Topic: New Work (23 posts) Page 1 of 5

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: New Work,Iceland,Digital,Foreign

Permalink | Posted August 6, 2017

Delaware Water Gap

Looking for someplace to photograph? Consider yourself a landscape photographer? Live within reach of southern New Jersey or upstate PA? Take a look at the Delaware Water Gap, about 20 miles of exquisite river valley along one side of the Delaware River in New Jersey. Wikipedia is a good place to start your research: here.

I just came from driving along it, starting  from the South in the Poconos in PA heading home to Boston in the first week of May. After several days of rain, I can't imagine it being more beautiful.

The primary road is along the western side of the river, which allows frequent access to the water itself, with several campgrounds and put-ins for canoes and kayaks.

Hitting it off season is best for me as this is a very popular place in the summer and can get crowded. Rimmed on either side with high hills, cliffs and waterfalls, the whole area is a National Park so no strip malls, motels or gas stations. I have driven through it in the winter, spring and fall and they were all very beautiful.  

I find myself thinking of the Water Gap in terms like Eden, paradise, oasis, heaven,   utopia, and Shangri-La while being aware that these are reactions that may be a result of my post WW 2 birth, upbringing and education. Which, of course, calls into question just what our definition of paradise may be. For me, as a New Englander, it is the Water Gap. Who's to say what yours is? However, it is fair to say that the Water Gap represents a respite from present day USA and contrasts powerfully with the commerciality of the Poconos to the south and present day New Jersey with NYC close by to the north. My definition of paradise includes things like: respite,  quiet, serenity, privacy, beauty, isolation and even intimacy. Clearly a manifestation of things like getting a break from the: rat race, treadmill, production, deadlines, multi tasking, social networking, to say nothing of threats to our national parks and  walls on our borders. The other day while driving through it, and stopping frequently to photograph, I was in a sort of reverie or suspended reality, separated from the world that surrounded the park, early morning on a Saturday in early May. 

If you are a serious photographer and/or intentional it is worth being nearby with access to the park for several days. You'll need to bring your A game as it necessary to turn up your sensitivity to the light, the time of day, the air and the uniqueness of the time of year. Not for the feint of heart, real substantive landscape photography, for the majority is crap, over the top sensationalism these days, kind of like our current president. And so, I find the Water Gap a real challenge, to make pictures there that are expressive and evocative,  embodying a faithfulness to the content before me but also able to convey depth of perception and an acute sensitivity to our surroundings. On the other hand, maybe someone can point their smartphone out the window at the Water Gap at 50 mph, click the shutter and convey all that too. But not me. I need to stop, get the gear out, look around and slow the f___  down.

Postscript: After I'd shot the last frame of the day along the Delaware River, with my mind moving on to visiting my sick friend Keith Johnson in a rehab hospital in New Britain, CT that afternoon and then heading to BT's in Sturbridge for the region's best BBQ, then back to home, I looked down to find this:

staring up at me from the edge of a mud puddle.  I'd have to be brain dead to not regard this as a sign, a message from the photo gods shining down on me, approving of my efforts this early Saturday morning, rewarding me for making some good pictures along the Delaware Water Gap. I don't know if  I thought it to myself or said it out loud but out came a sincere "thank you!" I picked up the coin, put it in my pocket and thought, "Damn, this is good." Then second, "maybe this needs a blog".


Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted May 10, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 3

I thought I had it all packaged, a known methodology, a series virtually completed, the work and manner of making predictable, all planned, really.  Wrong.

First, a day with strong light, wind and blue sky clarity. I thought I'd head out to just see what I could get in the mid to late afternoon, as many of the past shoots had been in the a.m. What I got was a surprise, what turned into big deal instead of just an afternoons' diversion. Not so much what was in front of me but in how much my thinking had changed, being so all consumed with the thoughts and feelings of this new series. This is obsession, of course, and it is often what we seek but comes with its own penalties too. Last time I shot on the Shrink Wrapped project had been ten days before these. It's as though my mind worked the problem over and over, took me through possibilities and iterations, allowed me to arrive along a path without even making pictures in the various versions, then took me to here, someplace else. This make any sense? Because I am in a very different place now having made these recently.

