To Be an Artist is to Believe in Miracles

•May 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I go out with a camera and I believe I will create a work of art. Why? I know it’s not the camera. I know it’s not my great technical skills. Having time for creating is necessary; so is knowing how to use one’s materials, but that’s only the prerequisite. Something else has to enter into it. What is it?

Like most artists, I get absorbed in the creation of my work and in getting absorbed, some parts of personality get out of the way and creativity flows. They use the term “falling” in love because you can’t just decide to be in love, you have to “fall” which like all falling implies a loss of control. In the same way, you can’t decide to be creative. When you do, you end up with a dry spell. What you can do is open to creativity, and just like falling, it implies loss of control. And with that loss of control, the production of a work of art can happen. Who was in control to produce that beautiful piece of art? Not me. Not you. It’s miraculous.

When looking through a session’s images, whether nowadays as raw files in Photoshop or in the old days as transparencies on a light box, sometimes one or two images just hit me and I am floored. Not from every session, but often enough. I am always blown away when that happens. Yes, I was operating the camera. Yes, that will be my signature when I exhibit the piece. However I realize how fortunate I am to have participated in the creation of that image. I’m a believer. Miracles happen.

Don’t Worry. Take Pictures

•May 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

If you want to find information about how to be a great photographer and how to take great photos, you will find a lot of it on the Internet. If that’s not your style, you can go to numerous portfolio reviews and get lots of opinions on where you work is good, where it is lacking and where it can be improved.

Or, you can join any number of sharing sites online and have people critique your photos and tell you how they can be better.

Or you can be like me… I don’t look for criticism online or in portfolio reviews. I look for opinions from my wife and maybe some friends, but that’s all.

Someone I met in a critique forum accused me of being a coward for not posting there anymore. I don’t think I’m a coward. I think I’m smart. I would have been smarter if I’d left earlier.

I’ve been taking photographs for a long time. I’m pretty competent technically. I can get what I want out of my equipment and if there’s something I want to learn, I know where to go to learn it.

What can’t be learned, what can’t be absorbed from any source is who one is. And this includes who one is as an artist. Making art is the one of the most intimate and personal things one can do. Only you know when you touch that space. Only you know when you are there. No amount of positive or negative feedback can get you there. You get there by making art over and over again, making corrections, seeing where your inner-directed and outer-directed and making more art.

Yes, it feels good if someone likes what you’ve done and it feels bad if they don’t. And yes, consciously or unconsciously you’ll want to make the kind of work that brings more praise and less criticism, but eventually that will turn dry and you’ll again turn inside and produce your art.

The End Result is All That Matters

•May 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There’s been a bit of a storm lately about photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his National Geographic portrait of a young Afghan Girl. Here’s a link to it.

I’m a big fan of Steve McCurry’s work and I was disappointed to see his rebuttal, which most of us find hard to believe. Here’s a link to Steve McCurry’s web page.

In my opinion, the finished image is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how you got there. However, being that you are presenting a photograph and photographs tend to represent what was in front of the camera, if that was altered, you should say so.

Like Steve, I became a photographer in the day where any serious retouching of a photograph was so expensive that for most of us it was prohibitive. Only photographs used in national ads had the budgets for that kind of retouching.

So we learned that if you didn’t get it in the camera, you didn’t get it. I love photography and I love using a camera so I readily embraced these constraints. The better craftsman I was with a camera, the more chance I had of making good images.

I still approach my photography this way. If an image doesn’t work for me, I don’t look at what I could add or what I could move or remove. I just go on to the next image.

I’m pretty competent with doing what I want in Photoshop, but I’m not interested in doing those kinds of alterations. I’d rather be outside with my camera.

My wife, on the other hand, was a competent Photoshop artist before she seriously picked up a camera, so unlike me she is up for any kind of processing that would make the photo better. Is one approach any better than the other? Only the final images can answer that question.

In the above image, I removed a couple of stray and distracting grass fronds from the lower right. I’ve been known to soften the focus on areas if I feel it helps the image, but I didn’t have to do that here. I chose the good F Stop to take care of that.

Tree Stories

•March 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s a trail I haven’t hiked in maybe 5 years. The last time I hiked it I didn’t find it very interesting. I’ve decided to hike it this morning for two reasons. I think the trees might make a good backdrop for some photos of my wife that I want to take and I had a plan for small series that I wanted to enter into a magazine.

I start climbing up the trail looking left and right waiting to get inspired, but nothing happens. I could turn left and get to a meadow that I wanted to check out, but fearing I’m making a mistake, I continue on. Finally there’s a tree with an interesting background that might work. I spend some time on it trying to get something but not being terribly excited I continue on.

