Tuesday, January 27, 2015

LOOKING FOR LIGHT

Scouting for new locations can be time consuming but invaluable in the long run. If nearby, a trip during the mid-day hours can give one a sense of what might be possible. With the aid of smartphone apps such as The Photographer's Ephemeris, we can then pinpoint possiblities during times of more suitable light.

Such was the case with the image shown below. I had gone to the lake the previous afternoon in search of a sunrise composition for the following morning. The fact that the lake is only 15 minutes from my home made this task all the easier. I noticed the rocks seen in the foreground as I passed a small point of land that jutted out a bit just as the lake road curved around and away from the spot. At the next turnaround, I did so and came back for a closer look. With camera in hand, I walked the shoreline in search of possibilities for this spot. All I needed now was some clouds for the coming sunrise. The weather report indicated that the skies would be clear overnight but my experience told me that clouds sometimes form up an hour or so before dawn. I made plans to awaken early and step outside for a quick look.

The following morning found me on the back porch at 4 am to have a look. Sure enough there were clouds forming up on the horizon to the east. I made some coffee and downed a couple of pieces of toast, grabbed my gear, and headed out. I arrived at the location a little after 5 am, parked at the turnout, and drank my coffee while listening to NPR radio as I waited. According to TPE, civil twilight began at 7:10 am so I had a bit of a wait (I enjoy watching the progression of the oncoming light for no other reason than to learn how the light affects the landscape). I watched the onset of astronomical twilight, then nautical twilight, and finally a serious brightening in the eastern sky. The clouds were forming a broad V shape opening to the right in the scene. At this moment, I could already picture the composition in my mind. All I would need was some great color.

I grabbed my pack and tripod and began moving along the muddy shoreline to my chosen spot. The mud was like glue and it was not long before my boots weighed another 5 pounds as the muddy gunk accumulated on their soles. I didn't care. After a few minutes of adjusting my composition, I had something close to what I would need. As the light brightened, I began to notice subtle hints of color on the horizon. Within minutes the horizon was ablaze with red, but most of the clouds remained dark and ill defined. I waited. As the minutes ticked by I watched the horizon turn to orange, then golden yellow as the clouds began to show deep oranges, reds, and finally at it's peak, the hoped for magenta. I quickly adjusted my composition a bit and began to make exposures. I did some bracketing just to make sure I had what I would need as the colors became super saturated with intensity. A few minutes later, the magenta began to fade followed by the other colors. Just before the Sun peeked above the horizon the colors became dull and lifeless. It was over.



As I was walking back with my mud caked feet, I saw a muscle shell laying amid some smaller bivalve shells. What a find! I cleaned up the muscle shell a bit in the lake water, then placed it back where I had found it. With my wide angle lens set to 35 mm, I created a pleasing composition and made a few exposures. It sometimes pays to look where one is going.

 

The lesson here is that it pays to do one's homework and a bit of scouting. Though I had no idea what would transpire on this morning, my previsualization of a possible image along with my preparatory work yielded one of the most satisfying sunrise images to date. There is no spectacular scenery but the clouds and colors more than made up for the lack thereof. 

Hope you enjoyed my friends. Until next time . . .


You can find links to both desktop and smartphone apps for The Photographer's Ephemeris here

Friday, January 23, 2015

IN SEARCH OF INTEGRITY

Landscape photography has always been considered the red headed step child within the art world. Curators and others have said the genre has no integrity and sometimes used much harsher words to validate their position. Countless words have been written on this subject and countless more will be in the future, so I am not the first to tackle this issue.

In order for us to change this viewpoint among patrons of the art world we must first recognize why this dichotomy exists, so a little history is in order to begin.

Many of you are perhaps aware of who Alfred Stieglitz was and some may even know that he was married to the famous painter Georgia O'Keefe. Stieglitz is considered by many to be the Father of 'modern photography'. He was instrumental in promoting Ansel Adams in his early years and may in fact be responsible for keeping Adams from disappearing into obscurity.

