Smoke & Mirrors.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Pepper No. 30 is one of the best-known photographs taken by Edward Weston. It depicts a solitary green pepper in rich black-and-white tones, with strong illumination from above. To me, it always looked like a perfect nude, with a wonderful texture. Many, of course, saw that, as well as many other things (usually sexual). Weston hated these comparisons, despite that nudes were one of his main subjects— he felt that it was just a picture of a pepper. There is even a nude (Nude, 1936), though, of his that perfectly pairs with the pepper image. A couple of years ago I did a nude that I thought was a nice subtle homage to this nude without being a total rip-off. And now, this is what I think is a nice subtle homage to his pepper series...
This is from a series that kind of look like those old-timey boardwalk photographs— except that they more resemble actual vintage images, rather than being campy or hokey. I find it interesting there is such a fine line between being genuine versus silly. I like the challenge of taking that extra effort to make it work. By the way, I scraped this scene together on a tight budget and have been using it for years now— the rug was $20 from IKEA, backdrops are my usual from fabric row, and the rest came as bits and pieces from Linens n' Things (remember that?). It all fits into an old steamer trunk, and it takes me about 15 minutes to set it up!
The last post was an image that's twenty years old... this one is almost thirty years old, and likewise looks exactly the same as when I first made it— no Photoshop, just a straight scan from a beloved platinum/palladium print. Likewise, my work has changed, but I think that it still retains many of the same hallmarks. This was my Pictorialism phase (my first adopted style), which I still return to on occasion because I've never lost a fondness for it. While there is no precise definition of Pictorialism, I would describe it as a photographic approach focused on the beauty of subject matter and conjuring a certain romantic dreaminess rather than strict documentation of the world as it is. Early photographers felt that they had to prove that photography could be a relevant art form, not just a science. As a photographic art movement, it was strongest from 1885 to 1915. It then started to be phased out, and even scorned by photographers that were forward thinking— sharply focused, pristine and modern was the new thing. Most never looked back to it again. Of course, now that the history of photography has mostly been written, there really is no period that is irrelevant or overlooked— everything had its place and purpose. People are now just starting to go back and revisit past styles. I started right off the bat with revisiting past styles, because I felt that the 80' & 90's would quickly become painfully dated— I didn't see anything meaningful happening, and I wanted to avoid it all. Personally, I feel that Pictorialism could be practiced forever because it is based on timeless universal beauty.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
This image is twenty years old, but I've never posted it before. I have not done anything new to it since it didn't need anything done. I pretty much got it just right in the camera— a rare thing! That being said, it is a good image to show as a comparison to show how much I have or haven't changed in the way that I shoot. You tell me...
Monday, June 25, 2018
These are older shots that I've re-worked from scratch. There were some details that I think I overworked, and some details that I added which I now think were unnecessary. Sometimes it takes me a few years to realize that I didn't get it right the first time. Actually, it often takes me a few years to realize mistakes, and I rarely get it right the first time.
There is something about this image that I find delightfully strange. A nice combination of awkwardness, elegance, and tension. It is not posed— posing is something that I've been avoiding for a long time, as I think that it tends to lead to stilted and artificial images. I make my models work, constantly moving and trying to get over self-consciousness. They never seem to mind, since they can appreciate that I am willing to work just as hard. I'd be lying, of course, if I said that I entirely avoid posing— I'm a sucker for a strong image of an obviously professional model working it, which makes things easier for me at the same time. I really do try to avoid it, though. That's when I get images like this...
Sunday, June 24, 2018
Full disclosure: I’ve always been a cropper. Having started with film and spending years developing black and white photos, cropping in the darkroom always felt natural. To me, it also felt necessary to accomplish what I wanted to. This despite being vehemently told otherwise by others— they said that cropping was a cop-out for not being able to get it right in the camera, and it was a form of lying. Of course, that's B.S. All photographs are lies, all photographs are crops. My definition of a photograph is to add edges to the world which has no edges. But, none the less, I had guilt about cropping. I realize now that a “perfect” rectangle or square— pulled back so you see the edges of the negative in the exposed print (to “prove” you haven’t cropped) is basically a parlor trick. Over time I've seen the work of many photographers who don't crop beside the camera— and I honestly feel that while they may sometimes get an image that looks pure and wonderful, usually their compositions in the majority of their work are kind of (if not very much so) seriously lacking. So, yeah, I crop. Not always, sometimes just a little, and sometimes a lot. Sue me. All these years later, I look back with no regrets about it.
