Topic: Digital (88 posts) Page 2 of 18

Photographic Fulfillment

In the large movement of the thing we call "photography"where it has become so large as to be pervasive I believe most are looking for photographic fulfillment. Let me qualify: this pertains to those of you that call yourselves photographers.

Sure, perhaps not so much when you're young or just snap shooting but, yes in the world of artistic photo expression, fulfillment. Simple, really. In your list of aspirations, being realistic, are you going to get discovered all of a sudden (whether you're in your fifties or sixties or thirties and forties, doesn't matter) by getting that key slot in the Whitney Biennial this year, the solo show at MOMA, the MacArthur? Probably not. But to derive satisfaction from your work, to be fulfilled by the art you make, well, there's just about nothing better.

So, what is that? This ambition we have? This drive? 

Is it solely because we love what photography can do? I don't think so, although that's in there.

Is it because we have a gift and are sharing it with the world? (Read my post on  Nobody Cares about Your Photography: here.).

Is it because our audience demands it? Again, not so much.

Ah yes, love this one: is it for financial reward? Hah! Very funny.

Is it because we're God's gift? Probably not.

No, I believe it is mostly for fulfillment, or what little spark of completion, resolution, redemption, satisfaction we get when we touch close to this holy grail. Once you've got some years of experience under your belt, once you've lived a while and what serves as wisdom that comes from hindsight is in there, when you're practicing this rather odd thing of going out into the world to make pictures with some tool around your neck, it is fulfillment that sustains.  Complete a new body of work, something that holds to my standards, finish and look back with the realization that I learned something and grew and shared some perceptions that I believe are worthy of your consideration, to add some beauty poetry and music to someone's day, to share in our common human experience. Yes, that's very fulfilling, both to me and to you if the work is good.

But this isn't so easy todo, is it? This work we do, trying to reach something unobtainable or at least extremely illusive, often glimpsed but seldom achieved. That's probably why we keep coming back for more, as abusive as it may seem. For me my specific hot point is something I think of as being "sublime".  There have been many over my career and, I hope, many more. Let me show you a few: 

Nantucket 1981

It is very hard for me to disassociate the single picture from the series it comes from, so I usually don't. However, I certainly can find the one key picture from a series, as in the Nantucket one above, as it launched in essence my whole career.

Hershey, PA 1996

Healsdburg, CA, 1999

There isn't always complete alignment in what I think of as being sublime with viewers of my work. That's okay as each brings their own baggage to looking at work. But perhaps the level is what is most important, that I have raised the bar on a viewer's expectations.

Bermuda, 1980

Professional viewers, curators, collectors, gallerists and critics look at photographs a little differently this way: how the work might fit in the stable of photographers they show, fit into their collection, fit in a historical context, fit in a show they are working on down the line or even if my sex, age or race fit, whether by showing my work or purchasing it will look good in their colleague's eyes, move them up in their own careers, and so on. It is never as simple as great work getting acclaim and being committed to.

 "Mona" from the Monsters series, Fitchburg, MA 2014

Where does this leave us in our pursuit for fulfillment? Well, keep the bar high, of course. Making art is not really about compromising or settling, at least in this context. I also believe we are lifetime students, hungry to learn, progress and move forward. Finally, I don't know that I've ever been completely satisfied by something I've done, content or fulfilled by a a completed series; frequently close, but perfection is illusive after all.

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD 2014

It's simple really. Keep working. Ever heard of a retired artist? Artists don't usually retire, they just die.

Near Pullman, WA 2013

One thing is for sure, finding photographic fulfillment while sitting around and not photographing is mostly impossible. When have you ever regretted going out to shoot? Me, never. Something usually happens, some idea forms, some way of looking at things differently presents itself, some perspective on my surroundings shifts a little, opening a door to try something, to click the shutter. Actually, that is very fulfilling.

To close, one of my teachers way back in the 70's was Aaron Siskind. What a great guy and photographer. He called the fulfillment I've been writing about here "the juice", as in how something ordinary like an olive tree or a stone wall becomes elevated to a high level through our eyes with a camera. So true, imbuing something mundane with something special so that it transcends its own existence. One of the things we do, yes?

The Palouse from above, Washington 2016

Topics: Commentary,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 6, 2016

Wheat 2016 Finish

This is the third and last installment of blogs about a trip I took to photograph wheat fields in SE Washington in October/November 2016.

In the last post about the aerial pictures I made I wrote that we were in the air for about an  hour. As important as that one hour was for me and other aerial photographic excursions have been over many years, I spend the other nine or so days while out here by driving, stopping, hauling some camera out of the rental car, often setting it on a tripod, making a few exposures, reversing the same process and driving off, looking for the next picture to make, hour after hour and day after day. Most of my time I am on dirt roads, access roads that are there for the farmers to get their equipment to the fields. These can be treacherous, muddy and slippery after it rains and so dusty in the late summer at harvest time everything you own is covered in a fine powder. I used to have nightmares about this when working in 8 x 10.