As I said, someplace different now.  This is new, this phase, and this is the part where I don't know where this comes from as these are from a far more subliminal place.  I feel like a passenger along for the ride.  This is good but a little like vertigo as I am not sure quite where I stand.  On the other hand, this heady feeling I have about these pictures means that I am no longer bogged down with some sort of base, some sort of foundation upon which the pictures reside. Oh no, not at all. So, faced with this new what I did a few days later was to is head up to Maine to find more and, as it turns out, very different boatyards with shrink wrapped boats.

Imagine allowing yourself the permission to strike out on very new ground. Granting yourself the luxury of thought in something new and unknown, taking a leap to jump ahead several steps in some sort of trajectory, a progression to some place quite simply, new. Progress forward without restraint.This bears some relationship to how you define your earlier work, of course. One of my teachers said that it all exists as a continuum, your early work compared to your latest. Easy to diminish the earlier and place the latest on a pedestal as you like to think you know so much more now. But it is all your work, the older and the new, and so as valid and relevant as anything you've done. This is not easy as you really can't negate the time it takes to get here. This is simply paying your dues, putting the time in. But this can be something very new. Giving yourself the permission to take the leap. You want to jump ahead, don't you? You're impatient to be there. In one sense you can do that through study and looking hard but in another perhaps not, no substitute for time in. I think of this as arriving at simplicity, something a younger or less experienced artist might not see as he/she is looking for significance and "meaning". Well, by pushing for that you may find it inaccessible. 

Remember when we started out on this shrink wrapped journey I said that I wanted to delve into the anatomy of a project? Well, we are know in the evolution of the anatomy. 

We will have one more blog next about these stupid shrink wrapped boats (yes, this has become a love/hate relationship). The last one, I hope. Why? Because I did go up to Maine on what turned out to be just one day instead of several. One day because it started to rain which effectively shut me down. Where I found truly epic coastal fog as snow melted and the temp was in the 60's. Where I found whole new kinds of wrapped things I'd never dreamed of. Where the sky and the plastic all melted into one, like being inside a ping pong ball. 

Want to put a little mystery into what you shoot? Wrap it.

Next up: Shrink Wrapped 4.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast,where I live

Permalink | Posted March 21, 2017

Shrink Wrapped 1

Project: photographs made into a portfolio, a show or a book. A project can be made quickly; over an hour, a month, a year, years, or even a whole career. 

In my own work I've made projects or series in a few hours, walking around a place photographing. But there also are ones that took longer, a few months or a few years. My work called Wheat is a project I started in 1996 and continues still, 21 years later. 

A new winter project, begun in December, has taken longer than I thought it would and now  fits into the "several months" category. I am in the phase now where I can see that this project called ShrinkWrapped will end soon. 

This blog and the next are going to be about the anatomy of a project, an effort to get inside the creative process, in this case mine, as it unfolds to make a new body of work. I am sharing with you what has and is happening as it takes place. I will try not to make strong value judgments, and urge you not to as well, as that is not the issue. You and I will be a passenger on this ride as I work through a new body of photographs, what transpires through these projects I make. Perhaps we can find a few things in here we have in common. I hope so.

Let's go through the progression. If you look at the Wheat pictures on my site, or Salt Lake, or Kudzu or the Dunes pictures from 2012 and 2013 you can see a prevalence of abstraction of form, of decontextualizing.  With the project I am working on now, I had  felt for a while that photographs of plastic wrapped boats in storage for the winter months might be worthwhile. I didn't know, of course, as  I hadn't pointed a camera at them yet. This is the phase of a project that is just thoughts, wondering, questioning, supposing, but not knowing. Of course, many ideas for projects never get farther than that. This is standard teacher to student stuff as well. This "epiphany" students would have, where they thought they'd come up with a great idea.They would show up at my office all excited to tell me about this great group of pictures they were going to make. I'd listen to their idea, this brilliant plan they had and then ask, "Do you have any pictures to show me?" They would answer, "Well no, not yet but I..." I would then kick them out of my office saying go make some pictures and show me next week. Ideas are cheap, but a physical thing, taking an idea and actualizing it into some pictures? Priceless.