If you are a 100% amateur, shooting might be as simple as your photos existing to make yourself happy. Or to preserve memories of your friends, family, and experiences. For a pro, it might be as simple as earning a paycheck— and nothing more. While I've met a couple that is one or the other, the real world tends to have more shades of gray. Most photographers fall somewhere in-between. I think that I've always been right in the middle— in fact, most people might have a hard time telling the difference among images that I've been paid for or not. The truth is that I've often been paid for work that looks very personal or even indulgent. I never really cared, because I (mostly) have not needed to— clients tend to come to me with a trust to let me do my thing because that's what they want. I definitely have always appreciated that...
Saturday, June 23, 2018
I've had an avid interest in photography as an art form since childhood— I read National Geographic and Life from my grandparents' subscription and collection (which went back to the mid-50's) since I was as young as I can remember. I suppose that my inherent interest in photography has surely been influenced by that. In fact, there is one NG cover in particular— Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl from 1985, which is probably the first photographic portrait that had an immediate and lasting effect upon me. I've never forgotten it, and it's most definitely in the back of my mind whenever I'm doing portraits.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Imagination versus creativity... imagination for most people connotes an ability to envision something before or without it existing. As a photographer, that usually means pre-visualizing an image or developing a concept. To me, something new and/or interesting can photographed, but I tend to utilize creativity instead of imagination. For instance, Jackson Pollock (although I can't attest to how his mind worked) could have done his paintings on intuition alone but possibly without imagination. Full disclosure: imagination is something at which I have long sucked at. I have long seen myself as having very little imagination, yet being very creative. Years ago I painted, but I would sit and stare at a canvas with no clue what to do. I tried splatter painting, but the results were (duh...) pathetically derivative. When I finally picked up a camera I knew that was what I was meant to do. Voilà— I could suddenly create without having to pre-visualize. Many photographers are good at imagining concepts, of course, but that was never my bag (I usually find photographic "concepts" to be cheesy). I prefer to work off of intuition— pick up the camera and shoot. Having the skills necessary to create something, be it a wooden sculpture or an interesting image, is just as valid— and necessary, as being imaginative.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Keeping old negatives, and their digital equivalent (computer files) isn't just a hoarding obsession for me. I look back over both on a regular basis, and I tend to find missed gems more often than not. I've shot so much over the past 30 years that even going through a small portion is time-consuming. It is consistently worth it, though— I'll typically spend an hour looking, and find a couple of nice images. It's like doing a shoot and getting a couple of great shots, but without having to do an actual shoot. I've always realized that something that I like at the moment I may dislike later (sometimes intensely) while something that I might have overlooked I've found to be quite a prize (better than my original picks). This image is actually ten years old, but I just made a finished version of it today. I probably thought that it was too unflattering to the model. That is something that I'm not at all concerned about these days. People that I shoot with now tend to be very aware that if I'm not flattering them, at least it will most likely be a powerful image worth more than just a pretty picture... plus they'll get some pretty ones anyway.
Monday, June 18, 2018
Sunday, June 17, 2018
I made this look like a Collodion Wet-Plate process, which was an early photographic technique invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. It is a process still practiced today, but I was pretty happy to achieve a digital version of it— despite that, I would rather be able to achieve it the real way. Another day...
Saturday, June 16, 2018
The charm around black and white has a lot to do with the past. The old masters of 19th and 20th-century photography shot in black and white and locked it all into timelessness forever. But one should keep in mind that the practice of black and white in the past was also a product of technical limitation. Photos were taken in black and white up until the 1930's and really often up into the 1970's until color film was technically perfected. Technicolor may have been aesthetically pleasing, but far from technically perfect. From that I believe there is a perception that black and white is history; realistic color is contemporary. Or, if you shoot black and white you are creating; if you shoot color you are documenting. B&W is not more difficult than color with digital. This might be true of film negatives, but not so much with digital. I ask myself, though— historically, why wasn’t there a shitload of black and white painters? If B&W is all about paring things down better than color, why didn't Leonardo try a few B&W paintings? My guess is that he and others were satisfied with drawings to fill that need. That leaves me wondering about if photography had started with color (as painting did), would B&W be considered a gimmick rather than pure? As it is, monochrome has always (for better or for worse) made the photo seem more artistic and genuine than color.
Friday, June 15, 2018
A very frequent question that I get is "what equipment do you use?", or "you must have a great camera". Whenever I hear that I smile and think yes I do have some great equipment— but, honestly, there is a bit more to it than that. A good amount of the "more to it" is me; the rest is a complex and often changing mixture of tech. Over the years I've noticed that no matter what equipment I'm using (and it's been changed up a lot) is that my work continues to bear my distinct fingerprint. The same goes for just about any photographer that has developed a style, even if they happen to be of a low-tech variety. If you hand a complete amateur the best equipment money could buy the result will not look all too much different than if it was shot with an iPhone. Hell, it would probably look better with the iPhone, because that is a camera that is purposely designed to make things as easy as possible for a novice...
