Thursday

Let me tell you about this past Thursday. 

Note: There will be a few posts on this one topic. This is a project that combines aerial photographs with ground-based imagery.

While Texas was bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Harvey and Donald Trump was about to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio I was in Vermont photographing the Connecticut River. Far less newsworthy I admit but nevertheless big in my world. It was quite a day with two distinct parts to it.

Warning: the pictures shown here simply aren't going to do anything for you by seeing them on your phone. I make pictures that are way up there in terms of resolution, sharpness, tonal range and color rendition. When you do get to see them on a good color display you can click on an image and it will expand to a larger rendering.

Part 1

Photographing The River is a project that has crept up on me. There was no thunderbolt of inspiration, no big epiphany here, just the quiet realization that every time I drove over it, or kayaked down it I was fascinated with what it showed me on its banks and what went on behind them.

This harkens back to my project called Tom's Neck from a few years ago. Very often on a shore or embankment on a river, stands a row of trees, acting as a wall or a barrier to what is behind them.

So this summer I've been photographing the river, usually from one shore pointing across at the opposite one, although sometimes from a bridge. Thursday I went up in a plane to get at it from above, starting at RT 2 in Turner's Falls, MA and flying up to Bellows Falls, VT and back. 

My day started here:

at the little airstrip at Turner's Falls.

The day was perfect.

Right away the river opened up to reveal its secrets. Of course, it was magnificent:The Connecticut River is an "old" river along southern Vermont and northern Massachusetts. No rapids or fast water and usually quite wide, with a few islands along the way. The river valley through here is heavy-duty farming country, with large crops of hay and corn but also squash, tomatoes, melons and even hops for beer:

In late August it all comes to fruition. The corn is high and they're practically giving tomatoes away.

As the pilot and I skimmed along at about 800 feet above the water in a high winged Cessna it was easy to follow the river as it meandered north. Since I was in the right seat, I pointed out the open window with my camera at the eastern bank on the way up and the western bank on the way down.

As we approached Brattleboro the river widened out into marshes:

Next up? More aerial photographs of the river and then on to part two of my day. My trip in the excursion boat the Lady Bea with a group from a nursing home.

Turf Farm near Greenfield, MA

Topics: Tom's Neck,Spring,Digital,Northeast,New Work,Color

Permalink | Posted August 27, 2017

Photographing While Traveling

I've written around this before, the idea of making good pictures while traveling. Very hard to do, this thing of making substantive work from first impression. I know firsthand, as I have a lot of experience in making many bad pictures on all kinds of travel. 

Near Trieste, Italy 2012

I learned early on, while driving south from Frankfurt to Avignon in France in the summer of 1977 that to simply make pictures of what you haven't seen before does not a good picture make. I came back to process the film and make prints that fall, only to learn that I had seriously fucked up. The work had absolutely nothing of substance in it that I could see. I learned a serious lesson from the pictures I made during that trip. As a career artist/photographer I have never looked at traveling and making pictures in the same way since. 

Kudzu, Georgia 2014

What's the trick? To photograph using your mind as well as your eyes. Put your heart in there too.To work to be expressive and to say things with your photographs. This doesn't mean being literal but to react with skill and forethought to your surroundings, also to intuit by leaning on experience. While there are numerous disadvantages to aging there are a few good things too. And one of them is that I know stuff. I know if a format, a framing device, a focal length, a setting, a kind of light or the air itself will help or hinder my photograph. Good photography takes huge flexibility. By this I mean adaptability. This is one of the reasons we pursue it with such passion. Imagine the synergy required to make a picture that has real substance, meaning and quality.  Most painters don't make quality from massive quantity but we do. No wonder we make so few good ones.

Skate Park, Healdsburg, CA 2014

One of the things I've learned is to carry the same sensibilities and proclivities with me wherever I go. This means that it is foolish to deny your innate aesthetic just because you're someplace new. Your stock in trade is your stock in trade. Yes, it is good to try different approaches when confronted with new material, but also important to rely on the core values of your practice too.

Saltair, Utah, 2015

I believe some of mine are (in no necessary order): quality, clarity, resolution, interest in comparing things close to things far away, color, tonality, enigma, minimalism, humor (irony and taking out of context), perspective, place, light. Do you know what yours are? Write them down and think about what you've written. Add or correct as necessary. 

Last point. Get out of the rut you're in. Take a chance. Go someplace, see something, photograph something. This is from personal experience. By going someplace I do not mean going on vacation with your partner, bringing your fancy equipment and stopping on the road to take a few. The last blog was called: Garbage In/Garbage Out. Dedicate a trip to make pictures. Work all day every day you're away. This is how you make good work when you travel. You will return with good work. Back from Iceland a week and I am very excited to be printing new work made while there. Some of you reading this know who I am talking to. This veteran photographer with old eyes moving, shooting, seeing new places and new circumstances. Simply the best. Go!

Pulaski, Virginia 2013

Hofsos, Iceland 2013

Topics: Traveling

Permalink | Posted August 18, 2017

Landscape

What? When confronted with the amazing landscape of Iceland I am not going to point a camera at it?

Current thinking is that landscape is over in art photography. That it's all been done.Well, not by me it hasn't and your loss, I believe, if you don't care to look at landscape work. I do look at it and do make landscape photographs but it's not the only thing I care about. Tale a look at the gallery page of my site for examples. And yes, I see a great deal of quite bad landscape photography. Last week I drove through some truly remarkable country, up and over a couple of mountain passes on gravel roads. I'd be a fool not to photograph it.

