Topic: Utah (6 posts) Page 1 of 2

What if?

What if a photographic artist went back to a place where he made work before? What if he was working within the overall definition of "landscape photography"? What if he took the opportunity to make the final prints a divergent opinion from what he had done before? 

That's what I am working on, as a recently turned 72-year old career photographic artist with close to a thousand separate printed portfolios of work made over my career. Another way to pose this is: what would be the point of going back to Utah to make the same pictures you made before?

Spoiler alert: I am looking at the trip through a different lens.


We all know we can do anything we like. We all know we have the freedom to express ourselves however we choose, the only penalty being how our work will be received. I am working on these files to  alter the subject more, to apply a more individualized set of controls, to interpret and direct more, rather than hang on to a factualized record of time and place.

I also made some panoramics, something I don't do often. Let me share with you how I do them and why.

Of course, there are two ways to make these. One, to simply crop a wide angle image top and bottom. The other is to shoot multiple frames, usually from left to right and then bring those files into Lightroom, Photoshop or another software to merge them all together. This has advantages and disadvantages but for me is the only way to go. A downside is that this then ends up being a very big file (this one is 830 mb, for instance). This takes some serious grunt and time for the computer to work through. But the fidelity and ability to make this a very large print is unsurpassed. I have one in my studio from Iceland that is 86 inches long!

Another approach I  am working on is to minimize the photograph in content and skew its colors to divorce it from reality. This is tricky as the work can be easily dismissed as gimmicky and contrived:

I have some history of doing this. Last winter's "Washed Out" from Malibu, CA made pictures that were distinctly not pretty (here). BTW: Washed Out are from the same canyons in Malibu that burned due to recent fires.

And finally, as I was at Thompson Spring a couple of times this trip, revisiting the site where I made the series

 Thompson Spring (2010)

I noticed the loudest and most prominent aspect in this almost ghost town was the train going right through at high speed.

So the RR line became a fascination:

Which, of course, I followed until the road ran out.

(I know, hard see on your phone so small is the evidence of the RR track going though. This is a little easier in a 22 inch print.)

That's what I am working on so far and links you to my current thinking as well. This is a process that takes time, thought and perspective. And finally, and this is big, I am relying upon literally decades of experience as I sift through this new work. Past efforts are at play here, as I reference these pictures to ones made in Utah before and a broad array of my work, both from earlier analog days to current digital practice. I also have no interest in being repetitive. The very best part of having done this so long, I really know what I am doing. As well, the adjustment and configuring tools are so amazing these days that I find it a miraculous world of possibility and opportunity to explore, interpret and invent. Are you an artist or a documentarian? If the former, you really have amazing freedom of expression. Use it.

Topics: New Work,Utah,Southwest

Permalink | Posted December 2, 2018

Somewhere Over America

Literally.

Sitting in a plane, skimming over the cloud cover at 37,000 ft, with no idea where we are. I know, commonplace, every day.

My whole day felt like that as we left Boston in the dark in heavy rain.  

Displaced. 

We landed at Salt Lake in bright sun and clean crisp air. I picked up my rental and drove south to Moab, both on four lane highways and then on two lane roads through what seemed like endless dessert, vast expanses of sand, rock, sky and nothing else. A reminder that we are a very big country with very large unoccupied spaces. Of course, I felt very small. These places shift our perspectives, alter our sense of our own importance and reorder us. 

As the day wore on, the light slowly went from midday flat and bright to warmer and richer.

I stopped a couple of times, shifting roles from being a traveler to being a photographer, done so many times now over my career. Getting the tripod out of what had been my checked luggage, unpacking a camera, looking through it and clicking a shutter, for what time? The millionth? Who knows?

Displaced.

Forgive the analogy, as I write this from my motel room in Moab the next morning, what is the ammunition we use to empower our pictures with something more than just fact or some appearance of fact? What do we have that imbues any of our work with substance and weight? Is this just process and a discipline based on experience? Familiarity with procedure and a reasonable knowledge of what others have done and do?

I am not unaware that landscape photographs are fraught with peril in 2018 and have discussed this in many contexts over the years. Defined as irrelevant, predictable, over done and past it. Best not to dwell on what others make when making art. At a minimum you will have your truth if you speak with your own voice.

My proclivities tend to go towards things in decay, atrophied, in decline or thrown out these days. A characteristic of my age, perhaps. But also of my experience. As we butt up against midterm elections and a government increasingly dysfunctional and mean spirited we all are faced with the choices we make.

A few miles south of Provo I came across an area that had burned

earlier in the year. This brought me back to the firestorm damage I photographed last winter in California. 

Stay with me as I make this trip to Utah to photograph.

Topics: Utah

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2018

Is It Possible?