So, I took a day in January. It was cold but not brutal. I drove to Gloucester on the North Shore, about an hour away. I needed a boat yard, one that stored shrink wrapped boats in the winter. I don't know much about boats as they are not part of my world. But I found a boat yard, filled with boats covered in plastic, and asked at the front desk for permission to photograph. I was taken to see the manager who said yes without a second thought. No questions asked. Perfect. I went back to the car thinking logistics: what lens? iso? tripod? aperture? access? exposure? background? There are always questions at this stage. I made some decisions, loaded up and headed out, looking. Made my first picture...

which ended up being the portfolio's title page. A kind of survey to what was contained inside, an overview only, there just to place us in a boat yard.

This phase, this exploratory thing we do, probing, wandering, not knowing what's around the corner, what's next, with no clue what we're doing yet, taking a picture, questioning how it's going to turn out or what it will look like, is always a special time. Are we on the brink of some major discovery? Some way of making photographs that is new and fresh? Or is what is there nothing, nothing that holds attention or that somehow it is all wrong? Return another time?  A different day? On your next trip? Or perhaps it came across as a bad idea poorly executed? It is humbling, really, how easy it is to make bad pictures or the inverse, how impossible it is to make really good ones.

But here in this boat yard in Gloucester that day it seemed fine to me, particularly as this was the first day. I found I was pointing up a lot, being on the ground with these boats way high up in the air, sitting there held up by cradles. Let's be clear  this is not a "boats" project. I didn't care much about their hulls, exposed as they were but the white shrink wrapped plastic installed from just below their decks all the way up through to the tops of their wheel houses were something else. Through the camera, in isolation, they looked like snow covered mountains to me.   Some of the pictures I made that day:  

Shapes and form.  For the most part I am not very interested in where they are, these huge things sitting heavy on the ground. But they do seem to fly or take on blimp-like form when put up against the sky. This was getting interesting.

I also took a few minutes to watch a crew unrolling sheet plastic, draping it over a boat, trimming it and then hitting it with a gas powered heat gun to shrink it tight around the form of the boat.

Then I made a discovery. If I walked between the boats, many pressed up against each other in places, this world became one of white on white, a blizzard of shrink wrapped white plastic stretched around the shape of the boats. Most odd and quite wonderful:


Now I was getting somewhere.  I seem to have a pervasive need to abstract things, to isolate and take out of context. This was the engine that drove what I did that day in Gloucester, to get right up in these shapes, to take them out of their surroundings, the function of protecting the boats, this practical requirement to wrap these costly things with sheets of white plastic. 

What a pleasure.

I left that day knowing now that I had a hold of something, excited at what I would find when I opened up these files back home.

I also left that day with many questions. Had I started and finished a project? Or maybe just begun? Had I done well, or was my approach wrong or misguided? It is something if you think about it, this illusive thing we deal with, this effort to make art, some of us throughout our whole careers. After all this time, all these years of working weekly and daily, looking through a lens on the world, that we still don't know what will come out, what might surprise us, what will last and what won't. It is sobering to find that we know so little.

Coming up next, Shrink Wrapped 2, as I find I am not done at all, as I learn getting above the boats isn't what I thought it would be, as I learn that it is challenging to shoot white on white, where I find transparency, as things get very strange indeed and where I find substance in pragmatic forms.

Stay tuned.

Note: As Shrink Wrapped isn't finished yet I haven't placed the series on the website yet.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted March 2, 2017

SERIES

Let's talk series. The way I make most of my pictures. Work that sits as a whole, published, or in a portfolio or in a show. Usually sequenced, often all shot in one pass, edited and printed for cohesion; a beginning, a middle and an end. Often a few standouts in there and then a few that are clearly not. The standouts seem to ground the group and the others will hover around it or surround it in sympathetic harmony, or that's what I hope for. An impression formed by the full series that approaches some completeness or comprehensive wholeness that a bunch of single photographs put together can never become.

