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?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Observation, and Hockey ~

Ok, so I wasn't necessarily thinking I'd be posting to my blog today: Thanksgiving Day 2015.  It's a day taken completely off, I'm not at the studio, and sure as hell I'm not out shopping. No, it's a mellow sunny Oregon day, and in between prepping the turkey, drinking some wine, following some good hockey games, and drinking some wine, my mind was set to wandering anyway, so it just seems natural to jot down a few observations. And did I mention the wine?

On balance, I have little to complain about, and bad knees don't count. I have much to be thankful for. As I reflect on a (so far) somewhat long and eventful life, I can't help but remark that the bulk of it has been spent in the peculiar institution we call Photography. I mean, really, who does this for a living? Well, I certainly have, for more than forty years without a single regret. I've had the good fortune to have worked at some amazing studios with some of the most talented and inspirational photographers. Whatever successes I have enjoyed, I owe entirely to them. I have had the great good fortune to have worked for several years as a professional sales rep for a couple of outstanding photography organizations, as well. It was fun and challenging work that put me in touch with some of the most incredible photographers in the country.

And now? Well, now is the best time I'm having yet. I'm surrounded by supremely talented people whose photography just blows me away, and pushes me to new levels. I'm having the time of my life.

Some may argue that it's disingenuous to take just one silly little day of the year to express our gratitudes, but I say pshaw. If we try to practice a little kindness every day, and appreciate with sincerity those who extend it to ourselves, then taking one special day in the fall to express some thanks with a slight air of formality is appropriate indeed, and most welcomed. So let's do this. Go bake your turkey, drink a little wine, catch a couple hockey games, and drink a little wine. All, or at least some, will be well in the world.

And did I mention the wine?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Some Happy Observations ~

Few things speak so positively about the genuine inclusiveness, the overall democratization, of modern photography than what has come to be known, informally, as the "photowalk." I know whereof I speak. I went on two of them since I last posted; about a week ago with my favorite and oft-mentioned co-conspirators Chaz and Keri, and earlier this week with my friend and colleague Darcie, braving the rains and wind out in the Columbia Gorge. This didn't happen much, if at all, back in the day.

Not that many people had cameras, I guess, and film provided no immediate excitement. Most folks who did own a little 35mm camera or a Kodak Instamatic broke them out only for special occasions and vacations to the Grand Canyon. Even my dad, artist as we was, would break out the old 8mm Bell & Howell and make mini-movies that rarely saw the light of day. My colleagues who actually were photographers were busy working. We rarely got together to just go out and shoot. Drink, yes, but shooting just for fun, not so much.
Happily, all this has changed. Unhappily, something else has, too.

I've been reading an article this week on the increasing unhappiness of my fellow grownups. You'd think that creeping age and bad knees would be bad enough, but it's garnered serious attention among mental health professionals. Here's the statement that really hit me: "Most research suggests that age brings happiness because people become more content, they become more settled overall...We found that since 2010, that's no longer true."  Yikes.
I make to pretense at figuring out what's going on here, and I'm in no position to judge. My own regimen of coffee in the morning and tequila at night is probably not a satisfactory salve. But I see hidden within this the happy conjunction of creativity and positivity. Everybody has a camera now. And yes, that's a very good thing.

Unhappiness is a complex thing, and the universe weighs upon each of us in its own particular way. I don't really think there are forces of darkness so much as there is a gray ordinariness in our lives. Cameras -- and the likely chance to use them -- are perfect tools for painting a little color back into those gray walls. To hell with the rain, let's go find a little un-ordinariness.

We'll call it a Photowalk.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What You Bring To The Party ~

There was a pretty cool project conducted recently, supported by Canon Australia. In it, a group of professional portrait photographers were tasked with making a portrait of a man, but each was given a different backstory of that individual. To each photographer, he was either a self-made millionaire, a rescuing hero,  an ex-con, a recovering alcoholic. Even a fisherman, God forbid. The man in question, of course, was none of these, but each photographer created a singular image largely informed, albeit subconsciously, by what they thought they knew about him. And this should surprise absolutely no one.

