Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Happy Birthday, Dorothea Lange

depression era photo by Dorothea Lange
Born in 1895, Dorothea Lange was a distinguished contemporary of the great photographers of the 20th century - people who defined photography as we know it today.  You've seen her iconic photographs - their power still resonates.  And while further investigation suggests some images are not as spontaneous or candid as they might appear (vis-a-vis, Migrant Mother), I do not think this in any way diminishes their visual impact.

Lange's photo still rings true today.

In 1952, Lange wrote an article with her son Daniel Dixon titled Photographing the Familiar (Aperture, Vol 1, No. 2, 1952).  Their article is no less true today than 68 years ago.

Consider:
"Tractored Out"
"For better or for worse, the destiny of the photographer is bound up with the destinies of the machine… His machine must prove that it can be endowed with the passion and humanity of the photographer; the photographer must prove that he has the passion and the humanity with which to endow the machine.”

"(A) great photograph first asks, then answers, two questions. Is that my world? What, if not, has that world to do with mine?”


“Bad as it is, the world is potentially full of good photographs.  But to be good, photographs have to be full of the world.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day - Wisdom of a Lakota Indian Elder




On this Earth Day, we might do well to consider the words of a Lakota Native American elder...

"This is what you have to understand.  To us the land was alive.  It talked to us.  We called her mother.  If she was angry with us, she would give us no food.  If we didn't share with others, she might send harsh winters or plagues of insects.  She was the mother to everything that lived upon her, so everything was our brother and sister.

"For your people, the land was not alive.  It was something that was like a stage, where you could build things and make things happen. You understood the dirt and the trees and the water as important, but not as brothers and sisters.  You were supposed to make the land bear fruit.  That is what your God told you.

"And here is what I wonder.  If she sent diseases and harsh winters when she was angry with us, and we were good to her, what will she send when she speaks back to you?"

from "Neither Wolf Nor Dog, On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder"  by Kent Nerburn.


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

To Submit or Not To Submit

I get asked about submitting photographs to various contests and whether it is a worthwhile endeavor.  

To be sure, most contests are for generating revenue for the organization through submission fees - and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  But be aware that you can spend plenty of money on contests and walk away with little to show for it.


"Pause on the Stairs" took First Place
in a contest in California
On the other hand, there are some really good reasons to consider contest submissions.  First, it gives you a chance to take a critical look at your work.  You want to submit your best images, but you also need to know WHY they are your best images (just because you like them really isn't enough.)  Second, most contests ask for an artist's statement.  Again, it is an excellent exercise to write down why you do the work, the purpose of the project, what you are trying to express, what makes your work significant.  Third, putting your work "out-there" for others to see, while it can be a little scary, really helps take you to the next level.  Finally, when you win something - great!  But when you don't - well a little humility is always good for one's character.  Just don't take it personally.

Honestly, I rarely submit my images to contests.  That said, there are a few criteria I look for when I do submit.  Highest on my list is the juror(s).  Is it someone I respect and want the chance to show my work to.  Also important is whether my project fits into the theme or focus of the contest.  A distant third down the list is the prize.  Cash awards are great, but equally so is the chance to show my work to a respected audience. 

So it's up to you.  Even it you don't win anything there is a lot to be said for the process of trying.



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Now More Than Ever

Never has it been more important to spend time with your art!


Sensual Hair

In troubled times, art is a refuge.  Art reminds us of what is important and beautiful in life.  Art inspires us to be something more than downtrodden and subjugated by the mass media.  Art summons what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

Rose Valley
Art gives you a voice to speak softly, but clearly, of beauty.  This is so important when everyone else is shouting doom.

So spend time with your art.  Do it now!  

Turn off the TV, get off the social media and newsfeed, put down the newspaper.

Canyon, Lee Vining, CA
Instead, revisit the Fall colors and that trip to the mountains.  Let the sun rise again over your favorite lake as it did last summer when you photographed it.  Relive the birthday parties and family reunions.  Your children's disarming smiles and those charming pet pictures. The roses and flowers you photographed in your studio or that insightful portrait. 

Waiting


And then share those images with family and friends to help remind them of what is important and beautiful.  They need you and your art right now.


Sunrise Over Mono Lake

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Making Internet

In a world full of digital images, smartphone snapshots and Facebook “likes” it is easy to overlook the significant effort that must go into getting real world art into the digital realm. Visual artists, painters and classical photographers in particular, know exactly what I am talking about.

Photographing Artwork
There are many challenges, but perhaps the biggest is getting the color right.  Obviously painters put a lot of thought and effort into getting tone and color just right - even slight variations can alter the emotional impact of the painting.  You might be surprised that classical photographers are also keenly aware of how the subtle color tone of a B&W print changes its impact on the viewer.  Whether the blacks have a warm or cold tone, the whites creamy or brilliant, and the infinite variations in between are all part of each photographer’s personal expression and darkroom technique.  And while this is effectively presented when you see the actual print, it is hugely difficult to do with a digital picture of the print.

