PICTURE ONLY GALLERY LINKS
The life without the APA pictures are here
The The Forks ~ there's no place like home gallery is here
The ART ~ conveys / transports / reflects gallery is here
The Decay & Disgust work/book is here
The single women selects/book gallery is here
The picture windows selects/book gallery is here
The kitchen life selects gallery is here
A 10 picture look at Tangles, Thickets, and Twigs ~ fields of visual energy is here
diptych # 102 / civilized ku # 2811-14 / ku #1292-93 ~ the other colors of autumn / singing in the rain
Every year, at this time of the year, I am reminded of Robert Adams' statement, "... cliché, the ten thousandth camera-club imitation of a picture by Ansel Adams." This regurgitated thought is always instigated by my viewing of the ten thousandth camera-club / calendar-art imitation of a picture of the 'spectacular' colors of autumn.
TO BE PERFECTLY CLEAR, I have no problem whatsoever with those picture makers who traverse the landscape, hither and yon, in search of a picture-perfect romanticized leafy landscape picturing opportunity. If such picturing endeavors turn them on, more power to them in their pursuit of picture making arousal. However, that's just not my idea of a picturing aphrodisiac.
One of the guiding principles of my picture making has been - at least since my epiphany, circa 1979, which came from my involvement in the production of the seminal book, The New Color Photography - can best be summarized by the statement, again by Robert Adams:
One standard, then, for the evaluation of art is the degree to which it gives us a fresh intimation of Form. For a picture to be beautiful it does not have to be shocking, but it must in some significant respect be unlike what has preceded it (this is why an artist cannot afford to be ignorant of the tradition within his medium).
IMO, it is nigh unto impossible to make a picture which is "in some significant respect ... unlike what has preceded it" inasmuch as there is some truth to the notion that everything which can be pictured has been pictured. That is to write, if one heeds Adams statement that "an artist cannot afford to be ignorant of the tradition within his medium" by learning about, in our case, the history and traditions of medium of photography, it becomes very apparent that in a broad referential sense, everything has indeed been pictured.
Which, of course, is not to write that, literally, every thing has been pictured but that, in a general sense, there is very little, if any thing at all, which has not served as the referent (or the implied/meaning) in a picture. Which, of course, does not mean that those same referents (and meanings) can not been seen in a new light, both literally and figuratively.
And that's the challenge ... seeing in a way - your personal way - that, if not significantly different from what came before, without resorting to cheap tricks and/or outright imitation.
FYI, I have my very own personal cliche for fall color picturing which, IMO, is rather different from the standard cliche ... picturing, in situ, the foliage in the rain or near-rain conditions and as seen in the everyday world / environment. IMO, picturing in such conditions produces truly intense / saturated (the leaves are in fact, saturated with moisture) colors - that is color without all those nasty bright sun highlights.
Spent the weekend in Rochester, NY attending, with my football classmates / teammates, the 50 year celebration of my school's victory over our arch-rival in the inaugural game between the 2 schools. It was a blast to see guys I hadn't seen in approximately 50 years. We spent a lot of time talking about what we did when we were 17 and a fair amount of time comparing our heart medications. One of my classmates / teammates, Danny Wegman, put on a small gathering (one of four events that weekend) for team members (from both schools) in his showcase restaurant (across the street from his showcase grocery store).
A few days before the weekend, Danny was spotted in his brand new Ferrari. Not just any Ferrari ... while the car is based on the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, Danny went to Italy (to Pininfarina and the Ferrari Special Projects Division) and had the body designed to his specifications, mixing various styling cues from landmark Ferraris past, most specifically the iconic Ferrari 250 GTO. The car has been dubbed as the Ferrari F12 SP America, a true one-off edition.
Although the car is rumored to have cost 3-4 US million dollars, with some sources quoting 4.5 million, that's a good deal given that, a few years down the road, it will probably command 20-30 million on the secondary / auction market. Although, it might have a few door dings if Danny keeps driving to the grocery store and parking it amongst the automotive rabble.
Brooks Jensen states in Things I’ve Learned About Photography, LensWork, #50, "Your success (as a photographer) depends as much upon the viewer as it does on yourself." For purposes of discussion, let’s assume that "success" in photography is measured by photographers’ ability to communicate with the viewers of their work. On that basis, I think that few would disagree with Jensen’s proposition. However, I am equally certain that there would definitely be differing opinions about the responsibilities of the two parties involved.
