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This blog is intended to showcase my pictures or those of other photographers who have moved beyond the pretty picture and for whom photography is more than entertainment - photography that aims at being true, not at being beautiful because what is true is most often beautiful..

>>>> Comments, commentary and lively discussions, re: my writings or any topic germane to the medium and its apparatus, are vigorously encouraged.

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The Snapshot Aesthetic

Another interior landscape - Oddly enough, and sort of out-of-the-blue, last fall a traveling 3 ring circus (Carson & Barnes) came to our little hamlet of about 800 souls here in the Airondacks. It was weird for a number of reasons: like, why, of all places, here? and, the way in which they showed up in the morning, set up the whole deal, including the main tent (with the assistance of elephants) and various side show attractions, put on afternoon and evening shows, and then packed up during the night. By the next morning they were gone, leaving not a single trace of their passing. I guess you might have to live in a sleepy little hamlet in the largest wilderness in the eastern US to understand how surreal the whole thing seemed.

In any event, I have posted this photograph as an opportunity to discuss the "snapshot" aesthetic. On the recent urban landscape thread, Billie commented that "...I have a holga lens attahed to the body cap for my digital camera....I want the digital combo to work but I'm not sure. I think part of the reason it isn't going to work is because I have a different attitude with the holga in my hands than I do with a dslr...but there may be no Holga but a holga."

Since Billie is a newbie here (comment-wise), I checked out her blog, billieblog, an found this The Holga Vision post whereon she poses the question, "What is it about a Holga Camera that lets a photographer see just a little differently?"

Good question. But for me, the answer is to refute the basis for the question - I don't see differently with different cameras. When photographing in my non-commercial/personal state of mind, I tend to carry my way of seeing - the vision thing - over to whatever camera/format I am using - from my 8×10 view camera on down the line to my krappy kameras.

No matter the camera or optics, analog or digital, I always crop to square. I always blur and burn the corners of my prints. I always aim for "natural" color. I almost always work the slightly wide to normal range of the optics spectrum. I always print "small" (by current gallery standards). And, my gaze is always deadpan and "casual" appearing. FYI, I use the word appearing because, even though my photographs appear to be randomly "composed", they are anything but.

Why? Simply because I want my photographs to have the initial feel and impression of snapshots. I don't want observers to be put off by formal technique and presentation that screams, "This Is Art! Sit up straight and pay attention. I don't want to have to tell you twice!" I want my photographs to be "accessible" to the casual viewer, not just those with "artistic" sensibilities, although I know that my photographs swing both ways.

My photographs certainly say a great deal about me, but, ultimately, it is the referent and the connoted that I want the observer to connect with. I am not photographing for glory and adulation (well, a little wouldn't hurt). It is making a connection with the observer that turns me on.

My photographic gaze almost always focuses on simple everyday things - my referent. In a broad sense, the connoted that I hope to convey to observers of my photographs is an appreciation for the simple beauty of unadorned life and living.

So, that's why I see and why present the fruits of my seeing in a simple appearing snapshot aesthetic - no matter the means of photographing.

ku # 448 ~ Time to die; thoughts on photography, rage against The Machine, and legacy

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe....All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.." ~ the last words of Ray Batty, a replicant (androids which are claimed to be "more human than human"), from the movie Blade Runner.

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I was re-viewing it recently and I heard Ray Batty's last words in a whole new light, a lightweight photo-epiphany of sorts. - at least at the time I thought it was lightweight. However, upon further consideration, I am coming to an awareness about the medium of photography which is considerably heavier than I first thought.

In a glib kind of fashion, my first thought (honest, my very first thought) upon hearing Batty's words this time around was...didn't he have a camera? I mean if I were seeing attack ships on fire on the shoulder of Orion and C-beams glittering in the darkness at Tannhauser Gate, I'd be filling up some memory cards like there was no tomorrow. Then again, I'm not a replicant and I don't know the answer to the question, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (the title of the book by Philip K. Dick that the movie Blade Runner was based on).

Nevertheless, dreams/memories are a big item in Blade Runner. When designing and producing replicants, the Tyrell Corporation found it important to "program" memories into replicants - memories of childhood and a past life, which, of course, they never had. The Tryell Corporation deemed memories integral to being human and I'm not about to disagree.