Something else looks interesting and I try to make a photo of that. And, as I continue on, I stop worrying about my success or failure in my choice of this trail. And then the miraculous happens.

As I continue down the trail every tree I see is getting my attention and they all want to tell me something. Every tree and group of trees I see is telling me their stories. I look and listen and somehow intuitively choose which ones to tell to you.

I take my time walking up the trail listening as best I can and taking it all in. What a joy it is to spend this time with them photographing their stories.

I don’t think I’m talking about anthropomorphism. The trees don’t speak in sentences in a language I can translate to English. But I do believe that they are speaking with me and after having to listen to my own, and a host of other’s human stories, it’s a real pleasure to be here and just listen to them.

I Confess.

•March 21, 2016 • 2 Comments

I came of age in the 60s and 70s, the sex, drugs, rock & roll generation, and I did my best to participate in all of it. I had a friend who became addicted to heroin; another friend who took too much acid; but I emerged pretty much intact because I assumed I didn’t have an addictive personality.

Ha. I’m Successaholic. I crave any indication of success, whether it’s praise, sales, acknowledgements, even likes on Facebook. I confess, I posted my last photo to Facebook 40 minutes ago.

I used to have my own software company. I was writing utility programs for Microsoft Windows just when Windows became popular. I had my programs reviewed in all the big photo magazines. I won a few awards. I had my own company with a couple of employees and it still wasn’t enough. I was still hungry. Those of you who are like me know it’s never enough.

Some addicts give up alcohol; some give up drugs. What do I need to give up? I love being out by myself and taking photographs. I love processing them on the computer, even if no one else ever sees them. I don’t have to give that up. I suppose I could not show them anywhere, but I don’t see that solving anything plus the income I make from photo sales pays for cameras, printers and such.

What can be given up is the mistaken belief that outside of some money, success can really give me anything. Success can’t touch the things in life that really matter. And, when you close your eyes to go to sleep at night, you can’t take anything with you. If you try, you won’t be able to fall asleep.

So the way I deal with my successaholism is to go inside and see where the hunger is really satisfied. That doesn’t say that sometimes it still doesn’t grab me and turn my head around.

Familiarity and Innocence

•March 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

When I lived in California, I used to photograph a lot of trees. Oaks, cottonwoods, bays, redwoods, I had a lot to choose from.

The forests near where I live now in Boulder Colorado are mostly pine. Pine trees are beautiful, but I never found them interesting to photograph. They were just too regular—not enough interesting shapes and variations.

I think one of the best things that can happen to us as artists as well as human beings is to be humbled by becoming aware of our closed-down attitudes.

I had the occasion for such a humbling just a couple of weeks ago when I decided to hike on this trail I had largely ignored for the last few years. It’s the Mesa trail in Boulder and it runs south from Chautauqua through these lovely pine forests and grasses.

The humbling was immediate and painless as I was taken in by this magical walk under these exquisite trees. There was nothing regular and boring about them. Everywhere I turned was simplicity, quiet and beauty.

Making photographs is a interesting artistic pursuit. It requires some degree of mechanical skill and some knowledge of lighting and composition and even knowledge of one’s subject matter. But it also requires a lot of not-knowing.

To experience the forest like I did, I had to see it as if I were seeing it for the first time. I had to drop my concept of the way pine trees looked and the way pine trees have been photographed and just see them as beautiful alive colors and shapes. The interesting thing in this experience was that my familiarity with the trail and the area contributed with my being able to look past initial impressions and see deeper into things.

A combination of familiarity and innocence.

All I Need is this Wood.

•March 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I get out of bed before sunrise to go out and take photos. My mind is full of feelings and thoughts of the past week, of Donald Trump, of dying bees, of dying species, of suffering refugees…

Lucky my chosen hike is a short drive away, and within 15 minutes I’m climbing up a wooded trail illuminated by the rising sun. The red sky makes the canyon walls very red and the tree trunks reflect some of that glow.

My mind quiets, my being opens and I’m filled with the joy of the trees, the orange sky, orange canyon and just being alive.

There isn’t even a question posed, just the certainty, “I choose this.”

Yes, there is real suffering in the world, real craziness and apparent evil. But there is also this sublime, beautiful and quiet wood. All is right with the world.

We are an arrogant, greedy and power hungry species and our mantra is more, more, more. I don’t know if we will wake up in time to save ourselves, but if I want a reason to live, to rejoice even, all I need is this wood.

 
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