To break this down to fundamentals, there are two basic kinds kinds of pictures you can make here, photographs with horizons and ones without. I make both in about equal amounts. In the 18 or so times I've been here to photograph I don't think I have ever felt as though I've run out of material to photograph, as each season brings a different landscape. Drive, shoot, drive, shoot, etc. This is a very limited way to make pictures and needs a very disciplined approach, I know. But I find it fulfilling and rewarding as the pictures I have made now over many years seem to speak to me at some core level.

The principle is extreme simplicity with elegance. This is very controlled photography that must be carried out with a maximum of attention to detail.  There also are some really awful photographs made here: cliche'd, over wrought, and super saturated. Many photo t rips and workshops are offered here. I don't know whatever happened to restraint, refinement and discrimination. Try a Google Images search for the Palouse to see what I mean. Like this:

The prevailing thought seems to be that if the colors are good somewhat realistically rendered then they will be better with the color sliders cranked to maximum. Same with sharpness. Hate that. Free country, I know, and others may do as they wish but for me more is not necessarily better. 

The color palette is determined by the season and the kind of light, meaning mostly the time of day. Mid days are usually not so good, blue and bleached looking. However, cloudy days mean good pictures can be made all day. My general advice is: get up before dawn, work until mid to late morning, eat, take a break midday and then get back to work by about 3 until the daylight is gone.

Tech: Most of my photography out here is with long lenses. Even with a long lens I find I can hand hold at times. Currently, I use two telephoto zoom lenses with the Nikon D810 camera; the Nikon f2.8 70-200mm in second generation version and also the variable f stop Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. The 70-200mm is slightly better but can vignette at long length and the 80-400mm is amazing considering its reach. With both you need to be aware of the clarity of the air. Also at longer lengths a tripod isn't always a guarantee, especially in wind. It is often windy here. This written from personal experience. 

As I write this today, I just got home last night. Don't ask me about flying on commercial airplanes as it is not good out there. That being said, my flights to and from Spokane, WA( the closest real  city) were uneventful and on time. I do advise getting approved for the TSA Pre Check as it does speed things up in security.

In the next week or so, as I begin to work the files, I will post both ground-based and aerial wheat field pictures on the site.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2016

AERIALS WHEAT 2016

Reserve flight out to Spokane from Boston: check

Reserve rental car: check

Reserve cottage in Moscow, Idaho: check

Ship gyro stabilizer out ahead of time: check

Get camera sensor cleaned: check

Pack: check

Fly and arrive

Shoot for several days with it raining on and off waiting for good weather: check

Reserve plane from Doug Gadwa, pilot I fly with: check

Day of aerials fly with door off in back seated next to large opening, camera in hand, preset to the right shutter speed (fast), gyro spinning at 21000 rpm to stabilize the camera, harnessed in but able to lean out and point straight down (Jesus! scary), shoot 516 frames in one hour: check

All that for one hour's shooting? Seems crazy, doesn't it? This is a "discretionary " trip, meaning I am not on assignment, no one's paying me to come out here, not on any grant. Most won't even know I've gone. 

Ah, but then this happens:


Which, for me, makes it all worthwhile. 

BTW: looking at these on your brand new super iPhone 7 will only lead you to surmise that the photographs are nice but not "special." That will be the wrong conclusion. Check this out below. You can see real prints soon, the weekend after the elections. After what we've all been through you may need something aesthetically pleasing to sooth your soul. 

Coming up:

Open Studios in Allston at 119 Braintree Street, Allston November 12 and 13 from 12-6 both days. I will be there and the studio will be open. As I get home this Thursday I will make prints of some of these for that weekend. Hope you can come.

Topics: Wheat,Digital,Color,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2016

Out in Wheat

As I write this I am in Moscow, Idaho on a project to photograph wheat fields. Although I call this wheat fields much else is grown here besides wheat: garbanzo beans, alfalfa, lentils, safflower, etc. It is late October so this isn't a time of flowing golden wheat with a hot sun blazing down from above. The fields are stubble, turned under or lying fallow this time of year.

Why be here now? Because this is a time where the land itself has no covering to soften its contour. This is the much photographed area called the Palouse, where workshops meet, where vans criss cross the terrain filled with photographers looking for that iconic " shot", the one that's a keeper, the one that ends up over a mantle to wow the house guests at the party.  And yes, in July or August at harvest time this is an exquisite place, but in late October? Not so much. 

That's why I am here, to make essential photographs.

I've only been here a few days but working here now is proving challenging. "Dodging rain drops" is how I would describe it, although the fog at dawn this morning was something new.  


I will make good pictures here, for the 18 or so times I've been here have me well prepared, perhaps better than anyone.  I also will not be repetitive. The late time of year helps to insure that, of course, but also I am seeking to do some things here differently than before. 

I am sure you have found this too but to be someplace familiar where you've made pictures before and to think through a different approach, to try something else, to challenge past assumptions seems key to me. Much has been written about how we always make the same pictures, over and over. This is all too easy, to be in front of something with similar light, similar content, and a similar frame of mind to something you photographed in the past with some success and then to repeat that same image. I am trying not to do that while here. 

It would be rewarding sometime to assemble some of the pictures I have made while here that are not of the fields specifically, the outtakes, if you will (hint hint you curators out there). Honestly, how can you not make a picture of an oil tanker sized hay stack three times your height stranded in the middle of nowhere?

