they had never considered what they wanted the people who view their work to take away from the experience
  • they lacked the technical understanding of the visual effects that could be used to render an image better

The software is a tool.  It is not a substitute for a lack of vision.  Teaching "how" is a lot easier than teaching "why."  To some degree I'm not sure it can be taught as much as it can be encouraged.

Every time I teach the class I emphasize the importance of really looking at a lot of work.  It's important to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.  What is good to me might not be good to them but they should understand why they like an image and what has been done to that image to make it a strong image for them.

I like ambiguity.  For me, images can be too easy.  There is nothing left to discover or reinvent.  The first time I look at an image I will know everything there is to know about that image.  For me, this may make a beautiful image but it many hold no long-term commitment to the image.  There is nothing left to discover after the first few time I look at it.  This may just be me, but it's the way I am.

That doesn't mean that someone else might feel differently about the image.

The Accidental Masterpiece

“There are no accidental masterpieces in painting, but there are accidental masterpieces in photography” – Chuck Close

Sunday, January 8, 2017


I am currently scanning a number of negative taken years ago, maybe thirty or forty years ago to be exact.  Some of the images I have printed in both the darkroom and digitally.

I am starting to realize that my interpretation of what these images should look like is changing. In some cases the change is drastic.

This is a result of both the technology and my own interpretation of the negative.  The more I think about it, it may be just now that the negative is revealing its content in a way that I was unable to visualize earlier.  This is starting to sound deeply philosophical........

For year, dealers in fine photography have tried to convince the public that prints made closer to the time that a photographer made the negative are more valuable because they more closely represent the photograph in the photographer's mind at the time he or she took the photograph.  What a bunch of bull.  Every time I make a print I try to make it better than I have ever printed it before.

Most of the photographers I know shoot when they feel like shooting.  The exploration of the negative comes later.  Maybe some photographers stop exploring their negatives after they make what they think is the ultimate print.  I think there are still things to be discovered.  A negative doesn't always reveal all its content immediately.  (Lordy this is getting heavy!)

I think that photographers who stop exploring the content of the negative/file are cutting the images off from the photographer's growth as an artist.

Just a thought.

Don’t Know Why


This image was taken in Vienna, Austria through a bus window at night.  I am a little bewildered as to why this image appeals to me so much.  It just does.

There is a certain isolation.  Are they together?  Are they lost in their own worlds?  Does it matter?  It creates questions in my mind.  This image will stay fresh in my mind forever.

I find that for me, the best images leave something for me to question.  They don't answer all the questions.

Industrial Scenes

I think Charles Sheeler, the great artist, and I would have understood each other or at least gotten along. His art incorporated many industrial scenes.  He may have understood why. I’m not sure why I am drawn to industrial scenes and images that very few want to hang on their walls, but I am.

The above image is an example of what I am talking about.  No one is going to be drawn to this image but I am.  I don’t know why, I just am.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Narrative


Over the years I have become aware that to many people the narrative surrounding an image may be as important as the image itself.  The image is considered a mere touchstone to the life experience of the artist creating the image.

I have a different criterion since I consider an image from the perspective of how it will look on my walls.  The experience of the artist may be interesting but it is not critical to my enjoyment.  I don’t care that Ansel hopped up on top of his car, didn’t have a light meter but he knew how may foot-candles the moon had, and exposed Moonrise.  Good for him but I liked the image before I knew that about how he shot it.  It’s not irrelevant but it’s not important to my enjoyment of Moonrise.

I recently attended a program on the history of the National Gallery of Art.  What struck me the most was that the benefactors, who gave a lot of art to the nation, had previously used that art to decorate their houses.  They had not selected the art to create a gallery; they were decorating their living spaces.  In fact, the restorers had to clean the smoke residue off one Van Gogh because it had been hung over the mantle of a fireplace.

When I consider my life story, the narrative does not seem exceptional.  I have lived an extremely ordinary life.  The images are not the result of a mission or exceptional circumstances.  Most of the images have either come to me or I’ve put myself in a place of extraordinary beauty where they have been easy to find.  The recent flower images are possibly an exception, but they are beautiful, easy to do, don’t take a lot of time, and provide me something I can work on in the studio.  Hard to build a narrative that anyone would care about out of that.

All that said, I really enjoy photography and hope to continue doing it for a long time, even if mine doesn’t have a great narrative surrounding it.  One of the great things about being a photographer is that you can capture the beauty you see, to enjoy again and to share with others.