Some might argue that it is the responsibility of photographers to simplify and make obvious the message of their work in order that anyone with a kindergarten-level visual education can understand it at first glance. Others might insist that viewers will get out of their photography exactly what they put into it - the more effort they put into understanding the medium and the message the better they will "see" and the more they will "hear" and understand.
I guess it all comes down to which side of the fence you happen to be on, which brings to mind an interesting and instructive anecdote about an early childhood neighbor of mine - for anonymity sake, let’s call him Mr. Dockweller.
Mr. Dockweller (all the adults were Mr/Mrs/Miss when I was a kid except, of course, for the Sisters and Fathers) was a civil engineer for NYS-DOT by trade, a husband and father of 7 (the sound of babies booming), a Boy Scout leader, and a handyman extraordinaire. The voluminous handyman activities were necessitated by the fact that the Dockweller family lived in a small green house that started out with only two bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, a living room and, most inconveniently, one bathroom. Ah, the joys and perils of being Catholic and emerging middle-class in Grandpa Ike’s 1950s.
But kid life was mostly good and filled with mystery and wonder, and one of life’s most fascinating neighborhood curiosities for us was Mr. Dockweller’s garage. The Dockweller garage (detached) was a garage in name only. It may have housed lots of miscellaneous and scattered car parts amongst all the piles and stacks of the detritus of ongoing and never-ending home improvement and repair projects (one of which was to add on to the garage so it could hold more stuff), but a car had never graced its enclosed space.
Nor had any of us kids, including Mr. Dockweller’s own. Nothing sinister here, just sort of an early-era OSHA safety-first kind of thing. He, and he alone, was the sole proprietor and custodian of what we knew had to be a veritable treasure-trove of clubhouse-useable and kids-play junk - remember that this was the 50s and only a few of our "toys" came from a store. If you weren’t creative, you were bored. Many a time when we were searching for that perfect accoutrement to our childhood adventures, our lust for a visit to the convoluted passage ways of Mr. Dockweller's menagerie reached a fevered but unrequited pitch.
So, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with Brooks Jensen’s statement, photography, or me? Well, believe it or not, this little story leads to a parable about visual discernment/interpretation.
Knowing what I know now, I realize that Mr. Dockweller was balancing a life of responsibilities, commitments and activities that would leave even the most modern of soccer moms (or dads) spinning like a top. How he did it, I’ll never know. Although, with hindsight, I recognize that he did know how to keep all the wheels turning with the help of a little "lubricant" now and again, and on rare occasions, Mr. Dockweller would have what the neighbors quietly referred to as an "episode."
Apparently, in an attempt to attain an "altered state of consciousness" with which to view his world, Mr. Dockweller would lubricate his own particular cog just a bit too much. The result would inevitably be a "trip," as it were, to his outer sanctum (the garage) where he would ruminate and grapple with his inner self. The event was always marked by a steady cacophony of banging, crashing, clattering, murmuring, muttering and the occasional punctuation of a few well chosen, but not particularly well articulated expletives. The proceeding was never overtly violent or offensive, it was just a kind of leisurely-paced, low-grade release of a little of life’s excess steam.
In a remarkable display of staying power, Mr. Dockweller could keep this whole thing going for the better part of a warm summer afternoon. During this time some of the other neighborhood kids (including the apple of my childhood eye, Ginger Dockweller) would drift over to my backyard (we lived next door) and pretend to do something with a season-appropriate ball while we actually eavesdropped on what came to be known to us as a mysterious ritual. Mysterious, because, when the long-suffering and uncommonly patient Mrs. Dockweller would eventually decide that enough was enough and drag (figuratively) a wide-eyed, arms-a-flapping Mr. Dockweller out of the garage and his revelry, he would make it very clear to one and all within earshot that she had interfered with his discovery of the very meaning of Life, Truth, Beauty and the American Way. He was certain that during these garage based sweat-lodge "episodes", he had, in fact, seen no less than God. Life, its Meaning, and his God where all in there for all to see. You just had to really look.