But alas! It must be done in order to share my work with you via the internet.  I do the best I can.  My prints have a slightly warm tone to the blacks (a result of my developer formulation), which is rather tricky to show in a digital image.  I take color digital images of my prints, made with color corrected lighting, hand metering, and carefully adjustments in Photoshop (yes, I know Photoshop) are all necessary to get a reasonable representation for you.

Real World to Digital World

Of course, I cannot control the viewer’s screen settings. And experience tells me that most screens are set too bright, blowing out the whites, muddying the blacks, and wrecking the print tone. 

Want to find out about your screen settings?  Try this site:

http://tft.vanity.dk/monitorTest_scale.html

Follow the instructions on the screen.  Move your cursor to the top of the screen to see various options.

You might find this interesting.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Margrethe

Florence Deshon (1921) by Margrethe Mather
from Wikimedia Commons

Today would have been Margrethe Mather's 134nd birthday.  She died in obscurity on Christmas Day, 1952.  Her contributions to photography, however, should not be obscured by the passage of time.  Not only was she a truly creative, free thinking photographer, her influence on Edward Weston (arguably one of the most important photographers of the 20th century) was profound.  Weston called her "the first important person in my life."

If you have never heard of Margrethe Mather, I highly recommend reading Beth Warren's Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration.  


Even if we do not realize it, Margrethe and Edward's influence is in our photography today!

While the other arts have lamented their male dominance, women have always been an important part of photography.  Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Bernard, Gertrude Kasebier, Julia Margaret Cameron .. to name just a few.  

Let's not forget Margrethe.



Friday, February 14, 2020

Caponigro

Paul Caponigro's "Running White Deer"
Available at Photography West, Carmel, CA

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by famed photographer Paul Caponigro.  I am pleased to report that at 87 he is full of energy and spirit!

Paul is of that generation of “no nonsense,” tell-it-like-it-is, if you don't like it that's your problem, master photographers.  They have a solid perspective and heart-felt passion for their art, without being sappy or sentimental.

One important quality all these masters share is a connection to their subjects.  They want to express more than a mere pictorial representation.  They are telling us more about the world than meets the eye.

Paul is an accomplished pianist as well as photographer.  One point that he made in his lecture that rings true (though I never thought of it this way) is how music, through hearing, has a more direct emotional connection.  This is in contrast to our visual perception that must climb through a mountain of intellectual clutter before it can resonate emotionally.  Visually, our heads get in the way with preconceived notions, biases, opinions, and petty obsessions that seem to occupy a good part of our lives.  As visual artists, we must find a way through this clutter.


Think about that. 

(BTW, If you have an opportunity to attend a lecture by one of the masters, DO IT!  You will get insights and ideas that no book, blog, or YouTube video could ever provide.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Patience

"Lonely and Windswept"
from The Lonely Places project

In an earlier post I mentioned the The Shutter Brothers' 3-P's.  Planning. Purpose. Patience.  

This picture is titled "Lonely and Windswept" from The Lonely Places project.  It is high in the mountains near Virginia City, Nevada, in a large and badly abused cemetery south of town.  It has all three ingredients of the 3-P's but especially patience.

When I first visited this place years ago, I had a vision of how I wanted to interpret this particular grave site.  However, I had to return many times over several years before I found the right combination of light, clouds, mountains, and wind to make the image work.  

Making an image that says just want you want can take a lot of patience and discipline.  Finding the right place to stand and the composing the image.  Waiting for the light.  Waiting for the clouds. Waiting for the wind to stop.  And sometimes it all goes away and you don't get the image at all and you have to plan to go back. 

But when you keep at it (and when Nature cooperates) ... well, let's just say it is very satisfying!


Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Plan

The Shutter Brothers in Bodie, CA
I recently had breakfast with my Shutter Brothers, Tom & Russ. We were discussing how our varied approaches to photography are alike and how they are different. 

Russ does digital photography but began in using film, Tom has been entirely digital, and I am all classical large format film.  All three of us take our work seriously.  Photography is for us more than just snapshots taken as aids to memory.  

Despite our three very different styles, we all share a secret ingredient to our work.  We call it The 3-P’s.  Preparation.  Purpose.  Patience.

Let’s talk about Preparation.

It is common for Russ, Tom, and myself to travel to remote locations in the mountains, desert, forests, plains, and small towns to do our work.  Often these trips are planned weeks or months ahead of time.  We study the terrain, local features, history, special events, where the sun is rising and setting, understanding the distances involved, available accommodations … you get the picture.  The point is we are not going out there willy-nilly, there is a plan at work.

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say we are on a rigid itinerary. We often get inspiration while on the road and will detour down a side road or discover an interesting feature from the locals once we are on location.  But all three of us find we can do our best work if we have a plan.  You see, a plan allows us to focus on the photography rather than desperately trying to find a place to spend the night.  A plan allows us to make the best use of available light.  And a plan reduces the chances of returning from a trip only to find out we missed out on some great feature or event. 


How about you?  Got a plan?