Stieglitz began making photographs as a young man in the late 19th century while attending engineering school in Germany. He gave up engineering in favor of photography primarily because he was more interested in the art and architecture he saw in Karlsruhe where he attended school. These things spoke to him, whereas engineering bored him and in reality it was his father that wanted him to pursue the former. As is sometimes the case, a young man rebeled against the 'bourgeois establishment' (one of his favorite expressions) and began to live a Bohemian lifestyle while wandering around Europe making photographs. He had become interested in the chemistry of developing the early glass plates before leaving school thanks to a teacher, and so he learned to develop his own plates and experimented in avant garde photographic techniques while honing his craft.

Upon his return to the United States, he began to see that the art world and museums expressed no interest in promoting photography, regardless of the genre, because these 'institutions' felt that it was a gimick and not a true art form. Stieglitz set out to do something about this narrow minded viewpoint. He began to hang out with other photographers and artists of note from the era and in the early 1900's started the group of renegade artists and friends called the Photo-Secessionists. It was during this time that he produced the first issues of the now famous magazines Camera Notes, and then later, Camera View. Camera View was revolutionary in that each issue's volumes were hand made. Each photograph was pasted into place for each copy of each issue, obviously a time consuming and laborious process. Along with the inclusion of writings by controversial writers of the time, images by photographers, and reproductions of other members' art works, he started a revolution in the art world. Being independently wealthy allowed Stieglitz to continue promoting art and photography in his efforts to educate the art world and the general public who were interested. During the ensuing decades, Stieglitz would open his own galleries at venues such as 291 and An American Place where he would promote the avant garde art of Europe, showcase the first woman artist Georgia O'Keefe, and display the photography of Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, and later Edward Weston just to name a few. Throughout his lifetime, he would change how some of America viewed photographic art. 

Looking at his influence from the perspective of time, he made a huge difference in the acceptance of photography as art, but only on the two coasts, New York primarily and California indirectly through others would this influence be truly realized. It would be decades before the rest of the country, and the world as well, caught up with the major art centers, and in many places even to this day have still not done so.

With the advent of digital photography it has become even more difficult for many who practice the art of landscape photography to gain significant inroads into the world of art based solely on their images. This saturation of the market has forced many to explore avenues outside of, but related to, their chosen genre in order to promote their work. What this tells me is that the images themselves still do not have the importance that they should. With photographers writing books on technique and conducting workshops to earn money, the significance of their art becomes secondary, other than the influence it generates on a public hungry to learn how to do what others they admire do. This is not helping to promote landscape photography as an art form.

Granted there are many who make a living in this genre because they have put in many years of hard work, had the perserverance to carry on, and suffered through difficult times along the way when the market was down. Most of these artists have been working for decades and started their careers shooting film. As with most careers, years of honing their craft have yielded the rewards of success and allowed some of them to make a decent living. Many of these photographers now sell books on technique and conduct workshops as well because they believe in paying it forward. I commend those that do so for this reason.  

With the recent sale of Peter Lik's photo for an astounding $6.5 million dollars, it might be perceived that we are finally making some inroads into the art world, but in a way that is almost difficult to comprehend or even understand. Whether or not this sale will contribute a fundamental, even ground breaking influence upon landscape photography as an art form remains to be seen. In my opinion, this sale is an anomoly. It may drive the market for the foreseeable future, but whether it contributes a long lasting or sustaining influence, only time will tell.

And so I now get to the real meat of this article - integrity in art. With a saturated market of photographers showing little talent other than their ability to manipulate an image with the available software and by copying the work of their peers, without the years of learning their craft and creating work that is truly the mark of an individual in a world that finds it easy to 'plus' or 'like' an image instantaneously, I find the idea of integrity within the community of landscape photographers viewed in the public's eye, as well as in the eye of those that presume to know art, to be a joke and an insult to the craft.