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Something that I rarely do— I planned this shot out ahead of time, magazine cover style, purposely leaving ample negative space at the top for the type. I've actually done a couple of calendars for hire in the past, one of which was girls in bikinis on motorcycles... you won't be seeing any of those on this blog.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
To most people, vintage photos are often interesting simply because they're old. There's an other-worldliness to relics of past eras. It's exotic. It's like how a foreign accent makes someone more alluring and attractive. It’s that mystical feeling you get looking at an old castle or cathedral. It's not a part of your general everyday experience and therefore it's enchanting. Likewise, we tend to associate authenticity with the style of a bygone photo because they have stood the test of time. They describe a world past— and, as such, they have earned a sense of importance. In short, this probably sums up why I enjoy making my own images look like they are actually vintage. The key is that they have to definitely look genuinely classic in every way, down to every detail— otherwise, the illusion is broken...
Color or b&w— the dilemma. Personally, I indulge more into b&w. I've always done both, though. With film, you had to decide beforehand. With digital, you can compare both, and go with what you think works better. You still have to make that decision, though. I started this blog five years ago with the conscious decision to keep it all monochrome here, as a way of forcing myself to stick to some strict rules. One less thing to think about... and it looks like I'm passionate about something at the same time. Which I am— I'm lazy and passionate at the same time! This work tends to lend itself more to monochrome anyway... but sometimes an image does work better in color (or sepia). If that is the case, I typically don't include it here. Why show an inferior version?
Sunday, June 10, 2018
How did it happen that clicking "like" has become the highest response to art? I don’t want you to “like” my art. I want you slow down and be moved by it. I want to make you think. To perhaps make you uncomfortable. I want it to raise questions. Or stir people to wonder. If not my art, well, then the art of someone else... and I want your art to do the same. It’s a noble and worthy goal. Part of the way that I started down the road of this craft was tearing images from magazines and putting them into scrapbooks. I collected photography books. I revered those images. I lived with them and thought about them for years. I knew the names of the men and women that made those incredible images and I wondered what it would take to be as them. It never occurred to me to ask what lens they used because I suspected deep down that whatever it took to makes those images was so much more a part of the artists themselves than the particular gear. It had something to do with determination, grit, a stubborn & patient refusal to do anything but whatever it took to make the photograph. I wonder if they got to their best work because they were busy doing it— not posting their initial successes on Instagram instead of digging deeper. Instead of taking the long slow road to mastering a craft. We are not teaching people to revere our work. We’re putting it so quickly into the world and it’s forgotten almost as fast. We’re treating it as though it’s disposable. Shoot. Share. Move on. There so often seems to be so little room on screens for depth. Please understand that this is not a rant against social media. As so many others do, I use it, and it has it's place. No, this is not a rant, it’s a plea— that we transcend social media and do something more with our work. It’s a plea to print our work, and live with it, and be slow to sign it. The way it used to be done, for a good reason. It’s a plea to put it in books or in places we can thoughtfully react to it, not merely consume it as typical mass media. Don't just fluidly scroll through, and occasionally click "Like". Slow down and thoughtfully react.
Each time I pick up a classic camera, I am awestruck at the craftsmanship and build quality that these old devices have. Cameras from the early to middle of the 20th century were created by craftsmen (and women) who paid close attention to the various gears, levers, dials, and switches inside and out of each camera. Whether you’re talking about a Bakelite Kodak Brownie or a Rolleiflex, there was care put into every part. Some went through war (literally), got wet, banged around, dropped, exposed to heat and moisture, or had any other number of things happen to them which affect their functionality. It never ceases to amaze me that these devices which are older than I am and sometimes more than double older than me, still work as good as the day they were made. Often, to me, the lens scratches and light leaks of an old and beat up camera can add a certain organic quality to the images made now. What other types of product can honestly say that after half a century, gets better with age?
Saturday, June 9, 2018
I get tired of seeing commentary about film versus digital— as in one is better than the other, or that one should learn film if you want to truly understand/master digital. B.S. I've been shooting film for 30 years and digital for 15+ (I've been using Photoshop since 1991). Film photography and digital photography are not the same thing. They're definitely related, but they ultimately deviate from each other. They are two completely distinct media that should be used for particular reasons. They require totally different thought processes, methodology and workflow. One needs to keep in mind what one wants for the final result, or what one wants to get out of the process (both for the appreciation and result of that process). If you want a darkroom print, shoot film. If you're fine with an inkjet print, shoot digital. Et cetera. Personally, I can appreciate aspects of both. If you like shooting film, shoot film. If you like digital, shoot digital. One isn't inherently better or worse than the other. They're simply different. Despite what so many might say, one isn't necessarily harder or more tedious than the other. That depends on how they are used in practice! For instance, I know for sure that I often spend a lot more time in post-processing a digital shoot than I often would for a film shoot. Or it could be vice versa. There are fashion photographers that use point & shoot film cameras and have a lab do the processing for them. Conversely, there are digital shooters that can spend days on on a single image. You can go back and forth about both, but at the end of the day you can't make an absolute statement about either regarding which is harder. That's a relative thing. Although many people can spend less time with digital or film, in the end the final results speak for themselves, for better or for worse. My advice would be to take technical guidance, but make you're own decisions about what to shoot and what to shoot with. Do what works for you. If you want to blend the two (something that I like), blend the two. Beware of self-righteous and self-styled gurus. Hourra pour le Choix!