Our brains, as my guru Richard pointed out to me just today, create their own reality. It's what we haul around with us, and what helps us make sense out of this world -- which in my case can be quite a chore, indeed. It's unavoidable that what we carry is what largely informs the things we create as artists, as photographers, as anything. My passion is making portraits, and capturing in that image the heart, the essence, the personality of that fellow human. But to do so, I have to dig down inside myself too. Hopefully, I don't dig up old wounds and slights; what I look for are those shared bonds that link the two of us together. We will find there our compassion, not our prejudices. I may not always succeed, but the effort itself is instructive. Chief Dan George once said, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.

This encompasses, of course, all of our photography, and not just portraits. Our best work reflects this understanding and is all the better for the effort. Ansel himself said that we don't make a photograph with just a camera. We bring to the act of photography all the pictures we've seen, all the books we've read, all the music we've heard, all the people we have loved.  Art is autobiography.

Your brain knows what I'm talking about.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Chaos and Order in a Good Cold Brew ~

The chaos of the universe descended on us this week. Ok, that's a little overly dramatic. It's actually much worse. This is the week we closed up the studio in Beaverton, and began the move to our new digs on the property in Oregon City. Yes, its a bigger and better studio, and will be so lovely to work in, but for those of you who have ever moved from point A to point B in your life, the chaos reference will be well understood. I seek sympathy and, yes, a beer would be nice too.

A hectic life is, however, sometimes a good thing, though I have to convince myself that this is so. Deep breaths, meditation, and a retreat into my Feed of Interesting Articles had a positive and relaxing effect. Out of all the chaos a careful observer will find the lovely traces of orderly design, it appears, and I'm reassured by this. From galaxies to molecules -- and, one hopes, to all imperfect photographs -- the spirals, veins, patterns, and designs are all the same. We are all connected, we're all made of the same stuff; the stuff that came from stars which long ago gave up all hope, or tried too hard to show off to their friends. And I see those patterns everywhere I point a camera.

We create an appearance of order by categorizing the photographs we make, and sometimes categorizing ourselves, too, as photographers: landscapes, portraits, still-lifes, and so on. I'm not judging. Some of us have to make a living at this. But as I ascend into the chaotic orderliness of free and joyful photography, I'm finding it harder and harder to make those distinctions. I approach a portrait much as I do landscape, for instance: what I see before me is something beautiful and unique, and I'm moved by the same aesthetic. Give me a camera and a beautiful world, and I'll make sense out of it.

Just as long as I don't have to pack up and move again.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Synergy, Energy, (And Of Course), Caffeine ~

Let it never be said that I have unproductive weeks. Oh sure, I'm prone to the same distractions and dissipations as the best of them, and some days it's hardly worth getting out of bed, but an unproductive week? Never. I try every day to make a sharable photograph; failing that, I try every day to learn something new. Failing both of those means, well, it's time to fall back and reconnect with someone who can help keep that flame ignited, maybe ever pour a little gas on it. Inspiration is not a one-way street.

In those regards, then, this has been a pretty darn good week: good photography weather, great articles showing off the latest Hubble images, and most of all, (re)connecting with some wonderful friends and colleagues. Coffee, of course, is the perfect lubricant of good conversation and the unifier of otherwise disparate energies. I met with Tracy earlier the week, a long-time friend and colleague in the dental photography business whose passion for her craft and her clients remains undiminished after all these years; later with Darcie, one of my favorite photographers and one with whom I had shared many a personal project in past years; and my buddy Dr. Dave, who is helping me prepare for a lecture I'm giving to his dental study group next month. Unique individuals, yes, but as I said there is always the unifying force of good coffee, and the commonality of a shared passion for the photographic image and the inspiration to make them.

I guess some would simply call this networking, which is fine on its face but might also be just a little off-target. It's about more than just the connections themselves. Static or otherwise, good networking is the backbone of any successful business, but you know me. I want something a step or two to the side of that; I want something a little more. I keep thinking of the word synergy.  I enjoy being lost in the energy that's created when the sum is greater than the parts themselves. I don't know about you, but I think it's a tangible thing. It's the very oxygen of the creative process.

So use this as an excuse to send out a text or pick up the phone and gather with your fellow crazies and co-conspirators (and as we approach Halloween, you might even discover they're crazier than you thought). You'll find that you each still share that same spark, and if it's starting to dim a bit, then all the better to regroup and recharge. Granted, it may not make you charge right out and spend the day with your camera, chasing down the one photo that will speak to you forever.