Call me old fashioned or unable to move forward in a new world. It matters not to me. In my opinion, the digital world has 'dumbed' down what we call landscape art, thus hindering the progress that has been made in the previous decades. Some may say that I sound bitter, but look at it from the perspective of time. I consider my work to be the work of a seasoned veteran who has seen trend after trend come and go, and will undoubtably see more. There are hundreds like me out there. If I were bitter, I would drown myself in a bottle of booze or a handful of drugs, sell all of my gear, and be done with it.


In my opinion, a good photographic landscape must contain elements of aesthetics beyond the visible. There should be an obvious intimacy with the subject, and above all, a sense of creative intent from the mind of the photographer in order to be considered art. It's content must have a subjective element, not objective. In many ways, these tenants are hard to quantify or express from those who are not artists themselves. In most cases, an image must 'speak' to the viewer on some deep emotional or psychological level. This should be the primary motive for buying works of art.


Ultimately, what I am asking for from those who buy art is to take a long hard look at what they are buying and who they are buying it from. The digital world has made it all too easy for one to become adept with the software and create the semblance of art. If the artist is new to the game, keep in mind that what may be trendy now may not stand the test of time. This is not to say that the new photographer in question has no talent. But 'true' talent requires nurturing and the incubation of time. If the new photographer is allowed time to mature, then eventually their work may reflect the personal integrity of themself and of those who have gone before and thus be considered true art. 


Finally, buying art from established artists with a track record of integrity will undoubtably pay dividends over the years. Do your research. There are many established photographers who back their work with excellence, experience, creativity, humility, and above all, integrity. In this way, we will all be furthering the acceptance of landscape photography as an art form. Only then will the world accept that for an artist to truly be considered an artist requires time, hard work, and a sense of aesthetics beyond the scene. In the end, we will all be the richer. 



To read a more extensive bio on Alfred Stieglitz, check out the Wikipedia link: Alfred Stieglitz

To read more on the aesthetics, art, and integrity of being a landscape photographer, read the journals of Guy Tal at: Guy Tal

  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

ART IN LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY


In my last post "Beginnings", I wrote about 'chasing the light' from somewhat of a lofty artistic and some might say, philosophical perch. It is not always possible to write from this perspective and often one ends up being more descriptive when not doing so. Some topics lend themselves better to this style, while others are more straight forward in their approach. With this post I intend to do a bit of both.


And so with that in mind, I want to talk about something that has been on my mind for quite some time now - the current 'state' of landscape photography. You might say that I have been writing this post for over a year now as there have been several iterations I have never published. Coming from one who has been working in this genre for over two decades, I believe that I have some perspective on this aspect of photography especially after witnessing the evolution of the genre over many years. At the risk of stepping on some toes and alienating some (if not all) practitioners of the art, I will forge ahead and hope to not piss off too many of you, and at the least, I hope to stir the pot to the point that maybe others will give some serious thought to this topic and express their own perspectives on this issue.


Creating new work is one of the most pleasing aspects of being a photographer. I personally derive a great deal of pleasure and artistic satisfaction after completing new works. They inspire me to forge ahead with my passion. The real difficulty is staying fresh and not becoming too enamored of one particular look. Of course in doing so, one risks not having a defined style to one's work and this can be a hazard in many respects, not only from an artistic standpoint but also from the business standpoint if one is attempting to earn a living from the genre. In the end, it all depends on what you intend for your art.
  

The difficulty for many aspiring artists is finding your own niche and style in a world that appears to be saturated with content. One only need spend time on social media photo sharing sites to see what I mean. There is a 'sameness' to much of the work we see, which begs the question 'Why is this so?'.


I believe that a great deal of this is due in part to content from the established artists who not only share their work via social media but also spread their vision by selling eBooks and videos about how they achieve the 'look' to their own work. It then becomes relatively easy for others with some technical knowledge, but little actual experience, to copy these methods and thus promote the status quo. Don't misconstrue my meaning here; many of these artists create some gorgeous and captivating works of art that often defy beauty in its most literal sense and I would be a fool to not recognize this. We all need to find ways to make a living and there is nothing wrong with this approach to marketing oneself and one's art. In reality, these photographers are not to blame. The blame, if any, lies with the human capacity to copy and emulate others for near instant gratification and some semblance of perceived artistic integrity. Social media plays a huge role in this issue with photographers being told by others that their work is great when at best it is either mediocre or just more of the same. With these factors in mind, it becomes all too easy to continue promoting the same old song and dance.