One of the renegade replicants, Leon, even has photographs that reinforce his (programmed) memories. In this replicant's case, it would be accurate to say that the photographs are his memories. In order to be more human than human, Leon must have his photographs. In an interesting twist, another replicant, the ever-luscious ("ever", because she has no pre-programmed termination date - unlike the 4 year life span of Ray, Leon and Pris) Rachael, must forget her memories, throw out her photos, and start again in order to begin a new "life".

Either way, memories and the photographs which create, supplement and mediate them, are given due weight in the plot line of Blade Runner.

Anyone who has taken the time to read my Artist's Statement knows that dreams and memories are an integral part of my photography and the motivations/inspirations that drive it. Even though my individual photographs are labeled "ku" (see 2nd entry - titled FYI) , the body of work is labeled Adirondack Dream Memories. No one has to tell me about the importance of dreams and memories. I have been exploring that notion for quite a while now.

What's always puzzled me about my photography quest is "why". I know that I'm curious. I know that I'm visually "gifted". I know that I have a drive to discover and express the unthought known. But, I am beginning to realize that perhaps a large part of my artist-hood is driven quite simply (like Ray Batty quest to meet his maker) by a rage against the Machine.

In my case, The "Machine" has many faces - from a few personal pet-peeves like ubiquitous cliche-driven landscape/nature photography or the culture of consumption which destroys souls and the environment, to the universal grand-daddy of all Machines, death. Ray Batty was certainly exhibiting a formidable rage against that particular Machine.

In the context of the Death Machine, I am struck by 2 other book titles - both written by the great American artist, Rockwell Kent - It's Me, O Lord and This is My Own. Rockwell Kent lived just down the road from me here in the little hamlet of Au Sable Forks. The books are Kent's collective autobiography and in them he lays down his memories proudly and empahatically (I think with a bit of defiance) proclaiming, O lord, this is me, this is what i have created and nobody can take it away!

Unlike most of us artists of the mere mortal variety, Kent's artistic legacy is assured. His works are enshrined in museums throughout the world (especially in the former Soviet Union) and in too many illustrated books to mention (actually, I'll mention one - I received for Xmas a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass illustrated by Rockwell Kent).

So, all of this has caused me to think a bit more about my legacy, in this case, photography-wise (although, this O lord, is part of me, it is my own). Sure, there are a couple coffee table books of my photography out there: one (photo journalism) in which my work is the featured photography (but not only photography); one (still life) which is based entirely on my photography. Sure, I'm working on getting a book deal done - a monograph of my Adirondack Dream Memories. Sure, I have photographs hanging on walls in homes and a few galleries. Sure, sure.

But, I want more than that and, in today's world of internet-based custom photo book printers, I'm going to get it. As some already know, I believe that custom photo books represent an important step forward, full of possibilities for photographers. I intend to pursue the "diary" as legacy possibilties.

Right now, most of my "diary" is on disks and hard drives. For all intents and purposes, it is rather invisible - a sad state for something so visual. I don't have nearly enough wall space in my house to accommodate my "diary" and even if I printed really small so to fit them all in, my house isn't very portable or reproducible. And, because they're so inexpensive to create (a hard bound book of 20 photographs in most cases costs less than one custom lab made 8×10 print), lots of them.

Make no mistake about it, I really like original photographic prints, mine and other's, but I'm beginning to feel that photo books are my real medium. I like the fact that you can create a more complete narrative than you can with a single print. They're portable. You can print just one. You can print 100. You can lend them to friends. Take them on vacation. You can place 5 different ones on a coffee table and have 100 (or more) photographs within easy reach of anyone. They can be viewed and appreciated in a car, on the can, in bed, on a plane....

And, as Colin Jago wrote on a Steve Durbin post on Art &Perception, " of the reasons that I like photo books... When closed they are closed. They are fresh again when I open them."

So, books it is.

After all, I've seen things like you people haven't seen them. I don't want all of those moments to be lost in time, like tears in rain.

FEATURED COMMENT: John Joannides wrote: "Interesting way of putting it, raging against the machine, and in some ways I think it's accurate for many photographers. For me, as an example, my machine happens to be the grind of daily life. Doing things that one wouldn't choose to do except for the need to earn money and fight negative entropy. The rage manifests itself as exploration of life and fantasy via photography and other types of image making. A ying to the yang. Or at least that is a part of it, but then again so many hobbies and callings are in a way. People are just compelled to do them."