But you're probably going to want to.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

10,000 .... And Counting ~

An interesting article showed up in my Feed of Interesting Articles this week. It was just a few short paragraphs by a travel writer named Jason Row, but he was commenting on one of the great luminaries of 20th century photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Now Cartier-Bresson, you may remember, is justly famous for coining the phrase, and embodying the photographic style, of the decisive moment. This philosophy, though maybe a bit dramatic, nonetheless influenced all of us to some degree. But the article did not examine the idea of photographic moments, decisive or otherwise. Rather it examined, in brief but otherwise revelatory fashion, a lesser-known statement he once made: "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."

Mr. Row, it appeared, was taking that 10,000-count somewhat literally, even examining how easily one may approach that figure vis-a-vis film vs digital technologies. I believe Cartier-Bresson intended a more metaphorical reading, at least I hope he did. But if the number itself is merely an arbitrary signpost, to what does it point?
I mean, I clearly remember the refrigerator we had at the studio I first worked and studied at, so many years back. It was packed with, literally, hundreds of feet of film: bricks and pro-packs  of 120 film, 100-foot rolls of Tri-X and Ektachrome to bulk-load, and more boxes of sheet film than you could count. There was hardly room for beer, though God knows we tried. So for sheer numbers, 10,000 was hardly daunting.

But numbers only represent a larger truth, one hopes. And the truth is, we take our craft seriously, and if it takes a lot of practice to improve -- as surely it does in any worthwhile endeavor -- then let's keep counting. You're first 10,000 anything are not your worst, but they are the signposts on your path that keep pointing ahead. You can be proud of the work you've produced so far without being satisfied. I, for one, have not yet taken my best photograph. Might be the next one. Might be the one after that.

But who's counting?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Plato's Travelogues, Part de Tres ~

John Steinbeck is always a great read, always; and one of the most delightful of those reads, Travels With Charley, kept running through my head this past week. He had set out with his traveling companion Charley in search of America (the book's subtitle) near the end of his career as a writer. Other than my own reflections as I travel and make photographs, I draw no parallels nor critiques of one of my favorite writers. I only write to clean up the noise in my head, but like the man himself, I have come to embrace the art of travel as a means of self-reflection upon a long and adventurous career.

And so this past week at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival could well be titled Travels With Nancy. Not only wife and travel companion, she is the instigator, motivator, and organizer of many a fine trip. Left to my own devices, I'd prefer to grab my brother Jim and light out for the territories, with nary a thought beyond where the next gas station -- or liquor store -- may be. But a trip to this festival required a level of planning and precision I'm generally not capable of, and which also inspired in me a more focused and disciplined approach to my photography. I traveled camera-light: just my trusty little Fuji and a couple of lenses; a minimalist approach to a maximal event. It's been photographed a zillion times before, so I could hardly pretend to speak in a wholly original voice. But that was hardly the point.

I should point out that Charley was a french poodle, and Nancy is not. But a travel companion is always and forever more than just someone occupying the seat next to you. A true travel companion is the chorus of Agememnon, a fresh thought, a light of a different color. And in my case anyway, it's how I got there in the first place. In my experience, an excellent travel companion has always kept me from over-thinking the possibilities and probabilities, making me stay in the moment. Photography requires this, but photographers stray.

We should all get the opportunity, if not the necessity, to reflect on what we've produced as our careers wind down. Doing it right is, I submit, an intensely solitary effort, but whatever our calling has been -- artists, photographers, healers, teachers -- it is inescapable. We've come down a long road, and in this case, it lead me to a hot-air balloon festival in my beloved Albuquerque; a place where I spent part of my childhood, and have always felt a warm attachment to.

Like Steinbeck, I want to see more of America, and even the world, and use the experience of traveling to see deeper inside myself. His voice was a pen and paper, mine happens to be a camera, but we should, all of us, find Charley and go somewhere.

Even if Charley happens to be a french poodle.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Rust and Ruins and a Good Walk ~

I've been known to take long walks indeed, or at least lengthy travels. Sure, I'm a studio guy, but the road beckons and nothing gives me white-line fever more than a nice camera sitting with its legs crossed on the edge of my desk, asking me out on a date. My wandering companion of late, one Laurie Excell, is even more of a wanderer, and often in the very literal sense, having completed this past summer a 600 some-odd mile walking tour in Spain. But our attentions turned this week to a more modest project closer to home, a fascinating old lumber camp that's been turned into a walking museum of old relics (I know what you're thinking, but I'm not one yet) and restaurant about an hour west of town. It's a place called Camp 18, and if you've driven over to the coast from Portland on 26, you've been by it a million times. Well, next time, pull in. You'll end up spending a most gratifying day.