Take your breath away places. Have to stop places. Game of Thrones kind of places.

Not for iPhones, this. Long lens, tripod, low iso, best aperture and extreme care.

As I begin to work the files now back at home,  go through the various days I was shooting, one thing prevails. Iceland is incredible. I know, it is touristy and overrun with photographers of all kinds,

serious and perhaps not so serious

My approach?  Always seek out a quieter place, someplace off the path traveled  by everyone else

maybe at the top of a mountain pass up in the clouds.

This is "reactive" work in that I am reacting to something in front of me that is spectacular and perhaps moving.  Grand landscapes have done that to people forever, I am sure.

Look at the British, American and Italian romantic landscape painters, for instance. Those lush and over-the-top utopian paintings just slay me. Garden of Eden and paradise on earth paintings that are masterful and consummate.

(Sorry: no attribution. Seen three years ago in Italy. Do not remember the artist.)

I am printing the Iceland landscape pictures now and will place them on the website soon. More to come from Iceland, land of my dreams.

Topics: Iceland,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted August 15, 2017

Garbage In/Garbage Out

As I wind down a couple of weeks in Iceland, the first week teaching and the second in a rented car on the eastern and southern ring road of the huge island I can't help but reflect on a whole career of road trips in various countries, driving, photo-graphing, each night in different lodgings, day after day.

This, of course, becomes a way of life, life on the road with a camera, always looking, always stopping, always on the hunt for pictures. This then gets me thinking about the tools we use and reflecting on those I've used over my career.

Early on the camera and lenses I used were very specifically designed for making the highest quality photographs possible. Many years of Rollei, Hasselblad, Toyo Field 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 cameras. Almost site specific tools, meaning not good for everything but good for my intended purpose of making art in the outside world of mostly things that didn't move. So, therefore these cameras were seldom used informally or to make snapshots, especially while on the road, photographing using a vehicle as the base of operations.

The Palouse in Washington in 2003 in 8 x 10.

Now, for many, the type of camera we use for this kind of trip is the same we use to take pictures of everything. I use a high quality DSLR camera with a variety of lenses, just as most of  you do. I can pick it up to photograph my grand daughter at a soccer match and also use it on a tripod to photograph the glacier across the fjord in Iceland with a 400mm lens, to walk around the town of Hofn as I did yesterday at 5 am, hand holding a somewhat too heavy but present day tool capable of really amazing quality to make pictures of whatever grabs my attention. These different roles tended to be played in earlier times with different tools.

The garbage in versus garbage out thing kicks in with how easy it is to not invest in what we are photographing, to not work with the camera to make intentional pictures with purpose and forethought, to blow off pictures, to take the attitude of,  "maybe something will work out" or making many pictures towards getting one that could be great. I worked with the 8 x 10 view camera for 25 years on trips like the one I am on now. That camera was completely about "economy of scale" in that the film you'd loaded the night before was what you were shooting today. For me, twenty sheets was my limit, traveling with ten film holders. Imagine limiting yourself to twenty pictures today!

Near Highlands, Georgia 1997 in 8 x 10

I too work around things, just as you do. I try different approaches, angles, camera settings. I am looking hard, thinking hard and working with intention to make the best picture I can from what is in front of me. But how can one make a good picture, make art from something if he/she is just not invested? I know, happens all the time. Of course, great photographs are made as "accidents", just not by me. I have to give it my all to make good work. I know this entails follow through as well. Back at home, I work the file, now using Lightroom, to tailor the image to my original intent. My theory is that if I worked hard to make it, I need to give an equal investment into making the final print. I know if I don't, it's just garbage.

Look, we all make too many pictures. Making one print from, say, 20 tries at something isn't uncommon. But to photograph from a sense of investment and respect for what the present day camera can do, to sculpt the shot RAW file into something masterful takes commitment, time and experience using the best tools we can afford.

Next up, I hope. Back home and reflections on the pictures I made while sliding by some of the most glorious and stupendous landscape I have ever seen. I know, it has now become a cliche', the landscape of Iceland. But OMG,  it is wonderful. With only 330,000 as a population, when they say overcrowded it means something very different from stalled traffic on the Mass Pike out of Boston at 5 pm on a weekday.

Permalink | Posted August 8, 2017

Class Over

We have just finished a week of class in northern Iceland at the Baer Art Center in Hofsos. We had many field trips, refined our skills in Lightroom, went on a boat trip up the fjord, cooked wonderful meals of great fresh salmon and lamb, laughed and photographed all hours of the endless daylight into the nights.

Students finished with many RTP (Ready to Print files) to take back with them to print on their own or to hand over to a service bureau back in Reykjavik for I urged them to make prints, just as I urge you to.

The highlight of the week was when we piled onto an excursion boat to slide up the coast past Baer to the "Cape" where the cliff face opens up to reveal a near vertical rock wall of several hundred feet.  I'd photographed this in 2013 when I was here as a resident but this time the conditions were even better, calm seas with flat gray light.

Making pictures like these:

astounding, miraculous and somehow deeply moving, as though from a different planet.

A simply incredible rock wall several hundred feet tall.

This from the boat where we stayed at the Baer Art Center, very near the Cape. The studios are on the left.

I am on the road now for a few days, driving Iceland's Ring Road to the east with Mercedes, the workshop's most wonderful assistant (thank you, Mercedes!), and putting her on a plane later this morning to return home. I fly out later this week. I am planning on spending a few days along the South Coast. Last week had been mostly free from tourists. We'll see how I do as I enter back into Iceland's main stream. 

Topics: Iceland,Foreign,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted August 6, 2017