Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Photography Contrarian ~

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to make my photographs bass-ackwards, and this bears some explanation, as you can imagine. I think it came about when I began to really embrace all things digital, because this made me see things differently from my old darkroom days. A lot differently. And since I'm enjoying myself immensely, I pay little heed to my erstwhile advisors and detractors who came upon this technology from a different angle. Take your own damn pictures! I'm having too much fun.

So let me take you back to those old darkroom days for a little perspective. Despite the usual dissipations attendant to a 20-something neophyte, I was a diligent and disciplined photography student. I took it seriously, and trained under some intensely talented teachers. The lesson brought home by them, ratified by the writings of the ever influential Ansel Adams, was the insistent karma of pre-visualization. Whether in the studio or in the field, each shot was thought out ahead of time (sometimes even diagrammed) to visualize the values, tones, and intent of the photo when realized in the darkroom. It was, as you can tell, pretty much all planned out, and ideally there were no unpleasant surprises. So I ask you: what fun is that?

Don't get me wrong, this was wonderful training and it provided a rich background from which to spring. And spring I did. I began, imperceptibly at first, to turn my meditative gaze outward, and I discovered that my camera and my eyes teamed up to find the things that interested them, and I pretty much went along for the thrill-ride. Maybe it's just in the way I use imaging technology, or maybe it's the tequila, but in either event there's a profound joy -- and, yes, the yang of a little discomfort -- in not knowing exactly where I would end up. Life is like that.

But if you open yourself up to a little post-visualizing, here's what you'll discover: a wealth of infinitely-layered images that open themselves up to you with new surprises every time you visit them. They will entertain you, they will delight, they will talk back with an atittude and they will be profoundly challenging. I think that's the whole point of art anyway, and it's not the sort of thing you can easily plan out ahead of time. Create your own river I say, and then go with the flow.

No telling what you might discover.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Zen and the Art Of Trying Not To Freeze Your Ass Off

Blame it on climate change. The recent winter shift in weather patterns up here has been pretty dramatic, and not in a warming direction, either. Quite the contrary; it's a mini-Ice Age, a snowpocalypse, and downright pleistocene if you ask me. Cold, in other words, and I didn't sign up for this, but here we are. We'll make the best of it, come hell (oh, I wish) or high water.

So with temperatures that never got above the teens, my friend Dan and I took the notion that it'd be a good idea to drive up into the Columbia Gorge and find some frozen waterfalls to photograph. We bravely sallied forth, bundled up like a couple of four-year-old's, with all the photo gear we could muster. Which, between the two of us, is considerable.

The waterfalls in the gorge are an incredible site any time of the year; they wax and wane with the seasons and the rainfall. I've photographed them many times, but never in a nearly-frozen state like this. It presented some interesting challenges. We hiked (or, rather, skated) on the lower trail up to Latourell Falls, picked our way carefully down to Bridal Veil falls, and then coasted into the parking lot at Multnomah Falls. Somewhere in the mix we found an inviting brew-pub in Hood River to thaw out. Ok, so it's not the Shackelton expedition. Give me a break.

But you know me, I have to make every excursion into something more personal, more intense, than just a cruise with a camera. I want to bring the camera up to my eye and and lose myself in the moment -- in this case, an extremely cold moment, but a spellbinding one nonetheless. The swirling mists at the bottom of the falls were instantly freezing on our lenses (and my glasses) so I know that I was sometimes shooting on faith alone. Therein lies the beauty of the motions.

And truth be told, I love shooting in gray and inclement conditions. Let me rephrase that: it's not that I love actually shooting in them -- I take my creature comforts seriously -- but I do truly love the photographic possibilities inherent in the gray skies, the rain and the fog. Add to that snow and ice now, too. A nice, warm day presents few challenges physically or photographically, and for all their discomforts, the frozen waterfalls quite literally took my breath away. It was a rare visual feast.

Shackelton would have been proud.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Un-Resolutions For A New Year ~

I find myself sitting at my desk, gazing mindlessly down at the meadow, here in these first few hours and days of the new year 2017. By tradition, one supposes, I should be pondering some resolutions and promises to keep in these upcoming months, but I'm not of that mind. Sorry to disappoint.  Another fine tradition is to register an optimism that the new year will accord us a more generous slice of luck and goodness than last year. But truth be told, acknowledging all its ups and downs, 2016 was, on balance, a pretty good year. So was 2015, and the year before that, and the one before that, too. I've lived a lot of the-year-before-thats, by the way, so I guess it'd be alright to remark on a few things I might like to do this year.

I fully expect that photography will continue to surprise and challenge me. If it has taught me anything, it's that when I stay in the moment, I'm best able to see light and beauty. I've struggled all my life as a photographer to achieve and appreciate its zen, and I'm getting closer.  A few more years maybe, or in another life, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the effort.

Oh, and sure, there are some new things (ok, toys) that I'd like this year too, but whether they help me improve my photography is questionable. But so what. New toys seldom do, but that's hardly the point. They keep us excited. For example, I really don't need another camera, but boy would I like that new mirrorless Fuji X-Pro2. I have the Xe2 and love it to death, and I do recognize the difference between need and want. But again, so what. On the other hand, I do expect to pick up a new printer this year and hand-print my photos. I'm getting more and more people asking to buy them, and I'd like to have complete quality-control over their production. Plus, just between you and me, I miss printing something fierce.

So here I am, still gazing down at the meadow, think wistful thoughts. I'd like to get out more with my friends and colleagues to wander about the city looking for the perfect photograph, or at least a darn good one. I'll try to connect more, and hope you'll reach out, too. It doesn't take much to talk me into a photowalk, and if misery loves company, well, so does happiness. Even more so.

And as I continue to shift my gaze from laptop to meadow, I notice a few snowflakes beginning to fall. Yes, we do get snow in Portland, and it reminds me that I do need to resolve to make an important purchase, and soon.

Snow tires.