It's a treasure trove of old logging machinery and railroad cars that have been left out in the Oregon elements to weather gracefully. I'm a history buff every bit as much as a photographer, and am particularly fascinated by the remnants of 19th and early 20th century Americana. So this place was like Disneyland for me. Laurie and I spent the better part of a gorgeous sunny day taking in the textures and the colors, communing with the ghosts of trucks and tractors that were so vital to an industry that was once the lifeblood of the Northwest. Two inveterate wanderers, Laurie and I, figuring out ways to have fun and cause trouble.

So we're going to organize a Wandering group. Laurie has lead photography workshops for many years, in amazing places throughout the world, and wrote a monthly column in Photoshop User magazine. I've lead photo groups in Jackson Hole and, of course, lighting and portrait workshops right here at home. We've been wandering together in these parts for a long time and have always thought it'd be a kick-butt idea to invite some like-minded souls to join us. Camp 18 inspired us. We're taking a group back there on November 1 for a day of photo instruction and shooting; any camera or smartphone and any skill level. Rain or shine (and you know I'd prefer a little rain, but that's just me). Fee TBD, we'll meet there for breakfast at 8 am, shoot all day, then head back indoors for a slideshow and guidance on software, apps, and post-processing. What's not to love? More information will be forthcoming from both of us in the next day or two, so stay tuned.

I bet you have a camera somewhere close by, just begging to go out on a date, right?

Here's you chance to take it somewhere nice.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gray Matters ~

I've mentioned in posts before that photographers are attracted to shiny things. Well anyway, unrepentant gearheads like me certainly are, but the larger truth is much more interesting. It's not the shiny things that possess us so, it's really the gray matter that occupies our daily minds, and I'm not talking about our brains (tempting though that is.) Gray dominates our photographic way of thinking: neutral gray, 15% gray, grayscales, 256 shades of gray in a jpeg, and more. I was put in mind of this by a conversation I had this week with a client in Honolulu; as we texted back and forth (yes, texted; who talks anymore?) he expressed his sympathy that we in Oregon were about to enter into our gray and rainy season. His intentions were sincere, but I told him, in the friendliest Oregonian manner I could muster, to kindly put a sock in it.

This is, after all, what I live for; I celebrate the first day of Fall and all that it portends. We've been taught that it was always preferable to take a portrait outdoors when it was overcast, but that's not what turns me on. It's the colors. When it's gray, when the light is soft and diffuse, colors truly come alive and express themselves with poetry instead of prose. They're not hiding in deep shadows, nor burned away in the light of a cloudless sky. They get to sing. And let me tell you, autumn is just about as beautiful here in the Northwest as it is anywhere in the world. Plus -- from a purely practical standpoint, mind you -- it's far more pleasurable to wander about in a clement atmosphere. Nobody wilts more in the mid-day sun than a pasty Oregonian, nor bitches quite as much about it. There. I've said it.

But there's really more to it than that even, and it all has to do with mood; both in the scene, and in my head. The kind of gray that dominates our late fall and winters is, in itself, subtly charged with emotion and atmosphere; a particular moody note that permeates the world and which compels me to go forth with camera and raincoat to try and capture. It's quintessentially Oregon. Why else would there be so much coffee up here?

So I say, take joy in the long Northwestern gray, or at least take heart. And to my friends in Hawaii and other sunny climes, take note but don't take pity: we can't help but find something creative in our foul weather and our foul moods. We'll come visit when it gets a little overwhelming, perhaps, and maybe it'll re-charge our batteries, but there is opportunity and optimism in all that gray that you may never understand.