FEATURED COMMENT: Steve (no longer semi-anonymous) Lawler wrote (in part): "Roy's time to die scene defines Blade Runner to me; I count it among the most profound in my cinematic experience. It’s compelling precisely because it articulates the fleeting and bittersweet essence of the human condition. As I’d mentioned previously, your work is analogous to the extent that it facilitates this recognition of the divine in the mundane. After all is said and done, it’s about immortality."

urban landscape

Do you ever feel like you just have to get outside the box? Even though you might be very absorbed in a long term project (a box of sorts), you still just have to taste something different. Not a change of diet, just a different flavor for the palette. That's where I am at this moment.

For me, it's looking more and more like a return visit to my much-favored toy camera genre - the Polaroid. In this case, the Polaroid 680 SLR simply because I can still get film for it (not so for my favorite SX 70 cameras). The camera itself is actually very sophisticated - it is an SLR, has a glass lens, AF, and wide range of aperture/shutter settings (albeit auto) - but the prints are rather toy-like in as much as the color, contrast and print size are all "pure" Polaroid-centric.

The one digital-era variation on those Polaroid-centric characteristics is that they are now open to digital darkroom mods. My plan is to scan the originals to preseerve the Polaroid-centric characteristics with the possible exception of print size. Well scanned and enlarged Polaroid prints are, IMO, very intriquing.

My choice is also based on the fact that the digital domain has me extremely addicted to instant feedback and, at one point in the analog past, Polaroid was the only game in town for that. Speaking of the analog past, I also have an ever stronger desire to use film, to be at least partially analog. I'm not at the point where I'm ready to start dragging the 8×10 with color neg film around, but I'm getting close. I figure the Polaroid thing will help stave off that particular inevitable for a while longer.

I am not going to replace my dslr photography with the Polaroid. I'll just be bringing it along where ever I go.

Anyone else feeling, or, felt the same way? What are/did you do?

the photographs - I mentioned in my previous James Brown post that I did a Day-in-the-Life (of Pittsburgh PA) project for Pittsburgh Magazine. One of my areas to photograph was the Hill District, Pittsburgh's once pre-eminent and thriving - then and now decaying - black neighborhood.

I photographed the assignment entirely with Polaroid cameras - SX-70, SLR 680, and a Spectra Onyx - although I did carry 2 Nikons on my shoulders so people would take me seriously. The photographs are from that assignment. New Granada - SX-70 camera and Time-Zero film. Before the Funeral - Polaroid SLR 680 and 600 film (faster than Time-Zero film).

FEATURED COMMENT: anonymous wrote: "Film does exist for the SX-70, called SX-70 Blend. It's available from"

publisher's response: Thanks for the link. I am very pleased to know that someone has picked up the manufacturing of SX-70 film albeit a different film. I will give it a try a some point, but at $38 US + shipping per 10 photo pack, I won't be using it to get the current Polaroid monkey off my back.

Other original SX-70 film (Time-Zero) characteristics aside, does anyone know if the emulsion on the new stuff is as maleable as the old stuff? I really enjoyed making photographs like these with Time-Zero film - something not nearly as possible with 600 film.


urban ku # 17/17a

An anonymous commenter wrote, "when asked....color? Prose. Black and White? Poetry."

I never thought of it exactly that way before. To my eye and sensibilities, B&W photography - with the exception of portraiture - has always been a medium of abstraction in as much as we don't see in B&W. Something is "missing" in B&W photography, something has been "altered", that something of course being color, which is a very real and ubiquitous component of our visual world. Perhaps it is the familiar ubiquitiousness of color that causes anonymous to characterize Color photography as "prose" or prosaic.

The dictionary lists as synonyms for "prosaic" - ordinary, everyday; vapid, humdrum, tedious, tiresome, and, uninteresting, although my leap from "prose" to "prosaic" may be overstating anonymous' intent, but I think not since the dictionary definition of "prose" hammers on the same notes of ordinary, everyday, dull, etc.

So I must respectfully disagree with anonymous. There exists too much good color photography - my own included - to label the color photography genre "prose" or "prosaic".

As for the contention that B&W photography is poetry, I might be inclined to venture "maybe". "Maybe", first and foremost because I am not all that comfortable using one form of art as a metaphor for another form. Photography is not poetry, or for that matter, prose, both of which traffic with and in words.

"Maybe", because, when used as an adjective, the word "poetic" can mean something with poetic qualities however manifested. But for me, the problem here is that "poetic" can also aptly describe much color photography as well.