Case in point, for me an oddly framed and seen, looser constructed series that came from the Cape last month. Beach shacks at an entrance to a public beach, cold and gray, early morning, windy and empty in late November. Shooting with a mirrorless camera which has a different feel for me, looking at the image on the screen depicted back there at arm's length. That wondering, somewhat inquisitive way of photographing that means the subject is being explored, discovered, analyzed, probed, rejected and made into photographs. Toying with whatever's in front of you. Such a wonderful way to work. Not photographing it so much as what it becomes as a photograph. Yes, that's different. Allowing the tool and the process to aid in making the image, working with the medium's assets and liabilities to craft pictures that live in the realm of poetry or perhaps a chamber piece or an  ensemble of players working in a contemporary way, aware of history but moving things forward a little, nudging the medium into ways of seeing not so very straight, not so rigorous and perhaps even a little, I don't know... relaxed. A Cubist principle getting in there to play a part in asking what is seen from this angle that changes the perspective. Not thinking of outcomes or results,  just being in the moment, allowing a career's worth of experience to flow out, comfortable in letting the medium make itself known or perhaps, getting out of the way a little.

"Pictures make pictures"

"Don't think too much"

 "Wonder what this will look like"

"Try this"

"No"

"Maybe"

"What aperture?"

"Don't fuck this up"

"I wonder what's over there"

Some of these short phrases shared with students over the years. 

Inside. My thoughts. My looking and sharing with you. That's all, really. 

All that make any sense?

The pictures:

Boring, right? I know. As an attempt to build a justification for subjecting you to such banality let me try this. As a career professor heading a photography program at a large urban US university of some stature (Northeastern) there was often a stage I would reach with my students. If they'd come along a little and were beginning to grow in awareness of the medium they were studying there might be some interest in my work, as though maybe they could get from me the answer to making good pictures. Some would see this as a shortcut to better grades, perhaps. "Make em like his and he'll give you an A" was their thinking. But some would approach it from a better perspective, as though through understanding my path a little they might find their own. So they would ask, after searching my website or seeing a show or two, "how come you photographed that?" As though the reason for choosing a subject could provide the answer. I developed an answer over the years that I eventually wrote down and it went like this:

Imagine you started photographing in your early twenties and continued right up until yesterday and you'd made pictures extensively, traveling all over the world to make your art. You achieved some success with these works, having shows, your work being collected and published into books. While what you photographed was perhaps the first tier in a person's understanding of your work, with perhaps some more looking and study the second realization would come in understanding how you photographed what you photographed. If that proved meaningful or significant then perhaps the subject or content could be reduced or sublimated to allow the second tier to become more apparent or rise to the surface. This is close to the achievement of photographing nothing. In an experienced artists' hands perhaps the photographs of the banal and unimportant can be raised to a high level, maybe even to something sublime.

This would cause some sputtering, swearing and maybe even some yelling in frustration, which I admit, I enjoyed causing. I learned early that giving an answer was easy but to ask a question that would force their wheels to turn or them to think it through to find the answer to their own question was much better for them, and for me. Of course, this infuriated them. They were paying this huge amount of money to have their professor teaching them and all he would do is ask a question in response to their question. They hated that.

But back to these:

Making pictures of the everyday, the passed over, the discarded, the detritus in our lives is not new. I think of Lewis Baltz's, "New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California" for instance. One of my career preoccupations has been to photograph  places where design, architecture, aesthetic and beauty play no part, where things such as buildings are just put there, where there is no plan, no overarching idea as to the placement. Look at Lebanon, NH as a for instance.

This post has most likely been too long. After all you don't have all day to read this blog, right?

Topics: Digital,Color,Northeast,New Work

Permalink | Posted January 4, 2017