As with music and some of the other arts, landscape photography I believe is suffering from stagnation. It has become nearly impossible to create works of a completely new nature that do not owe themselves in part, if not in whole, to those who have gone before. We all have our influences and they are necessary for our growth as artists in the beginning. However, at some point, we must forge ahead as individuals. I believe we are all capable of and have the inherent ability to be more.


And so, rather than follow the pack, in the past few years I have taken the road less travelled in an effort to create a new direction, and one might say, artistic path with my own work. I started to look at my own work in a completely different light. I began to see that there were other ways of approaching the subject while retaining some semblance of reality, and yet at the same time, stepping over those boundaries. In retrospect, it has been quite easy to do so, and I now feel that my own work has a certain look to it that is different enough for me to say, with certainty, that I have reached a place in my art that pleases me. After all, if we ourselves are not happy with our own creations, then how can we expect others to feel an emotional connection when viewing our art? We cannot.


In closing, the essence of this piece is that though the temptation to emulate others is commendable and flattering in some respects, in the end we are not being true to our own personal artistic integrity when we do so. The act of creation is an inherent quality in all of us that transcends reality and only becomes art when we look at our own work as emotional extensions of ourselves. We put our deepest feelings into our art. If we strive to be different, then we cannot help but be different. In the end, if it pleases no one other than ourselves, then that should be enough as long as it is honest. But it should also reflect who we are as a species capable of creating something of intrinsic beauty regardless of the subject matter. That is why we call it art.

Friday, January 9, 2015

BEGINNINGS

  
I have been fortunate during the course of my adult life to have been on a journey that has taken me to a dozen countries on three different continents, and a journey that has led me down highways through most of the United States of America. I have been to and seen places that most only know vicariously through the various forms of media available with today's technology. In some respects, this journey has given me a certain perspective that is undeniably skewed towards a global view all the while keeping an errant eye on the home front. As with most of us, environment and life experiences inform who we are as individuals. Episodes and events during our lives are elements that add dimension and shape to the whole.

And so I have begun this new journal with an eye on sharing some of my insights into photography, art, and life with occasional forays into other areas that might interest you the reader. I hope you will travel along with me in the years to come and that each of you will receive something of value in return for your time.

For as long as I can remember, I have been watching light. I have vivid memories of episodes where I noticed how light changed the appearance of the landscape at different times of the day. As a young boy, I created watercolor scenes from my imagination and scenes from the back seat of a car. Of course this awareness of light was not given much credence as a child, but this 'secret' knowledge stored away and always percolating near the surface of my memory would incubate for decades before becoming realized, then utilized, brought to 'light', and finally shared with those willing to look and listen.

My seeking of this light has fundamentally underlain the direction of my life for the better part of the last two plus decades. Though at times this quest was not totally at the forefront, it has been there all along even when idling in the background. Today, in all respects, it informs who I am as an artist.

As photographers, we all chase this light, whether it be out of doors or inside of a studio. Regardless of the genre we pursue as artists individually, light is the essence that translates our art into our vision of our personal world. Without this light, we are not only literally, but physically in the dark. This duality is reflected in all that we visualize each and every day of our lives. In some sense, this quality implies that only what lies between is of importance or consequence. I would argue against the latter, as the whole to me is essential to the artist's intent. Taking this light and translating it into our own personal vision is the final expression, whether our vision is true to life or artistic in its final edit.

And so we come to the light. Whether it be on the fringe of darkness, shadow, or brilliance, we come. The light informs us. The light is our palette whether we see in black and white, color, or both. We live for this light.