It should not be inferred that I dislike B&W photography. I will venture that carefully crafted B&W prints can be, in and of themselves and independent of their subject matter, incredibly beautiful objects in a manner that color prints don't seem to match. B&W photography also seems well suited to describing shape and line and, perhaps, with skillful compostions of shape and line, B&W photographs can emulate, after a fashion, the rythmn and meter of poetry. But, IMO, the same can be said of color photography as well.

All of that said, it should be obvious that my chosen manner of photographic expression is the Color vernacular. I would be interested in reading the thoughts of those who have chosen the B&W vernacular as theirs.

FEATURED COMMENT: Steve Durbin wrote (in part): "...A phrase that springs to mind in this context is "poetic license." That's appropriate because B&W photographers can "get away with" much stronger image manipulation without having their images judged as overly manipulated, for the very reason that they've already abstracted their image from reality by dispensing with color. Thanks to historical accident, viewers have a level of acceptance of black and white images that can be and is taken advantage of by photographers...."

FEATURED COMMENT: anonymous wrote: "I think you're missing something here. In fact this entire post is based off a profound misunderstanding of the anonymous commenter's comment.

What you're missing is that prose is not necessarily prosaic. In fact it can be anything but prosaic. The two words are not synonymns despite sharing a root word, yet your post is based on prose being necessarily prosaic.

Yes, colour photography is more prose than poetry. That is due to poetry and B&W being more abstract approaches, while colour and prose are in general more descriptive. Neither need be prosaic, and both certainly can be.

publisher's response: Thanks very much for the toughtful comment.

My interpretation of the original anonymous' statement - "when asked....color? Prose. Black and White? Poetry." - was based on the dictionary definition of "prose" which states; 1.the ordinary form of spoken or written language, 2.matter-of-fact, commonplace, or dull expression, quality, discourse, etc., 4.commonplace; dull; prosaic, write or talk in a dull, matter-of-fact manner. The dictionary also states that poetry is a quality that suggests grace, beauty, and harmony.

But, without going all didactic or donnish, I inferred that anonymous was opining that bw photography was superior to color photography as in grace and beauty trump dull and commonplace. Maybe that's not what he meant. Maybe he just used the wrong analogy.

In any event, I do agree with you that when it comes to photography, color or bw, neither need be prosaic, and both certainly can be.

The Godfather of Soul - a New Year's Eve reflection on a social landscape

In the Tidbit post of a few days ago I mentioned places that had an emotional and physical impact upon me. This post is about an event that grabbed me by the balls and wouldn't let go.

This morning, as I was having a cup of coffee, I was reading an article in the morning paper about James Brown and the tribute gathering of over 8,500 people in Augusta, Ga. One woman commented that it was 30 years ago that she first saw James Brown in concert, and, WHAMMO, I realized that it was 30 years ago that I first saw him in concert. correction - it was 40 years ago that I first saw him (thanks to Gary Filkins for catching this one).

Actually, I wasn't in attendance as a concert-goer, I was there to photograph the event and that's why my photographs have an on-stage perspective - that's where I was, on stage with The Godfather of Soul. With all of the whirling dervish and raw emotional/physical energy that James Brown put down, being on stage, at times between him and the audience, was a hair raising and spine tingling experience, to say the least. But that's only part of the story.

Those of you who are good with math and have a good memory (or a knowledge of history) will have already deduced that this performance took place during that mid-sixties period of "long, hot summers" when many American black inner-cities erupted with riots. Riots, that for many, seemed rather unreal or Kafka-esque - this was America after all, things like that don't happen here. Well, in fact, things like that did happen, as well as the lynching of blacks, the murder of young civil rights workers, and the assassination of black and white leaders. To say that there was racial divide and anger in America was a vast understatement. And, to say that there were some angry black men (and women) - many, rightfully so - was also an understatement.

So, there I was, a big-target, Levittown-style raised (no blacks here), private school (no blacks here) white boy, sandwiched (figuratively and literally) between two social landscapes and sandwiched between the Godfather and his held-in-the-palm-of-his-hand emotionally-charged audience. There might have been another white guy in the place - a huge packed-to-the-rafters auditorium/gymnasium/plane hanger (on the island of Okinawa, Japan and if memory serves, on an Air Force base) - but, if there were, he wasn't anywhere near my fish-bowl like spot. Safe to say , James Brown was not the only one sweating on stage (another understatement).