Come to think of it, we probably won't either. But it won't stand in our way.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Group Theory and the Percolation of Time ~

This week I had the great pleasure of a rainy Portland photowalk (a common event) with one of my favorite photographers, Laurie Excell (a not-as-common event, which we will hopefully rectify.) Accompanied by my wife Nancy, who brought her watercolorist's eye for fantasy, we tramped the tracks and warehouses of southeast Portland and wandered through the warrens of a place called Cargo, which I had only discovered a few days earlier. Granted, these excursions may not carry the emotional weight of, say, a birthday party (of which I have had far too many, anyway) but for me these are a source of unfettered joy and creativity far outweighing the benefits of a simple hike. I highly recommend this; it's good medicine.

There is an energy in the company of cohorts and co-conspirators that I find irresistible. Colleagues or students, artists or poets, Jedi or Padawan; it takes more than one set of eyes to peel back the layers that often stand in the way of seeing what's there. Even in the studio I have always looked at the portrait session as more of a collaboration than a project. There's strength in numbers, to be sure, and a lot of creative energy. And someone usually knows a great place for coffee.

But here's the interesting thing, for me anyway. I like to get to those images on my computer just as quickly as I can, while the excitement of discovery is still fresh in my mind. There's always those one or two that leap out and demand my attention all over again, just as they did when I pointed the camera at them. The rest of them hide in the bushes, waiting for me to come walking by later so they can trip me and laugh. It's a habit I developed way back in the dark(room) ages, to purposefully let an image alone to percolate for a while, and see it as something new and fresh and exciting days, sometimes weeks, later. Great things are often hiding in the things you photograph; you saw it at the time, but just didn't know it.
I won't go so far as to compare the photo (be it a negative or a raw file) to a graceful wine that improves with age; it's a dumb cliché and anyway I prefer harder stuff. More like a casserole left in the 'fridge: it's always better the next day.

So let me know if you want to go out photowalking with me. I'm trying to make this a more regular part of my life; it's great exercise for a healthy heart and restless mind.

It's good medicine.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

On Gearheads and Galaxies ~

Let me start right off by saying today's post is not a product review. Not that I have anything against them, mind you, but like the teacher who said there'd be no math, I had promised to avoid them. Most of the time, anyway. Don't get me wrong, nobody loves a shiny new object more than a photographer, and every time I read about a new camera or a new lens, I mentally go through what I loosely refer to as my "budget". But I digress. This is not a product review. And yet, and yet......

I refer you to an article sent to me by my friend Doctor Dave: Canon announced that it has produced a 250-megapixel sensor that could, if they darn well wanted to, fit into a consumer grade DSLR camera. Their own description of it reads that this sensor is capable of "...distinguishing the lettering on the side of an airplane flying at a distance of approximately 18 km (11 miles) from the shooting location." And who hasn't ever wanted to do that. Obviously (I hope) this is more useful technology for law enforcement and engineering than for us studio types and, as Dr. D pointed out to me, who the heck has a lens capable of resolving 250 megapixels? Even Canon is mum on that point, but who cares. I'd happily jack up the RAM in the old Macbook and give it a whirl.
But wait, there's more.

I have also recently come across an online report of a 3.2 giga-pixel camera currently under construction. Giga. As in billion. The math geek in me is wrapping my brain around what I calculate a single file size to be (somewhere south of 10 gigabytes, yes?) while my brain ponders the astronomical possibilities: the report states that this camera will potentially record more galaxies than there are people on earth. No mention of the cost yet, and I'm pretty certain the good folks at DP Review aren't going to be writing about it. But's it's pretty damn cool, if you ask me.

At some point -- like now, maybe -- it's hard to think about any of this in the context of photography. I guess a more accurate descriptor would be imaging technology, even though that sounds awfully sterile and antiseptic, but that's the romance of rocketry for you. If we get to take a peek under the universe's blankets, I'm all in.

It beats taking pictures of airplanes, even from 18 km (11 miles) away.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reality And Its Discontents ~

Recently I've been reading -- and re-reading -- an online article about the nature of contemporary photography by a man named Steven Mayes. He makes an elegant argument that it is somehow a radically different thing today than it was in the past, that "digital capture quietly but definitively severed the optical connection with reality." My meager blog-o-graphs here can do it little justice, you should read it yourself ( but, like all things photographic and with fresh coffee close by, it sets my mind off to the races. And what it's racing toward is the question of just how much reality did photography ever communicate in the first place? My though is, it never did.