So stay with me for the next few posts as I take you through my trip out here in late October 2016. Next up? I flew yesterday with brilliant blue skies and bright sun at 10 am. The first day since getting here that it has been so. We used a Cessna 206, a four seater airplane, with the door removed. I was harnessed and strapped in, sitting in the seat right next to the large opening. It was 45 degrees. Totally worth it. This is me, still strapped in, after we landed.

How did I do, up there at 1000 feet skidding along at 90 knots, pointing down at this amazing landscape? 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Wheat,Color,Northwest,Digital,Aerial

Permalink | Posted October 29, 2016

Digital History

As most of my readers know my teaching career was primarily at Northeastern University for thirty years in Boston with 13 years at Harvard University that overlapped with NU during the 80's.

I had been hired by Northeastern in 1981 to head up a new program in photography. By 1990 I was a tenured associate professor and was successful in helping to design and oversee construction of all new facilities in a renovated building. We were teaching as many as 5 intro photo sections per semester with 25 students in each class every semester year around. Even then the classes were wait listed with as many as 150 students trying to get in.

Photography at Northeastern was on a roll.

In the early 90's I wrote a grant application to take an intro to digital photo class in Camden, Maine at the just built Kodak Center for Creative Photography. The class, I believe, used Photoshop 1. I remember being shown how to use a mouse. It was early days. I  learned that the Center had an 8 x 10 film recorder in a special cool room that also had a hi-end Howtech drum scanner. This was for "special projects" only. I definitely wanted hands on these machines. I wanted to use the 8 x 10 LVT (Light Value Technology) recorder in the worst way. Although this was very early digital days scanning was a fairly mature technology.  

Back at Northeastern I made my case to my dean that I needed to do more research in Camden. He funded me and I began 1 1/2 years of going back and forth to learn more, to take classes and to get hands on with the 8 x10 LVT. Eventually I was awarded the status of using whatever I wanted and to be there whenever I wanted, sit in on any classes and, in the end, had a one person show of my photographs in the Center's gallery. The Kodak Center was built to research, use and develop software and hardware for the coming digital photo revolution.

Why so hungry for that one piece of equipment, the LVT? The only way I was going to be able to make a high quality print from a digital file was to scan existing negatives on the drum scanner, work those files in Photoshop and then write that file with the LVT back onto another sheet of unexposed film to be able to take it back to my darkroom to develop it, and then print it conventionally from that negative in my darkroom using an enlarger, trays and chemistry. In those days there were no inkjet printers.

That's just what I did.  I wasn't thinking of applying digital technology so much to my own work yet. That came later. But I was very interested in it for the program I ran and for my students. 

Back in Maine at the Center I scanned an 8 x 10 negative of an alleyway I'd shot in Cambridge, worked on the digital file with a computer to remove some trashcans with the clone tool, wrote the new image back onto an unexposed sheet of 8 x 10 black and white film using the LVT and developed the negative back in Boston in my darkroom.

I made a print of both the original negative with the trashcans in the frame and also the new negative with the trashcans removed. I tried to make the two prints as identical as I could.

I then went to see the same dean who had funded me to be up in Maine in the first place. I brought the two prints.

I remember this very clearly. His name was Jim Stellar and he was a young, savvy  and aggressive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and he had been a psychology professor before becoming an administrator. We sat on either side of a coffee table, he on a small sofa and me in a chair across from him. After initial pleasantries, I placed the two prints side by side on the coffee table saying, "see if you can find the difference between these two photographs". He looked at both for a second, looked back up at me as though he didn't get why there were two prints of the same thing, and then looked at the prints more closely, going from one to the other, back and forth. Finally, a light bulb went off in his head and he said, "the trashcans!"

Remember, this was very early times in the world of digital. I explained to him just what I'd done, so easy to do now and yet so difficult in those early days. He was dumbstruck but got the importance of this one example right away. For him it became his tactic to take the idea of beginning to teach, support digital photography and computer based programming at Northeastern to the school's provost, president and board of trustees for funding. These two photographs became a symbol of the creation of new labs, equipment and a curriculum in a broad array of disciplines that became the major in Multimedia Studies a few years later. New faculty, additional support staff, continuing allocations for updating, software and yes, not an 8 x 10 LVT, but our own 4 x 5 LVT.

This framed image with the two photos side by side still hangs in the Multimedia lab in Ryder Hall at Northeastern today. It's a little hard to see but if you look closely you can tell that the image on the left has no trashcans along the side of the left building, the one on the right does. 

No way could I lay claim to sole credit for all this. Getting the University to first understand and then move on this whole new and large scale project took years and scores of dedicated people to plan, initiate, lobby for and succeed in obtaining what was needed but yes, it all started here with these two prints.

You can draw your own conclusions but the takeaway from this is what I would say to my students: act on your ambitions, innovation doesn't come easily as there is always resistance to the new. Be persistent. Patience helps. Confidence too. Don't take no for an answer. But if you know you're right, hang in there. 

Topics: Digital,teaching,Northeastern

Permalink | Posted September 27, 2016