Now, having heard this, and try as we might, every time we were able to peer into the garage all we were ever able to see (in our kid state of consciousness) was just plain junk - flapdoodle and green paint (the color of the Dockweller house and garage). Although once, when some warm late-day sunlight slanted through a window (and the boards stacked against it) and illuminated the air in the garage with random shafts of light, I thought I saw Daffy Duck flapping around in there, but alas, it was never conclusively confirmed. When queried about the discrepancy between our vision and Mr. Dockweller’s, most neighborhood adults either "didn’t want to talk about it", or answered with the standard adult-kid blow-off, "you wouldn’t understand."
And guess what? They were right. Not only wouldn’t we understand, we couldn’t possibly understand - we simply didn’t know enough to understand. It’s taken me the better part of a lifetime of experience and learning to understand and appreciate what was going on in that garage. And now I know (or at least have a good idea about it) because I wanted to know. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but, thank God, I’m not a cat, because the desire to know and find out has taken me down many an interesting and challenging road that I would have never followed without it. I’ll admit that I have a few bruises, but nothing life-threatening.
As for Mr. Dockweller’s altered-state-of-consciousness, isn’t admitting to yourself that there’s much to learn that you don’t already know an altered state of consciousness? The next time you encounter a photograph that challenges your understanding, spend some time with it, forget what you already know, and really look. To paraphrase Henri Cartier-Bresson, "People don’t look enough. They think. It’s not the same thing", or, as Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
When asked, "How can I improve my photography/take better pictures?", my advice is always the same - look, really look, at as much of the photography of others as you can, especially that which challenges your expectations and confounds your conventions. Discover/learn how to see through their eyes. Try to hear what they are saying, not just see what they are showing. Strive for empathy.
You may never come to savor or appreciate all the photography that you see, but you will learn from it. And, just like the rest of life, you will get out of it in direct proportion to what you put into it. Always remember, just like Mr. Dockweller’s garage with its flapdoodle and green paint, with an open and inquiring mind, things are not always as they seem to be.
PostScript - In this article I have taken a few creative liberties with my childhood experiences and memories, but the gist of it all is quite accurate. Credit for inspiration must also be given to an article read long ago (30 years ago?) entitled A Helicopter is Not a Milk Cow and That’s a Fact - at least that ‘s what I remember it as. Unfortunately, my memory can no longer serve up the name of the publication which, I believe, has long since ceased to be.
In the past, I have written extensively regarding the ability of a picture to illustrate and illuminate by means of the visual referent and the (implied) meaning to be had/found in a picture. IMO, good pictures are those which manage to convey both, presenting a viewer with both something to see and something to think about and, perchance, to feel.
Re: the illustrated - In some pictures, the something-to-see (the illustrated) is usually rather obvious. It comes in the form of the actual visual reference to the real world which the picture depicts, aka: the referent. The referent is very often a spectacular rendition of a familiar / spectacular subject and a viewer's reaction to it is most often both immediate and visceral.
In other pictures, the something-to-see, while visually obvious, may not be "spectacular" but, in fact, rather mundane. To my eye and sensibilities, what rescues such pictures from obscurity is an interesting presentation - that is to write, a sophisticated 2-dimentional arrangement of color, shapes and form within the the pictures frame - of the mundane referent (in other words, my kind of picture).
For those who do not grasp the subtle qualities of the presentation, the these pictures of so-called mundane subject matter are most often greeted by a viewer with disinterest. For them, if a picture ain't got that immediate swing, it don't mean a thing.
In either case, spectacular or mundane, a good picture needs more than just its visual specificity and detail.
Re: the illuminated - Let me start with a quote ...
I stared at the two of them, as though the moment had been caught inside a cropped photograph whose meaning lay outside the borders of the camera’s lens. Dave Robicheaux, fictional police officer - from a mystery novel by James Lee Burke.
... and move on to anecdote.
I am putting together a new body of work drawn from my archive of past picturing endeavors. The tentative title of the work is places to sit and the diptych in this entry is composed of 2 pictures from the series.
After pulling approximately 50 pictures of places to sit and arranging them on my monitor, I asked the wife to sit down and take a look with the objective of discerning what the pictures were about. Her first answer was to state the obvious - "chairs". My response was that was part of it but there was more. Her next response was "chairs and light". My response to that was that their was still more and that she should stop reacting to the obvious visual referent(s) and to consider things that were not visually depicted. In a very real sense, to consider meaning which lay outside the border of the camera's lens.
