Thursday, March 31, 2016

On The Hazards of Clement Weather ~

We had a pleasant coastal adventure last week, replete with cameras, wine, and abundant sunshine. My sister came to visit, and along with her two lovely daughters and my wife, the watercolor painter, we rented a condo in Agate Beach, which is near Newport on the Oregon coast. Seemed everyone was in total shock at our great and good fortune, as we happened to have hit that perfect window of opportunity: the first multi-day span of time since, apparently, the Jurassic period wherein the sun was bright, the temperature was warm, and the seas were calm; an early-spring trifecta that the locals would have you believe will never occur again. There was much rejoicing in the land, except, of course, for me. This is not what I came for.

But I am being selfish; it is exactly what my traveling companions hoped for. My little sister, who owns a portrait photography business, lives in the untangled wilderness of suburban Denver, whose denizens not only experience up to 300 sunny days a year, but come to regard it as some sort of birthright. So what do they know. My nieces, young and lovely in an Ipanema-like way, need the sun to survive. A year in Oregon could easily prove fatal. And my wife is a painter; sunshine is Giverny. But sunshine just doesn't do it for me.

Let me make this clear, I'm a downright cheerful guy. I'm only thinking photographically. It seems to me that when the sun shines brightly, I end up taking pretty pictures and maybe not a lot more. And like I said, that's not what I came for. The colors are too easily blown away; the shadows impenetrable. It doesn't even have to be gloomy or foggy (although extra points if it is!) but even a little overcast reveals so much more about the world than we are sometimes prepared to see. These kinds of images are (for me, anyway) more personal, more intuitive, and often reflect inner states that surprise the hell out of me. As I've said here many times, art is autobiography. If I'm going to share my images and thus my stories with you, then let them be candid, a little unsettling, maybe even difficult or hard to fathom, but never, dear God, boring.

The two photos I have posted here, one from that recent coastal trip and the other from about a year ago, are pretty much what I'm talking about. Don't get me wrong, shooting with my sister in the bright, beautiful sun of the Oregon coast was delightful, and I'm glad for that opportunity. But standing beneath the St. Johns Bridge as the fog was rolling in was something altogether different. Call it what you will: contemplative? introspective? moody? somber? Hell, you can call it a taxi if you want. And that's the point. One is the static (albeit lovely) image of the identifiable, the other carries the unremarkable stigma of the nameless. It's downright compelling. That's what I enjoy most about photography.

And that's what I came for.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Little Techno-Talk For A Change ~

I've been attending to my blog for a long time now, and people who follow it tend to ask me the same questions fairly often;  1 -- how (and why) go you go for a particular "look" in the photos you post, and 2 -- what's wrong with you, anyway?  The answer to that first question will be the subject of today's post. As to the second, well, who has that kind of time.

When I shoot with my Canon or mirrorless Fuji, I tend usually to shoot in RAW, and will open that file in Adobe Capture Raw (I'm still using CS6) to resize and maybe tweak with an adjustment or two. My CS6 has the onOne Perfect Suite plug-ins, and that's where I'll go to town and really work that poor bastard. I like being surprised, and there is abundant serendipity in every photo you take. I will, more often than not, drag that file down into a painting program call Arista Impresso Pro, which would actually be a good name for a coffee shop, if you ask me. I use it to create a completely new "painterly" image and then open both it and the original photo as layers in Photoshop, with the painting layer on top, and proceed to erase almost all of it away. I want to be left with just the impression of the painting (as with the photo up above) and maybe some interestingly altered tones and highlights. Depends on my mood, I guess.

If it's a photo made on my iPhone, I'll almost always work it in Snapseed before I import it into Photoshop and proceed onward. The image immediately above is one such example. A different look, a different feeling. I don't think this is anything new with digital photography, either. It may have been chemistry instead of computers, but when I worked with black & white film I spend just as much time and effort in the darkroom making that image come alive for me. And speaking of black & white:

I mean, who said there was anything "realistic" about a black & white photograph, anyway?

There's a ton of b&w controls in onOne, too; the above image was worked with a filter designed to look much the way old Kodak Panatomic-X looked and felt. Heck, it's been so long I'll have to take their word for it, but it brought back all kinds of warm and fuzzy feels, minus the stained fingers. And that's the point. No one ever took a photograph that showed, without pity and without passion, cold reality, because frankly no one knows just what the hell that is. The process that began when the shutter was tripped ends many, many miles away. There is absolutely nothing in the world that fascinates me more than that journey.

Hey, maybe that's what wrong with me.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Artists and the Rest of Us ~

It's been a great couple weeks to go wandering; predictably unpredictable rainy Oregon weather, some alarmingly early signs of spring, and the company of fine fellows. The inspiration to get out comes often, knocking on my very wet door.  And then there appeared in my Feed of Interesting Articles no less than three (hopefully) inspiring posts wherein two contemporary photographers were heralded as "artists", and the third where the writer, himself a photographer, described in a few brief, perky paragraphs how you, too, could be an artist. Who, me? Obviously it got me to thinking.

First of all.... really? As someone who was quite literally raised in the arts, I reflected upon a few of my life's odd realities, one of which was that, in all those years, and all those skilled painters, sculptors, and printers, I couldn't recall a one of them ever actually referring to themselves as an "artist".  My own dad, an accomplished watercolorist, used that word to describe everyone else in his gallery, but never himself. And I think I know why.

Painting may not be as technical a craft as photography, but craft it is nonetheless, with its own burdens of theory, technology, and innovation. Its finest practitioners work and study their asses off. The goal was always and forever a mastery of their craft to the point where we mere mortals could rightly see their work as the art it truly is. It's no different for photographers. The great practitioners in our field, many of them so inspirational and instructive to this dumb kid, worked with the same fervor and motivation; they experimented, innovated, and created a body of work that we could all look upon legitimately as art. But they are photographs, and the giants who made them were photographers. I'm damn proud of that heritage, and try to live up to it.

Bottom line, it's probably not the labels that count, anyway. Call yourself whatever you like, I'm not qualified to judge anyone's self-expression. The world is tough enough on us as it is. All I know is that I love galleries and museums; I adore looking at paintings and photographs modern and old, and am happy to share my own to an unsuspecting public. But then too, I also love reading novels and poetry. And listening to music (my tastes are eclectic but run a little to jazz). And I tend to think of all their creators as artists, even if they don't themselves.

The gifted Garrison Keillor ends his "Writer's Almanac" with a little benediction that I believe is the best and maybe only advice for all of us who call ourselves painters, photographers, poets -- or artists: Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

It's all that matters.