Topic: Iceland (19 posts) Page 1 of 4

Inside Aerials

Sometimes writing comes easily. I've got something to say and this blog is my vehicle to say it in. I think this comes from my profession as a teacher as I can remember dreaming up some new course, or curriculum, or a lecture for a specific class where I believed I had something of value for my students and wanted to share it. That was usually pretty straightforward. But writing about my own work or others isn't always easy.

Other times, when preparing a blog to post, it comes hard. Right now, I have got something I am wrestling with conceptually and I am outside my comfort zone as an author to get it out. This is where I admire so much those that write for a living.

At any rate, I am going to take a stab at writing on the inside of the aerials I make, in an effort to address the motivation behind working this way and what the resulting photographs mean to me. This may be answering the question that wasn't asked but hang in there as there may be something coming that you might find useful. Hopefully, by sharing this with you, I can a) inspire you to try it or b) help you understand the pictures a little better or c) help you understand how one professional artist thinks and works.

I am gong to sprinkle various aerials in here to help make my point.

Near Pullman, Washington, 2014

When asked about my aerial pictures I often answer that I believe I am in a some-what unique position in that I go up in a plane to photograph simply to make art. I am reliant on what we fly over, of course, but I believe I am doing something a little different with the pictures I make. Most photographers that work aerially are on assignment, shooting real estate, surveying, etc. Not me. I just want to make pictures from above.

From the Mass Marshes series, spring  2015

I feel like I am late to the party. Let me explain. While I was awed and impressed as a young man with Paul Klee and Franz Kline, Kandinsky, Stella, Pollack, de Kooning, Barnett Newman and others I was also confused and disoriented by their large works; so impulsive, at times so angry and loud. I lined up with Mark Rothko early due to a one man show of his work at the Guggenheim  in New York in 1978 six or seven years after he died that seriously rocked my world. Rothko imposed a kind of orderliness to his work, the vehicle of the rectangle a constant while working for many years within its structure. I could relate to that, or find logic in his pursuit. I also loved what he was doing with color for I was in the language of black and white from my early days in the 60's on up until the early 2000's, while at the same time looking over my shoulder at the Joseph Albers studies, so important to our understanding of color.

But make pictures within the sensibility that is abstract expressionism with my own work in photography? Not bloody likely. I was too indoctrinated and entrenched in the kinds of photographs that worked off the palette of the real world. By that I mean I was anchored to being out in it and depicting in a manner consistent with the mediums' modernist precepts: clarity, fidelity, depth of field, tonality and yes, even print quality. All the modernist boxes were checked. I was fulfilled and enamored by what the medium could do in front of real stuff, subjects if you will.  Still am. In fact, I had no issues of photography not being enough, or too literal, or not expressive enough. Beginning to work aerially has changed some of that, of course, as there is some really wild form, content and color when photographing from the air. I think that's why my most recent aerial work doesn't depend as much on a real typography as it does with what nature and mankind has done to the land. I don't know if I can write this clearly but my interest is less in physical depth and more in markings, both actual and imposed upon the landscape.

Mass Marshes, 2015

Iceland, 2013

While the aerials embody much that is conventional photography (sharpness, color, etc.) they are separated from it too by scalessness, the denying of foreground to background readability and the sheer abstraction of things.

This is going to sound a little obvious perhaps but I believe I have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the works of those seminal abstract expressionist painters through making aerial photographs. Bang! That's it, isn't it? So, how did they get there without the aid of hovering over the landscape like I have? I have no idea, but this clearly points to their brilliance and my lack of, I suppose.

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

So what does this way of working, photographing from the air, fulfill for me? I do believe I am using aerial photography to serve a different purpose than most. Quite simply, it is to make abstract art.

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

NOLA shoot, March 19, 2015

The contrast of knowing this is something 1000 feet below the plane spread out and displayed relatively accurately verses the final piece looking like it is marks on paper or canvas, not literally rendered and contained only within the artists' mind is almost to much to bear. 

That's why.

Near Moab, Utah 2010

                                                             • • •

Want to see prints of my aerial photographs? The best way to do that is to contact 555 Gallery and ask them. It would be helpful to tell them what bodies of work you'd like to see as not all the my aerial work is at the gallery. As a start, you might take a look at the gallery page of my site, as much of the aerial photographs are represented there. 