After some thought, the wife responded with a question,"Are these pictures from places we have visited together?"
Bingo. She got it. And by getting it, she opened the door to quite a few thoughts / feelings / emotions of places and pleasures associated with those places to sit. In other words, the pictures became more than just the illustrated picture referents. There was also a moment of illumination - enlightenment from the knowledge that the pictures were more than just what met the eye.
"OK.", you might venture. "I was never in those places to sit so I have no memories thereof. To me, they're just pictures of places to sit. What's the connection to me?"
Well, it's really rather simple. Think of how many places to sit you have experienced. The number of such places is probably incalculable. Nevertheless, I'll bet the farm on the fact that were/are many places to sit in your life which were memorable. Places to sit which, if you viewed a picture of the supporting platform (chair, bench, sofa, etc.), memories associated with that sitting would come flooding back.
So, while the pictures of our (the wife and I) places to sit will not instigate thoughts / memories of our specific sitting experience, in the best of cases they might cause you to free associate with/on the general concept of places to sit and the experiences which inevitably accompany sitting. Which, in turn, might lead you to memories of your own places to sit experiences and, ultimately, to understand and appreciate the significance that places to sit have played in your own life. It might even give you cause to consider the concept of the importance of choosing a place to sit.
In any event, if you really want to learn how to read a picture (any good picture), that is, to get beyond the visually obvious, you must learn to get beyond the specifics of a given picture and consider the general concept which the picture's specificity suggests.
And, IMO, that's one of the medium and its apparatus' unique characteristics. Despite it's native capability of rendering the real world with the utmost (amongst the visual arts) detail and specificity, the medium and its apparatus are also empowered with the capability of engendering meaning well beyond the limits seemingly imposed by its visual specificity and detail.
In light of the fact that my previous entry, wherein I presented an article from my former writing, was something of a hit, I offer another article for your reading pleasure and contemplation. I will undoubtedly present more of the same since the articles help define my approach to the medium and its apparatus.
Enjoy and, as always, comments and feedback are appreciated.
In the photographic world, the word "field" generally has a single meaning for most, as in, I do most of my shooting in the field, or, these are some of the techniques I use when I am shooting in the field, or, I have a 4×5 field camera. Many are also familiar with the same word when used as, "He is outstanding in his field" (photography), which, of course, is distinctly different from the more agrarian usage, "he is out standing in his field" (of wildflowers, maybe).
Well, I’m not here to discuss any of those usages. I’m interested in dissecting the one that describes, according to Webster, the area visible through the lens of an optical instrument, or, more specifically, that same area/field when it is made visible on the surface of a two-dimensional photographic print. And to drive home an even finer point, the notion of field strategy as an alternative to what most would call composition.
In the "school of photography" that is most commonly practiced by ...ers, there are many commonly accepted and easily visually recognized "rules" of composition - rule of thirds, S curves, focal point/center of interest, leading lines, etc., etc., and etc. If you want to know more about rules, say goodbye to your family and friends and do a "photo composition" search on the google machine. You should get about 1,390,764 (give or take) results. It’s no wonder that many of you are confused about what constitutes "good" composition.
But, one thing that I know for sure about composition is that most of you are confused/bewildered about my techniques and subsequent results. Let me try to explain, not in an attempt to convince that my way is right, or that my photos deserve more "respect", but rather, to inform those who are here to learn that there are other ways of seeing (both in the field and on the print).
The key to the way I see lies in developing an MO that emphasizes an extreme awareness of the primary quality of the final product of my photographic labors - the 2-dimensional photographic print. I do not see the print as a transparent window to the"real world. Nothing about the print is real except the print itself. What lies on the flat-as-a-pancake surface (field) of the print is an image that is a relic or a trace of something that once was, or, as Gary Winogrand stated, "... what something looks like when it is photographed." In photography, that something must make the transition from 3-dimensional reality to a new reality that exists in a 2-dimensional state - the flat surface or visual field of the photographic print.
