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
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.
A number of years ago - 5-7 to be exact - I was an active participant - posting pictures and writing articales - on an online nature forum/site. On the forums, my pictures were very often greeted by, let's write, less than complimentary comments inasmuch as they were not (there's a surprise) of the standard run-of-the-mill nature picture variety / type.
One such picture, small stream ~ Harkness NY, was no exception to the rule (that is, the aforementioned rule for my pictures) and the comments it engendered spawned the following article, which I include in its entirety for your reading and consideration. Names have been changed / deleted to protect the innocent.
Recently, E.F. (participant/forum moderator) posed the question on the ... discussion forum, "Do successful photos require beautiful subjects?" In the spirit of ... how-I-would-have-done-it critiques, I would have phrased the question more like this - "Do beautiful photos require beautiful subjects?" And, in keeping with the first N in ..., I would have probably qualified the question by inserting the word "nature" into the question somewhere.
E.’s question in question was prompted in large part by a minor hubbub surrounding one of my photographs of decidedly mundane subject matter. When confronted with such a photograph, some thought that it represented poor editing and was a "joke." Others opined that perhaps the camera shutter had been tripped "accidentily" or wondered, if the photograph was created intentionally, was it even worth the effort? Eric and a few others thought otherwise and hence his (and my) question about beauty.
Over the years I have acquired a rather substantial number of books on photography. A surprising number of these contain few, if any, photographs. The books primarily traffic in photographic theory and history or "philosophy" (as it has been called here on ...). Aesthetic theory is favored over technical theory, and, within this framework, much is written about "beauty" in photography.
One such worthy book is, in fact, titled Beauty in Photography (Robert Adams, Aperture, 1996). Adams is a well-respected/collected landscape photographer. His photography of western landscapes always includes evidence of the heavy hand of man and many would not call it "beautiful." Many would. Nevertheless, his statement about beauty is very compelling and highlights the ambiguity associated with the word itself - "The word beauty is unavoidable...it accounts for my decision to photograph...There appeared a quality, beauty seemed the only appropriate word for it, in certain photographs that opened my eyes, and I am compelled to live with the vocabulary of this new sight...though over many years I still find it embarrassing to use the word beauty, I fear I will be attacked for it, but I still believe in it."
I believe that Adam’s "embarrassment" and fear of "attack" for his use of the word beauty is due in part to the fact many feel that "beauty" is in the eye of the beholder, and, under this sophist guise, a sofa-sized velvet Elvis is on par with a Rembrandt. But for those with even a modicum of art knowledge, this is obviously not the case. Nevertheless, an "informed" opinion does not negate the opposing opinion that, for many, and to their eye, the velvet Elvis is a thing of beauty. What a dilemma.
Now, at this point, if we wish to don our angel wings, all join hands and spin in a little circle on the head of pin, we can come right back to, well, the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But let’s not go there. Instead, let’s consider another idea about the use of the word "beauty" that might also be cause for embarrassment to Mr. Adams and a host of others (including me) as well.
Beauty and it’s derivative, beautiful, are frequently used to describe photographs which are most facile - visually pleasing photographs of the previously-seen that have been, by mere repetition, committed to the memory banks of the exalted. If the ubiquitous, "this-is-beautiful" commentary used to describe these predictable photographs is any indiction of the populist meaning of the word beauty/beautiful, then many might again be "embarrassed" and "fearful" by association with it. Clinking mugs aside, for them (and me) beauty in photography is not defined by the obvious or the predictable - pretty photographs of inherently beautiful subjects. In fact, the near-endless procession of "perfect" technically executed photographs of intrinsically beautiful subjects creates a kind of trivializing overkill that reduces this kind of beauty to little more than predictable cliche. Do we really need, as Robert Adams asks, "...the ten thousandth camera-club imitation of a picture by Ansel Adams," even if it is executed in glorious Velvia technicolor?
Many of these predictable photographs are, indeed, pleasing to the eye, but they represent beauty only if the definition of beauty is as shallow as the surface of the paper on which they are printed. These photographs are certainly successful in the world of decorative art as described in Einstein's Space & Van Gogh’s Sky (Leshan & Marggenau, Collier Books, 1982) - “decorative art ...whose function is to make the world a more pleasant place to live in...whose intent is simply to distract the individual..to render the observer unconscious...while he is still technically awake...to reduce awareness by rhythm, line, color, or words." Or, simply put, art that is simple and pleasing. In our high-stress pressure-packed world, decorative art that "relaxes" and "soothes" the observer is, unquestionably, a valued and desirable commodity for many.
At its best, decorative art can be visually arresting, but the predictable/obvious beauty that it describes is not the beauty that many strive to represent with their photography. Their pursuit "...is not some timid diversion or self indulgent entertainment, but goes to the heart of who we are as civilized...human being." (Andy Grundberg, The New York Times). These photographers inquire into "...not the nature of the physical world, but the nature of our reactions to it." (E. H. Gombrich). They attempt to create nothing less than new ways to organize and perceive reality. As Emmit Gowen stated about the medium and his place in it, "Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see."
If that’s a little too much "fluff," consider this - in the book on being a photographer (LensWork Publishing, 2003 revised), David Hurn /Magnum states, "For me, most great photographs displaying beauty reveal a sensation of strangeness, not predictability, a kind of shock non-recognition inside the familiar. They are the opposite of cliches: they have a quality beyond the obvious. But even if it is difficult to define, beauty still lurks behind the scenes." Robert Adams expressed a similar view, "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...(and)...by whether it reveals to us important form [the coherence and structure underlying life] that we ourselves have experienced but to which we have not paid adequate attention. Successful [photography] rediscovers beauty for us."
