Thursday, July 28, 2016

Extraordinarily Ordinary ~

My guru Richard recently complimented me on one of my photographs. In particular, he noted the way that I made something quite ordinary look much more dramatic than what might have been suggested at first glance. But it made me think, and what I thought was, well, this is probably true for nearly all photography, no? I mean, sure, we've seen images of extraordinary events and extraordinary people, but when we take up our cameras and sally forth, that's not what we're looking for. If it was, we'd be missing the point.

It's an extraordinary experience, photography. There's nothing normal, nothing natural, about taking a photograph. First of all, there's that whole act of seeing, of being totally in the moment, observing that one point and eliminating all else, fixing it in your mind, and then -- only then -- performing the very unnatural act of bringing a camera to your eye. It's random, it can be anything: raindrops on a flower, a beautiful smile, a busy street -- or maybe just the sunlight streaming in through my kitchen window. Anyway, I think all the arts must be like this; putting paint on canvas or typing words on paper are efforts every bit as extraordinary and unnatural.

We train ourselves to believe otherwise, but really, the challenge is to avoid becoming complacent, and that's easier said than done. Me, I spend nearly all my waking moments looking around me, seeing those perfect and deliciously imperfect moments, taking little mental photographs. And no, it won't drive you to drink, not that there's anything wrong with that, but you do end up spending every waking moment adjusting your vision.

 So when I'm walking around in the rain with my camera, or even shooting a job in the studio, I may want the motions to be smooth and seamless, but I also want to lose my balance just a little bit. I see things better that way.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Does Size Still Matter? ~

It's a conversation that goes back to the beginning of time. If you measure time in pixels, anyway. I was there at the beginning, before the turn of the century (I always wanted to say that) and I'm still around to start an argument. We wanted bigger sensors then, more pixels, and we still do. If it seems to matter even now, it's because we still can't help but compare this to our experiences back in the day when we were shooting on those lovely big negatives. It's an uneasy transition, and sometimes quite unconscious. My brother Jim, a remarkable life-long landscape shooter who certainly knows his way around the upper echelons of digital cameras, sent me some unworldly and spectacular black and white images he had recently taken of storm clouds over a Minnesota lake, with an innocent after-thought thrown in: makes me wish I had a large-format camera. Me too, bro...maybe.

Because back then, size really really did matter.  A bigger negative gave you an image with more clarity and more detail than a little one. Medium-format was universal, and when I shot my Hasselblad or Mamiya with the mirror locked up, the developed negatives were sublime, and their prints were pure magic. Landscape people commonly trudged about with their 4x5 cameras, looking all Ansel Adamsy, making black & white masterpieces. And as you can see from the oddly out-of-place selfie above, I even sported an 8x10 camera for a while. Let's just say it was my Edward Weston phase.  But let me tell you, an 8x10 sheet of perfectly exposed and processed Tri-X, contacted-printed on a sheet of Brovira,...well it was, um, groovy. (The only 35mm we shot were Kodachrome or Ektachrome slides. A blog post for another day). Bigger, better, and yes, heavier. Way heavier.

So how much of this translates into the digital world we know and love today? Probably more than it needs to, because just as with a large negative, the size alone affords us little advantage all by itself. There's too much else at stake, not the least of which are good lenses and strong vision. And as sensors get larger (and better), the architecture of cameras gets smaller and smaller. I'm lost anymore without my little mirrorless Fuji, and my iPhone? if I could carry it into my dreams, I probably would. I made this lake scene on my little 6s. Pixels be damned.

The point? Use what you have, worry more about your style and vision and bank account. Pixels don't come cheap, but great art can -- and usually is -- created on modest technology and modest budgets. The rest is just bragging rights.

Besides, mine's smaller than yours.