For centuries, painters were looked to to provide visual authority. They were the press photographers of their day, in a sense. What did the King look like? What did those mountains out west look like? People trusted their accuracy and were informed by what they saw. But we know better now, and they should have known better then, too. Perhaps deep down inside they did. The King wasn't the Ã¼bermensch astride a gallant horse; he was just another grumpy guy who needed his coffee in the morning (and who can't relate to that?). And those magnificent Albert Bierstadt paintings of the unexplored west, which utterly dazzled 19th-centtury eyes, were, well ... pure fantasy.

There are some who argue that the invention of photography freed painting from the the burden of visual reportage, thus making possible the eventual rise of modern, non-representational movements. Ok, I'll buy that. Where else would Impressionism come from? People went from relying on the "truth" of oil on canvas to the "truth" of colorless images on paper and glass. But here's the point: either way, it was always one person's attempt to define a singular point in time, using the technology available at the time.  I think it always told us more about the practitioner than the practice itself. We view an image through the lens of our own lives; whatever reality we may find therein is a construct of our own making. Photographs are not statements, nor even suggestions; they are mirrors.

And me? I'm constitutionally incapable of just letting a photograph be. I'll work that poor bastard to death until it starts to resemble some state of mind that I find agreeable. I always did that; digital technology just gives me wider options, but options were there all along. And reality? It's all in my mind.

But it's in yours, too.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Search of an Excellent Mistake ~

A few days ago my wife sent me some iPhone pictures from Victoria BC, where she was visiting with her sister. As you can see from the lovely sample below, they appeared to have an odd blue-green cast about them, which she attributed to an old device in need of an upgrade. I, of course, attributed it my wife (an otherwise accomplished painter) having entered her Blue Period. We were both wrong. A little long-distance sleuthing determined where she had inadvertently changed a camera setting, and she was soon back to clean and predictable normality. Well, her pictures anyway. And of course, this lead me to thinking.

There are two kinds of mistakes, by my reckoning. The first one vexes us the most, because it all has to do with intentions. Through an insufficiency of experience or a lapse in attention, we miss an intended mark. It has disappointment written all over it. As photographers, this is where we fret over the details, because a lack of precision often leads to a lack of clients. We learn technology and practice technique over and over, trying to achieve zen-like perfection so we can hit our targets with apparent effortlessness. This is where craftsmanship comes from.

But the second kind of mistake is the one we should make from tie to time, but seldom do. It has about it the sublime grace of the unpredictable. It's not altogether concerned about the target you've set, because it sets its own, and takes you along for the ride. You may be rightly concerned about the proper rules of composition, of lighting, of posing -- you have, after all, spent a lifetime learning them. That's the point. You've begun to arrive at a place where those are seamlessly integrated into your way of thinking, and your way of seeing. Now go ahead and point your camera in any direction the fates lead you. You'll be happily surprised.

Serendipity happens only by mistake, but its one where the universe tips the scales in your favor for once. This is your Blue Period. This is where art comes from.

If I'm not mistaken.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On Truth, Beauty and Caffeine ~

Truth and beauty. Beauty and truth. Keats said they're pretty much one in the same, but sometimes I wonder. At least, when it comes to photography. When it comes to the essays on art that I stumble upon past midnight, the complimentarity of truth and beauty seems to be breezily assumed, but when the writer turns his or her attention to modern photography, all bets are off. And this bugs the hell out of me. I'm in no mood to ponder deep thoughts so early in the morning, so I'm left to figure out why the stark, post-modern landscapes of, say, Robert Adams somehow expose us to the hard light of truth, but his contemporary Robert Glenn Ketchum reveals to us the beauty in the same world. I mean, how is this even possible? I haven't even had my coffee yet.

Truth and beauty probably are just two sides of a coin, neither existing without the other: complimentary, wave and particle. I can't imagine either one canceling out the other, and I've never seen that happen in any of the countless photographs I have seen in my lifetime. The argument may keep critics and philosophers in business, but it doesn't do us photographers any favors. What I want to know is this: how does it inform my own photography? Does it affect the way I see the world I inhabit right here, right now?

I can't possibly see the world in rule of thirds, or golden ratios, or perfect fibonacci spirals. I see images and moments; they're around me all the time, I see them everywhere, even my dreams. Maybe only in my dreams, who knows. Like I said, it's 2 in the morning and I need coffee. But that's what informs my work, and I've given up all control over it. Everywhere I look I see beauty.

And that's the truth.