For many, true beauty is most often found in photographs that give us a fresh look at the familiar that enable or cause us to "see" their subject and our relationship to it in ways not "seen" before. In that process, these photographs create an intellectual and emotional involvement with thoughts and feelings with which we are not familiar. In short, not-seen-before photographs that involve a triad of the observers faculties - vision, intellect and emotion. True beauty, not always pretty, is more than skin deep.
To reveal nature’s "inner" beauty, a photograph can not mask that beauty behind a facade of obvious visual tricks. A photograph must instead be "honest" and "humble." It must possess a quality of being uncontrived (no matter how complex its making) that Robert Adams calls "grace." The photographer's vision must be present but self-effacing. The primacy of the subject, not the ego of the photographer or photographic technique, must reign. Truth must elevated over transformation, restraint over drama.
Many photographers consider visual and/or sentimental excesses prime "creative" technique. Sally Eauclaire, to whom I was a consultant on her seminal work The New Color Photography (Abbeville Press, 1981), stated it most clearly - "Their lust for effect is everywhere apparent. Technical wizardry amplifies rather than recreates on-site observations...they burden it with ever coarser effects. Rather than humbly seek out the 'spirit of fact,' they assume the role of God’s art director making His immanence unequivocal and protrusive." Photographs that exhibit this "aesthetic" have been roundly lauded in popular photographic publications and applauded with many a clinking mug on photo forums, but, in fact, it is these photographs that are responsible for the connotation of beauty - "the merely pretty" - that Robert Adams, myself and many others shun. "Pretty," unlike beauty, is most often brazen and loud. It rarely whispers or hints at secrets yet to be learned. There is no mystery, all is fully revealed and nothing is left to the imagination. It has all been seen before. Other than "technical wizardry," there are no surprises.
Why do we shun this definition of beauty? It is not because we consider ourselves or our photography to be "elite" or "superior." Nor is it because we consider decorative art that is visually pleasing, mentally relaxing, and emotionally soothing to be without value. And it’s certainly not because we harbor an irrational desire to see Velvia and ND grad filters eradicated from the face of the earth.
Rather, it is because we know what we already know, but, we want to know more. Endless photographic repetition of what we already know serves only in becoming wallpaper and cliche. With it, we neither experience nor learn anything new. What we do value and try to create in our photography and seek out and appreciate in the photography of others, is a sense of "newness" in the act of seeing - discovery, surprise, learning, revelation and growth about something of "depth" with which we are familiar but haven’t paid enough attention to - the Beauty that resides in Nature, and in all of us, that lies beneath the surface and beyond the obvious.
It’s as simple, yet, as complex, as that.
In articles such as the above, and others like it, I was attempting to capture and change the hearts and minds of those picture makers who were enraptured by the making of pictures like that which they had been told were good pictures. In other worlds, imitating rather than investigating and, perhaps, innovating.
For the most part, that didn't happen. In fact, what it did instigate was a lot of vitriol and dislike for both me and my pictures. Which, I guess, was to be expected because, as the saying goes ...
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
Au Sable Chasm is just 10 miles down the road from Au Sable Forks. The chasm has been a tourist attraction since it opened for business - it is privately owned - in 1870, which makes the place one of the earliest and oldest tourist attractions in the US. The chasm canyon - it's a canyon, not a gorge - itself is approximately 2 miles long and up to 150ft deep.
The Au Sable River flows through the chasm - the chasm begins at Rainbow Falls - and in some places, as it winds its way through the canyon, the river is 60ft deep. At times the water flow is heavy and swift (after rains) and at other times rather gentle and placid. In either case, there is a set of rapids located in the lower third of the river, all of which can be traversed by rubber raft or, if you are especially adventurous, in an inner tube.
In any event, Hugo and his friend Bailey, who had a day off from school, thought the chasm was "really awesome". They especially enjoyed exploring along the lower canyon walls looking in nooks and crannies for fossils and other things (in particular, centipedes). The featured find, in their opinions, was a grotto filled with cairns.
Needless to write, a good time was had by all.
1. the temperature is dropping
2. leaves are dropping3. bombs are dropping on yet another Arab country
Sounds right to me.
Saturday last was a very windy day on Lake Champlain. It made our crossing very interesting. The Cinemascapist and I were ferrying Hugo to Vermont for the first game of his new hockey season.
Hugo is playing for a "select" team - tryouts for selection (by a group of college hockey players) to the team - this season, the Plattsburgh Roadrunners. The first game was against a team of AA selects from Vermont. The game was very competitive and the Roadrunners won the game by a score of 2-1. Hugo scored both goals and I would surmise the coaches were quite pleased that Hugo was selected for the team.
Also most everyday I awake knowing that I will, most likely, make a picture (or more). Unless doing so involves a client directed assignment, I never know in advance what that picture (or pictures) will picture / illustrate. And, I believe that the absence of preconception in my picture making endeavors helps define the essence of that which my picture making activities create - pictures which illustrate the act of discovery.
Without a sense of preconception, I am free to observe and respond to all the world around me as opposed to the narrow act of looking for and responding to only a specific part of that world. That is, a constrictive manner of vision (both the literal and artistic expression meaning of the word) in which one sees only what one wants to see, in essence, making one blind to all the other picturing possibilities which exist all around him/her.
Where is the sense of discovery, surprise, and delight in making pictures as if one were wearing blinders?
To know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting, and often false. ~ Dorothea Lange
It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organising them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy. ~ Elliott Erwitt
Autumn is in the air and the witch on the dashboard has built a fire. Building fires at Rist Camp is what we will also be doing over the next week inasmuch as night-time lows will be near the freezing mark - great weather for sleeping and day-time (low 60s) hiking.