Topic: Northwest (24 posts) Page 1 of 5

Mt Tamalpais

I am in California for a few days this week visiting my sister, who lives in Berkeley.

We are headed out to have a picnic lunch today at Mt Tamalpais, which you can drive up. From the top you can see all of San Francisco Bay, down to Marin, a good deal of Richmond and down towards Oakland, etc. It is a glorious place with a trail the runs right around its circumference. 

I have photographed quite a bit at Mt Tam over the years, including the original "Mountain Work" series made in the late 80's:

and in more recent years too:

including driving up it one morning in 2015 in fog:

that slowly burned off as I walked the trail:

Mt Tamalpais. One of my favorite places.

Topics: West,Northwest,Vintage,Black and White,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 25, 2017

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

MTG with Sarah Kennel

Now that I am feeling better since hip surgery 5 weeks ago I've been shooting a little (but I still can't get through a full day as my endurance isn't up to where it needs to be), printing and I find myself in a few meetings as well.

I met this past week with the new-since-last-September curator of photography Sarah Kennel at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Sarah came to my studio to look at my work. This was the first time we'd met. Sarah comes to the PEM from nine years at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

We had a great time. I used to dread these presentations, feeling nervous and insecure and probably wanting too much from one meeting. But I realized over the past few years that I really enjoy them now. What a great opportunity to have a one on one with someone who has invested in spending the time to look at your work, to discuss it and to fit it into a larger sphere historically, culturally and aesthetically.

Sarah was terrific; telling stories, looking with real concentration at the work and sharing from her own experiences both in Washington but also in her new position. 

When someone has had a long career such as myself it is challenging to know what to show a curator for the first time. What I do now is ask them to choose a few portfolios from the gallery page on my site. That's just what Sarah did and she listed them in an email before we met so that I could make sure the portfolios were ready to view when she arrived. We started that morning with the Oakesdale Cemetery series from the mid 90's (here). This was a good choice as it brought Sarah into an approach to making photographs that spans over forty years of making series work. While Oakesdale is certainly not the first of the series work it is as close to seminal as anything I've done.

(When we laid out the book the designer and I used four from Oakesdale Cemetery for the cover of  my monograph published in 2006.)

From there Sarah and I moved on through a few portfolios she had mentioned she wanted to look at. After those I had pulled two more I hoped she'd be willing to see. This can be tricky as people get fatigued by looking at too much work. Invariably they say that they can look at more but one can only absorb so much. So what we did was too look at one series that were lighter, simpler, perhaps prettier or less substantive. These gave us a chance to simply enjoy pictures without needing to do any heavy lifting. The pictures were the aerials from Martha's Vineyard known as "Waves" (here). They are simply a visual and sensual delight and gave us a nice break. This led us to a discussion of Sarah's move from D.C. to the North Shore of Boston late last summer and how she has yet to explore the area with her family. She is from California. Can you imagine being new to this area? So beautiful here. She has much to discover.

For the last series, as we were well into our second hour and we both had commitments coming up that same day, I chose to show her the Benson Gristmill Series I made last fall (here). Why those? Because they show the way I am working in series now as opposed to the Oakesdale work from 1996 made twenty years ago. Hopefully, the refinement shows. They are very much "the same but different". The same: black and white, high print quality, tightly sequenced and describing a walk through a given and defined space. Different: digital, rectangles instead of squares, a wider lens, bigger prints and a different sensibility informed by what photography is now and my perception of it that has been altered by the past twenty years. The Gristmill series is also very dense and takes real concentration. Sarah gave it her full attention.

BTW: I wrote a couple of posts about the series after I printed them:

Benson Grist Mill

Benson Grist Mill Part ll


This was one Sarah liked very much.

Unusual for me to admit this but as we were looking over the last few prints in the series I shared my lack of resolution about how to end the body of work. Sarah had an idea that made a whole lot of sense, why the series should end a certain way. Now the last image in the series is this one:

The reasoning is hard to appreciate on a small monitor on line but the print drives the point home. The prints in this series are made on 22 x 17 inch paper. Only the center branch and leaves are sharp in this image, as though the intent is to hone in on one small part. This is something photography can do so very well. Notice the way the photograph is laid out, the out of focus building in the back serving as the backdrop for the small leaves in the foreground, the two trees there to frame the image. It's a fitting end to the series for the whole body of work is about this, this hyper way of looking at things, something so many of us do as we really photograph, as we turn our attention to the ordinary with a heightened sense of awareness.

I have Sarah to thank for this revelation. She found a strong conclusion rather than something that read like a run-on sentence. That's it right there. What good curating is like. You know how an author really needs a good editor? Well, that's it. Often artists need good curation. 

Thanks to Sarah Kennel for a wonderful and insightful meeting. I look forward to more.

Topics: Digital,Black and White,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 15, 2016