So, back to that word "field" again. I tend to see the world as a visual "field." I am not sure if this is preternatural or the result of years of photographic seeing. I do think that it has something to do with the way my brain assimilates and integrates what lies in my peripheral vision with what is in my primary field of view. The writer John McPhee described something similar to this about NBA great Bill Bradley (A Sense of Where You Are, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux). Bradley’s extraordinary perception of what was in his peripheral vision, a sense that he deliberately developed, was what caused many of his teammates to sport bloody lips and broken noses that resulted from being the unsuspecting recipients of many an improbable and unexpected pass. As far as I am aware, my vision is normal in all other respects.
What this visual idiosyncrasy seems to make me sensitive to or aware of is relationships - of tones, textures, colors, and shapes somewhat independently of the objects and space that they help describe - and how they create a unified visual "whole" within my field of vision and on the flat, 2-dimensional plane of the photographic print. I "see" the space that objects in my photograph occupy and the spaces between and around them as shapes arranged across a visual field.
As an example, in a scene that contains a red ball and a blue box on a green lawn, I see red juxtaposed with blue and green almost more than I see a ball and a box and grass. I see a circle, a rectangle and a plane of texture almost more than i see a ball, a box and grass. And, I am keenly aware of their relationships to each other and how they integrate into a visual whole. My vision emphasizes holistic visual fields as opposed to discrete individual details within the field. This personal visual phenomenon is also how I see photographic prints.
The result for me (and many others - see the work of Eggleston, Meyerowitz, Shore, et al) is a decided slant towards the creation and appreciation of non-hierarchical "composition" in my photography. To my eye, subject and its visual essence are indivisible. Every tone, texture, color and shape is used for its expressive potential as well as its structural function. In manner similar to Abstract Expressionist painting, the space-shapes and objects in my photographs are like interlocking pieces of a jig-saw puzzle which come together as a continuous visual plane, but unlike that style of painting, my photographs are also like a window through which the observer can recognize familiar notions of navigable space and discernible subject matter.
This deliberate, delicately adjusted, almost invisible equilibrium between form and content (abstraction and reality) creates a visual structure where conspicuous design is not instantaneously apparent. Since the subject matter has not been bullied into exaggerated angles (according to the rules) or supersaturated colors, most find the photographs lacking a "compelling" quality (I often hear on ... that my photographs are "interesting but not "compelling"). Many see the photos as altogether missing an obvious subject and composition. (again, I hear "no strong COI, FP" etc., or, the ever-popular, "I don’t know what this photo is about").
OK, but to my eye, the visual texture or energy of my photographs comes from an optical blend of individual components, delineated with utmost specificity, that are presented in a manner calculated to emphasize the subject’s cumulative, rather than individual, visual appearance.
To put it in a compositional nutshell or my idea of a field strategy, I co-opt visual sections of the 3-dimensional world to function both as representations of recognizable things and as carefully arranged and chromatically co-ordinated 2-dimensional shapes, which come together as a unified, decorative "composition" or "whole" that emphasizes cumulative appearance and impression.
In the field (as in "out in the field") I have found that there is nothing better than a view camera’s ground glass (or its equivalent - the focusing screen of an slr/tlr without a prism or a lcd screen) as an "aid" for developing/implementing a field strategy approach to photography. If you "see" the image on the ground glass/screen in its 2-dimensional aspect, "relationships" become much more obvious and visible than they are through the "real-time" vision of a pentaprism. I find that prism view finders visually transmit 3-dimensional information in a manner that a direct view of a flat ground glass or focusing screen does not. The projected image on a ground glass is already making it’s way to a 2-dimensional representation.
To wit, by looking at the image on a flat plane, I see the scene not as the real thing, but as the photographic transformation of the thing - two very different mental and visual constructs. "Really."
And while we’re on the subject of the formal organization of 2-dimensional space, I would be deficient in my duties as the resident ... "Agent Provocateur" if I didn’t use this opportunity to fire another shot across the bow in the ongoing "home-school" vs "educated" battle for the heart and minds of the photographic public. The formal organization of 2-dimensional space (a formal characteristic that photography shares with painting) is much appreciated and highly regarded quality by the mucho-maligned "Art World" crowd. They are looking for something more subtle and intellectually/emotionally challenging than the standard, by-the-book type of composition. For those of you that feel backed into a corner by this statement, remember, this is just a matter of "taste". And besides, relax, you definitely have the upper hand in the audience-appreciation consolation race.