Did I feel in physical danger? Kind of sort of, but not really. Was it stupid to feel that way? Kind of sort of, but not really - it only takes one idiot (black or white) in a crowd to start a riot. Did I feel a deep and disturbing sense of ill-at-ease? Oohhh, yes. Was it because I was surrounded by a sea of black people? Yes, but not because they were black. Were there any problems? No, not a single one. Nothing. Nada. Did I come away changed? Yes. Up to that point in my life, the civil rights movement had my complete sympathy and support, but always in a rather intellectual and removed sort of manner. Did I plan to become a civil rights worker in the deep south or urban America? No, but I did resolve to become very actively involved in the Robert Kennedy campaign upon my return to the US - but that's a whole 'nother story.

Thank you and goodbye, Mr. Brown.

addendum - Interestingly enough, years later after moving to Pittsburgh PA, I was regularly given photography assignments (for Pittsburgh Magazine) in the Hill District - Pittsburgh's once thriving, then (and still) decaying prominent black neighborhood - simply because, talent aside, I would go there. When the magazine did a special edition day-in-the-life project, I was, of course, assigned The Hill (the inspiration for tv's Hill Street Blues) as one of my areas to cover. On assignment I was stopped by a cop who informed that I was "insane, stupid and a complete idiot" - somewhat of an overstatement, but, since I was stupid, I guess he wanted to be sure I got his point - to be walking around that neighborhood with all of that expensive camera gear hanging from my neck and shoulders.

Did I feel in physical danger? No. Did I feel a deep and disturbing sense of ill-at-ease? No. Were there any problems? No, not a single one. Nothing. Nada.

ku # 447

Looking back at Little Whiteface around 3:30pm, 12/30/06. Actually, it's the lower reaches of Little Whiteface. Whiteface Mt. proper is lost in the ascending cloud bank on the right and continuing out of the frame. In any event, I thought the light was nice. Note the sky reflections in the foreground vehicles. As always, click on the photograph to see a larger version.

Tidbit - On Originality

3 point play - The shot was good. The foul is evident (the ref's arm is on the way up). She converted the free throw on her way to a 27 point night. The Au Sable Valley girls whomped all over the girls from Bethpage (Long Island) during the annual Holiday Classic in the Herb Brooks Arena (aka, the 1980 Olympic rink).

a personal aside: During my life, I have had a few very emotional reactions to a few places. Places, that for a variety of personal reasons, called up memories so vivid and strong that I experienced emotions and sensations that were nearly physically overwhelming - tingly hair on the neck and arms, a little wobbly in the knees and a tweak in the gut. The Vietnam Memorial in DC, Frank Lyold Wright's Falling Water in Ligioner PA, and the 1980 Olympic Rink (now known as the Herb Brooks Arena) are at the top of the list.

The first time I set foot in the Olympic arena, I felt as though I was in/on hallowed ground, a feeling that continues (slightly deminished) to this day dispite the fact that I am in the arena very frequently. Why? In a phrase, The Miracle on Ice - a landmark Cold War event.

A bunch of college-age kids, some might say a ragtag bunch, did what was considered the impossible - they defeated the mighty Soviet Red Army hockey team. At that time and in that period of national angst, hockey fan or not, it was apparent to the nation (and most probably, the world) that this was a defining Us against Them match of the Titans. USA vs the USSR. Good vs Evil. Freedom vs Repression. And fortunately, no guns or missiles. And, a more "innocent" time perhaps, but we won.

I wasn't there. I watched on tv - tape delay, prime time broadcast. Those who were in Lake Placid. but not in the arena, claimed that the chants of "USA, USA, USA" (you heard it here first) could be heard at the other end of town. I imagine that the chants also reverberated in the halls of the Kremlin as well.

Tidbit - On the notion of orginality, photographic or otherwise - "I milk a lot of cows, but, I churn my own butter." ~ by fictional character Rev. Jamison in the book Company Man by Joseph Finder. I really like this take on the oft-stated idea that everything's been done before.

urban ku # 16 ~ Inside, looking out

Kris K brought us a little snow. Just enough to make it look and feel like Xmas/winter.

this photograph - Looking out of the 1980 Olympic rink (Scene of The Miracle on Ice) at the 1980 speed skating oval where Eric Hyden did his thing. That's Lake Placid HS on the right and town hall of the left. If you click on and enlarge the photograph, you can just make out the Olympic ski jumps - a little red light just right of center on the mountains.