Topics: Aerials,Aerials in Louisiana,Utah,Iceland

Permalink | Posted September 24, 2015

The Right Picture at the Right Time

Perhaps because I am a senior photographic  person I find I have been thinking about the concept of what pictures we make at what periods in our lives. Looking at something I made in my mid 20's (Take Me Back) and comparing it to something I made recently (Spring and Fall) I can safely say that there was no way I could build a structure around a body of work back then like I do now. It was far simpler when I was young.

Photography was a lot simpler back then too. Besides all the technical changes photography has had, it is a medium much more aware of itself now than it was in the mid 70's. We know more about it and what it can and cannot do than we did then. It would have to be, after all that we've seen coming out of it in the past 40 years.

Of course, what perspective does someone have at 20 years old? Certainly little on himself/herself, but for most people none on much of anything. 

This then leads me to the core concept: making art that is age appropriate. By age appropriate I really mean something a little larger, that it is emotionally and intellectually age appropriate. Can this be boiled down to developmental changes? i.e. when we are younger we make work that is impulsive, reactive, intuitive, often simpler, emotional and self centered. When we are older we make work that is contemplative, intellectual, considered, knowledgeable, refined, careful. Simple enough, right? I mean that we should use what we've got and at my age I have a great deal I can use for I've been doing this so long. On the other hand, I can't go out and on an impulse make a huge body of work of a brand new idea, putting life and limb at risk and hang over the edge, so to speak. While I am physically constrained due to my age, I just can't because I don't think that way now.

As usual, I am thinking of a photograph I made that references my point. This below is at the Grand Coullee Dam in Washington.

I made this in the 80's. I am standing at the top of the dam with the tripod of the 8 x 10 view camera leaning up against the wall and the camera tilted over the wall and pointing straight down. My left foot is pushed up against the back tripod leg, keeping the camera from plummeting down the dam into the water and I have stretched myself tall as I can to see up at the ground glass to focus the image under the dark cloth before inserting the film holder to take the picture. This is high risk stuff. This is a photograph made a long time ago.Would I do this now? I think you know the answer.

Finally, how does one take a passion that is still as deep and resonate as it was when  younger and make art that is relevant and meaningful today? There is a catch, of course, and that is to not make the same pictures over and over again. Without moving on and relegating our done work to past work we fall into one of many traps, but the trap of repetition is to be avoided at all costs. Move on!

Also, as a rule it appears that later work may be as ambitious as earlier work but perhaps more thought through, in that the artist seeks to use the materials to his/her purpose as a device to make the point. In earlier years I would come across a place or an area and think to make a series of pictures from it that could compose a whole, be it a story or a thread or a concept. I would photograph the place, putting all my eggs into one basket, to focus whatever insight I had into a cohesive group of pictures to make a complete set in a short period of time. While I still do that occasionally, much of my work now is done over longer periods of time, with perhaps multiple shoots to get to the end. Slower because of being older? Yes, partly, but also slower  because I am aware of more things going on, more subtleties inherent in something I am photographing.

So, are you making pictures now that are symphonic? Large in scale, grand and extroverted? Or are you making more modest pieces, intimate and reflective, emotional and heartfelt? And does age play a role here?

I for one am still making the latter but am also involved in larger pieces too, assembled bodies of works that span time and often place. Why? Because I am thinking less and less of single pictures existing on their own. Maybe laying out and making books has taught me ways of connecting pictures to pictures more. At any rate, I am now involved in three larger series:

The Route 2 Trilogy:

a look at Massachusetts Route 2 as it heads from the suburbs west of Boston to the border with New York State in three parts.

Hofsos Trilogy:

a look at the small town of Hofsos, Iceland from inside and outside perspectives.

and Spring and Fall, a body of work of Martha's Vineyard that encompasses pictures made of the same area made on the ground and also made from the air:

Not to get morbid, but there is the phenomenon of classical composers final and unfinished bodies of work becoming their own requiems after they are gone: Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler and Faure' to name a few. You probably know others. 

Just saying.

The right picture at the right time.

Topics: black and white and color,Analog,Digital,Iceland

Permalink | Posted May 6, 2014

Finals: Finnur's Trip

I've spent the last several days final printing the work from Iceland called: Finnur's Trip.

If you come to the Open Studios next weekend (Open Studios) I would be happy to show you the portfolio.

I wrote previously about this two day off-road trip across part of Northern Iceland: Finnur's Trip 1 and Finnur's Trip 2.

Now the work is printed. Printing like this, making 23 prints in a few days, is part joy and part torture. Joy for the discovery of finding things in the pictures I hadn't noticed before, finding new images that were passed over in the first edit, working to  find the right color palette, the right tonalities, the right emphasis in the prints. Torture in finding A-edit photographs irreversibly flawed, of discovering that something I was excited about seeing did not fulfill my expectation, that I should have been more astute, aware, careful, intuitive, smart, visual, and so on. 