Is it possible that we are art while we are making art? Is it possible that the way we move, the way we use our bodies can be part of the art as we make our photographs? Is it possible that our stance, or position, or our fluidity as we place ourselves or react to something we are photographing has a big effect on the result? I think so. This isn't talked about much, isn't acknowledged but making photographs is a physical thing, you out there with a camera in the real world, on a street, in a field, on a train, in a room, in a crowd, in a studio. Where you are and, I would maintain, how you are, affects the outcome in a large way. And yet it is completely counterintuitive for us to try different positions. We tend to make the picture from where we first saw it. Walking down the sidewalk, camera in hand and we see something we want to photograph, we don't move, we stand right there and make the picture. Wrong. What about how our body is, this tool we inhabit our whole lives? What about its well being? Can it move and bend and be flexible to help put us where we should be?

Henri Cartier Bresson, Mr. "decisive moment" would have been right with me on this. He likened the act of photographing to dance, photographing as choreography. You can see this in his pictures, this magic of being in the right place at the right time doesn't just happen by accident.

As an example, I learned the lesson from him early in my career that to to get above and point down is an effective tactic. This states the obvious but to someone who deals with the horizon often in his work a strategy to eliminate the sky has to include getting above things and pointing down.

The result can be a perspective that is both fresh and distinctive. Bresson used this throughout his whole career, as have I.

This photograph used by permission, from my friend Marybeth Groff, its owner.

This one above carries the idea to the extreme. I made this in the 90's with an an 8 x 10 inch view camera hanging out over a railing on a bridge pointing straight down. The photograph from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts is part of what I call the "Down Work"  that includes work from the US, Italy and France, all in 8 x 10. This picture is one of the influencers to me starting to make aerial photos ten years later.

Orvieto, Italy 1992

My point: you can't deny the platform you use to make your pictures. It is your body. Don't deny looking at things from a different position when you make your pictures. Up high, down low, to the right, to the left, standing up on something or lying down on the ground

Moab, Utah 1998

makes a very big difference. 

Part of the art of making pictures.

Topics: Black and White,Vintage,Utah,Teaching blog

Permalink | Posted January 23, 2017

Limitations

Is that it? Am I desensitized to new pictures? Or is it that I've been here, the peninsula that starts in Rockland, Maine and ends at Port Clyde, so many times I've done it all before? (I wrote most of this when in Maine in September.)

I was trying to play it out that what I found two weeks ago in Utah was so over the top incredible that it made me less prone to find things to photograph back in New England but I don't think that's it. 

Great Salt Lake, Utah, 2015 Shoot 2

Great Salt Lake, Utah, 2015 Shoot 2

I think it is simply that I have hunted here for pictures so many times. I have rented here for several years, either in Port Clyde itself or where I am now in South Thomaston. Years ago, I also taught for several summers at what used to be called the Maine Photographic Workshops, now called the Maine Media Workshops.

I even came up here a few winters on a grant to study at the Eastman Kodak digital research facility in the early 90's.

No, what it is partially is that I am having surgery in November.

As I anticipate hip replacement surgery in early November the will may be there but the body isn't able to deliver. I find I consider going out to shoot someplace as a balancing of the pros and cons. How much walking? How far? And, of course, is it worth it?

I remember Aaron Siskind having this same dilemma as he got older. Of course, he fell and really hurt himself on a photo trip to Turkey. This was such a life threatening crisis he was flown home to Providence to have a skin graft in the repair of his broken leg. After a long time in recovery he was able to walk again and made these pictures:

not far from his home in Pawtucket, RI. These were nicknamed the "dribbling tar pictures" as that was what they were. Wonderful abstractions and made with the 2 1/4 single lens Rollei that I had as well. In fact, I still have it. One of my mottos, developed over now a long life of massive amounts of physical activities is: Don't get hurt.

For now, my process is: what you can do with what you've got. Working within a set of limitations as a sort of compromise or a deal with myself. 

As young man I didn't think this way, of course. There were really no limits. If I needed to hike with the 8 x10 slung over my shoulder to the top of the cliff in Southern France to get that one picture, I did it. If I needed to schlep the big camera to the bottom of Cava Romana in northern Italy near Trieste to be able to photograph the walls of the marble quarry in 100 degree heat, I did it. If I needed to climb the scaffolding on the outside of the Zakim Bridge in Boston while it was under construction to get the picture of the three guys raising the US flag, I did it. Finally, if I needed to photograph Chetro Ketl at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico from above and hike the trail that took me up there, I did it.


                                                               • • •

As I now conclude this post, back in Cambridge for a few weeks, I am off again to Martha's Vineyard to stay for a bit before heading home to Boston for surgery. Next few posts will be from the Vineyard, which is exceptionally beautiful in the fall, with yellows, oranges, deep purples and rust predominating. Can't  wait.

Topics: Aaron Siskind,Utah,Northwest,Digital

Permalink | Posted October 12, 2015

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