Thursday, December 17, 2015

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled ~

The cool thing about photography is that eventually we have to get out and go somewhere. It is not a solitary pursuit. We're not holed up in an unheated garret on the left bank, though I have to admit that does sounds kind of romantic (does it have wifi?). No, we get out, we interact, we take pictures. I don't imagine writers gather up other writers and go on walkabouts, but I think they'd have fun if they did.

But it is precisely what we do, and I try to take it a step or two further than the recommended daily allowance. I like to travel to the familiar and try to make it unfamiliar, novel, a bit off-balance. It's not hard. Last week, for example, I went downtown to do a little Christmas shopping, but found myself in the mood to park up in a part of town I usually don't find myself in. It wasn't some great adventure, mind you, and was probably only a quarter mile or so from my intended destination, but it allowed for some fresh ways to see my town. It was a great walk, and provided some new iPhone material. For better or worse, you're seeing some of the results here.

I do love foreign travel, and even the quick regional get-away, but those kinds of trips are special events and can occur, at best, only occasionally. So every chance I get, right here in my hometown and at any moment's notice, I go somewhere I have never traveled. Yes, that line is from my favorite poem by my favorite poet, and it is in fact a heartfelt love poem, but heck, I  take my metaphors literally. Cummings would, I'm sure, find little fault in it. Somewhere I have never traveled, he writes, gladly beyond any experience. An adventure for the heart and camera, mes amis, and it's only a few blocks away.

So go.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Portable Portrait ~

I have a passion for the portrait. It's what drew me to photography. Oh sure, I had the fantasy of traveling to exotic and dangerous places to shoot for National Geographic, but then I also had the fantasy that I'd play outfield for the Yankees. But I didn't have a passport and I never hit above .200 anyway (even in '66, my best summer at the plate), so the opportunity to learn portrait photography's dark arts seemed like a better idea. After all these years, it still does.

For many years, the darkroom was my place of refuge, a place of quiet contemplation where small seeds of inspiration could take shape and grow. I no longer have one, and my Macbook Pro, nice tool that it is otherwise, can't provide the same environment.  The studio stands in for it pretty well, however, and it's a place that is definitely good for the heart and soul. But here's the thing: I find that anyplace I am, with lovely light and a lovely subject, will put me in the same contemplative space, and the creative impulse is just as strong. Maybe even more.

This is why today's camera technology is so cool. The virtual world has no need for a big negative; this is mirrorless territory, even iPhone territory. My light little Fuji knows my mercurial moods and barely complains, and my iPhone is even more compliant. One or both is with me at all times, even if the perfect light isn't. But I'm forever searching for that beautiful north-facing window. After all these years, I'm making my best portraits nearby.

Photography is one of those lucky professions where you're actually rewarded for growing old. My knees may be worn but my eyes (as long as I'm wearing my glasses) are seeing light, color, shade, form, textures -- and beauty -- in entirely novel ways. There's no end to it, until the end.

But it does make me wonder what would have happened if I'd been batting over .300 in '66.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Coloring Inside the Lines ~

Color me curious, I guess. This little tidbit of language theory has been on (or slightly under) my radar since my grad school days, but its reappearance in an article in The Business Insider last week kicked in my front door. Until somewhat recently in human history, says the author Kevin Loria, we couldn't see the color blue. We couldn't see it because we had no name for it, or perhaps we had no name for it because we couldn't see it; either way it's a pretty confounding premise.

I've spent a good many years as a pretty decent color printer, I'm proud to say, though my successes were questioned by my wife who liked to point out my blue-green color vision deficiency.  I should point out that a slight blue-green deficiency is somewhat common among us guys, so I take this in stride.  I also conduct a popular shade-matching workshop to cosmetic and restorative dentists, where we study in some detail the problems involved in measuring and communicating color information, so the very notion of color -- regardless of the words we have to describe any particular hue -- looms large in the foreground of my career as a photographer.

What, then, are we to make of this whole color-blue argument? I don't know, either, but something inside me thinks it's important. We should all be perceiving the nuance of color according to our experiences and culture, and for the life of me I can't lay claim to an expansive vocabulary describing a blue sky, either. I live in Oregon. I should have a bunch of words to describe a gray sky, but I don't.

In the final analysis, though, I'm probably not the one to turn to for advice on the matter. I've long been devoted to black & white prints, and I  love color, too, but it's a strained relationship at best. I'll push, pull, bend, twist, and exaggerate it at every opportunity. The best landscape photographers pull their hair out striving for an unholy degree of accuracy, but not me. I like to improvise; the music of photography is jazz.

Or maybe it's the blues?