Then finally, when done printing, the realization that many many hours of work on a project is now finished, that I can put the preoccupation with this group of pictures to bed, take a breather perhaps, then move on to the next series in a list that seems  endless.

Finnur's Trip is a series of pictures, shot in a disconnected and disparate way, over a two day trip. They are not particularly tight and cohesive, yet retain a certain pace and rhythm as though made by someone who is very practiced, experienced and mature. Which is exactly what I am.

Imagine having the luxury to be so consumed with this one thing and having the time and means to do just that. I thank my lucky stars every day.

Topics: Iceland,2013

Permalink | Posted November 2, 2013

Iceland: Finnur's Trip 2

Way back I promised a report on the second day of my off road trip with Finnur in Iceland. Day 1 is here: Finnur's Trip 1. This one goes out especially to Mahala, my colleague and friend, who was a fellow artist at Baer with us in July. She is missing Iceland quite a bit, as am I. And we all are missing each other. 

On the second day of off roading with Finnur in Iceland we headed up the mountains to a kind of dessert on top, a long plateau of barren gray, rock and dirt country.

It was so vast and arid I found myself wondering if this was the real Iceland and that perhaps all the green and wet and beauty we'd seen on the way here was simply in the lower valleys and not the real island at all.

But, of course, there was still so much to see. On the start of heading down off the plateau we came to a small hot spring where we put on our suits and went in:


Surrounded by this barren landscape, this oasis in the mountains.

There were a few huts there for shelter in the winter: 

We saw many wonderful things:

In Iceland in the mountains in the summer there is water everywhere.

Early in the morning before we had breakfast, I walked down to the harbor:

and then, as we arrived back at the Baer Art Center, this was happening:

the sun breaking out on the fjord  where we stayed. Was this photograph enhanced? Yes, it is a combination of six frames, shot as under exposures on up to over exposures, blended together using a program called HDR Efex Pro, made by Nik Software. When used in modest ways, this method can give detail in shadows and highlights which would be lost if you just shot one frame.

Once again, thanks  to Finnur for a remarkable trip.

Topics: Finnur,Iceland

Permalink | Posted September 27, 2013

Not All Right All the Time

This is going to be one of those Neal venting blogs. No, not against the current state of photography on line where so much of it is so bad, or not against "authorities" who put out wrong information that is misleading and damaging, or not about landscape work that is oversaturated and over sharpened. No, none of those things. 

This one's going to be at my own self, as I have done almost nothing but print for two weeks since returning from Iceland. I have written recently about "mining the work". That phase when going through way too much work to edit it and get it  down to a manageable group of photographs that say something, that present work that is cohesive and direct. Mining Your Work

But this one is about once you get into making the actual prints, the decisions you make, the paths you go down and the final results once finished. Lots of chances to do this wrong! I feel like I've made many many bad decisions in printing the past two weeks. My error? I went down a path of size verses sharpening decisions that, looking back on it, mean that given the opportunity I went wrong instead of right. Now, after days wasted, I am back on track and printing well again, but really, you'd think I would know better.  I have wasted ink, paper and time and it ticks me off.

How can you avoid myriad pitfalls in making prints? If you know, drop me an email as this seems like a necessary evil sometimes. We certainly do need to look at different ways to present our work. And it seems a requirement to look at ways we can be better technically. This can be using a new or different tool, a plug in, a new way to get our pictures to look the way we want.

Very often we get into a "system" where we are practicing what worked before instead of tailoring the prints we make to the imagery we've shot. This can seriously mess up what we do as artists and makes our prints generic by holding them to some standard printing norm. That's probably not making art but making production prints. Not so good. I believe you should not be timid about making your own prints your own prints. In analog days we used to call this way of printing making an "expressive print". Still holds true today.

Now that I am back on track printing-wise I have been working with some interesting and new color palettes for me: some variations on green on some pictures from Iceland and blue and yellow  made just this past weekend. These aren't specific bodies of work that address only these colors but their color plays a large part. Am I colorist? I suppose I am.

from Iceland and:

from the Shaker Village at Canterbury, NH. Some of you know of my fondness for the Lensbaby and I have shot at the Canterbury Shaker Village many times but never with this most unique and unusual lens. The Lensbaby tilts and pivots, giving you the ability to specify where things will be rendered sharp and where they will not.

Topics: Shaker,Iceland

Permalink | Posted August 26, 2013