Slightly new style developing. Not the diptych thing— I've enjoyed making diptychs now and then for over twenty years. The mixture of low contrast and higher contrast in one shot is my new thing of the past year. My modus operandi has always (96 times out of a hundred) been to use a dark background and then light the subject in whatever way works. Here the background is high key and the subject is softly lit. I'm a creature of habit— little changes can be a big deal for me...
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Monday, June 4, 2018
In 1952 the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson published Images à la Sauvette, which roughly translates as “images on the run” or “stolen images.” The English title of the book, The Decisive Moment, was chosen by publisher Dick Simon. Cartier-Bresson had already proposed that concept— it just didn't sound good in French as a title. It is one of the most fascinating and highly debated concepts in the history of photography. This moment occurs when the visual and psychological elements of people in a real-life scene spontaneously and briefly come together in perfect resonance to express the essence of that situation. Some people believe that to be the unique purpose of photography— to capture this fleeting, quintessential, and holistic instant in the flow of life. For this reason, many photographers often mention the decisive moment, or similar ideas about capturing the essence of a transitory moment, when they describe their work. It is an idea that has always driven me, even before I knew it was a thing since it tends to be an intuitive process when it comes to contemporary photography (after one could get a shot in a second, or faster). Once I realized that it was a "thing", I've never stopped thinking about it. The main idea, though, for me, is that a DM image doesn’t occur as an isolated shot. There are no photographers, even the great ones, who go out with their cameras, take one spectacular DM photograph, and then return home. The DM image emerges in the context of an entire shoot of some kind. Some photography sessions lead to a great DM shot, and some don’t. I like to call it "hunting for the shot, while mostly missing". Getting it, though, is such a wonderful feeling.
Sunday, June 3, 2018
I shoot so that others can see the way that I view the world, and I follow other photographers so that I can see the way that they view the world. I shoot to freeze moments. I shoot because my imagination is terrible. I shoot to enjoy life in a different way. I also shoot because I regret that when growing up my family didn’t take a lot of pictures, and so as an adult, I do. Shooting, of course, allows me to express my creativity... I really wanted to leave this out because it almost seems too obvious. I do not shoot people because the eye is a window to the soul— I don't really believe that cliche and I've never been fond of it. I do, however, like the create the illusion that the eyes are a window to the soul. That is a concept that I can get behind.
Saturday, June 2, 2018
Low contrast photography is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, a lot of people will dislike it. It’s not really what you’d call the popular choice— many think that low-contrast means lacking in contrast or associate it with being flat. Some also believe that the more contrast there is, the better. It is fair to say that low contrast photographs are nowhere near as eye-catching as the high contrast B&W photographs you typically see. That does not make them in any way inferior. Subtlety can be something that is easily overlooked. When you get past that entryway, though, low-contrast images can be so wonderful. Much of my work posted here tend to be higher in contrast, but in actuality, most everything that I finish has at least two versions— a high contrast and a low contrast version... and often a few in between. I still have not decided which I prefer, so I sit on all versions waiting to perhaps decide eventually which will be the "finished" versions. I do know that whenever I spot a photograph by someone else that I gravitate towards more than anything else, it tends to be something with very low contrast. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I respect how hard it can be to make an exquisite low contrast photograph...
There seems to be an intense hatred of vignetting among professionals. If you ever hear someone say vignetting is an optical flaw that needs to be fixed, ignore them. It is, scientifically, an optical flaw. Older, cheaper cameras (or a good camera with a cheaper lens) create vignettes in photos unintentionally due to their poor quality. It could also be created intentionally in the darkroom during the printing process. Many associate vignettes with vintage for this reason. In other words, many see it as a charming flaw. Can it be overused? Duh... of course, anything can. Subtlety in use is probably better than heavy-handed— much like the actual effect from a lens. Sometimes it can detract from inherent qualities already in the image. Good vignette, on the other hand, can tend to draw your eye toward the subject within the image. You may have noticed that, personally, I tend to like vignetting...