Priorities

•June 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

After a lot of snow this winter, my favorite places in the Colorado high country are opening up.  Yesterday I got up to Brainard Lake just at sunrise.  It wasn’t too cold, but it was so windy that I immediately thought of turning around and going back.  I got out and started wandering around, but the wind made it very difficult to take photographs. 

I liked what I saw where Brainard Lake emptied into St. Vrain Creek, but there was no path to follow and there was still snow all around.  It was so windy that I just ducked into the forest surrounding the creek because it was calmer, there and as I quickly noticed, so beautiful.

I just came back from the Sierras.  I lived in California for 30 years and we used to go there up to the mountains a lot.  When I’m back there I always wonder why I left.

This morning wandering the forest that question was easily answered.  I Love It Here!  The Rockies are so different from the Sierras.  I’m wandering around this dense forest just marveling at the trees and the colors.  We’re at 10,000 feet here and you can see from the trees that only the strong survive.  Just looking at them you can feel how rough the winters here must be.  There are dead branches and brown needles everywhere but the forest survives beautifully. 

I’ve tried to photograph pine forests before and it’s very hard.  They are beautiful, but it’s hard to make compositions and there are always odd branches pointing everywhere.  However I’m so enthralled among these trees that I decide to try anyway.  I had cataract surgery two months ago, and I’m still finding some of the greens beautifully intense.

It’s hard moving through the trees, and there are banks of snow everywhere.  The snow is hard packed but the top is slippery and if I’m not careful I could just slide down the side.

The sides of the creek are pretty steep and there is no bank so it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get down to it.

It’s still windy and cold but this forest has completely taken me in and I just want to capture how magnificent it is.  I’m very conscious of the pitfalls of no compositions, too many dead branches, and the fact that a bunch of pine trees on a flat photo just doesn’t look like that much, but I’m so into it I don’t care.  I’ll just do my best and see what comes of it.

Through some luck, a way down to the creek opens up and I can just put my camera between some bushes to get a photo.

Finally the cold is getting to me.  The tips of the fingers of my left hand are numb.  I figure it’s time to go home.

I really don’t think I got anything, but I was so taken in by the forest and its beauty that I don’t care.  This is what I consider a good time taking photographs.  If I have some goal that I’m unable to drop, then that goal will be foremost in my mind and inhibit my experiencing what’s in front of me.  If I can’t see what’s in front of me, how can I make photographs.

As it is, I got lucky and got some images that I really liked.

No 10 Best

•January 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I won’t be posting a best of 2016 this year. Posting best or favorites of the year has more and more seemed meaningless to me. For one thing, the year is in the middle of winter and I’ll be taking the same photos of ice. or grasses. or trees. or skies. or whatever on December 31st as I’ll be doing on January 1st. So this best of the year ending in December seems totally arbitrary to me.

I’m all for learning from my mistakes and improving. I can look back at my work and cite plenty of times I became obsessed with types of images and wasted way too much time on shooting them. Time can also show me what I want to explore more, too. I just don’t feel proudly showing my 10 best is the best way to do it.

I’m not someone who has a lot to say with my art. I am only interesting in presenting a quietly beautiful image and hope that its quiet beauty makes you quiet and appreciative. I’m always looking to get better at that. Learning from my mistakes, getting excited about ways of presenting my subject matter and becoming more internally quiet myself are my ways of doing that.

I’ve had two opportunities to do major exhibits in 2016. Before making and framing prints, I would go back over my work, pick out images, make small prints and look and look at them, trying to decide which images I should blow up and frame. These opportunities provided me with plenty of assessment of where I was going and how I was doing.

If you are interested in seeing more of what I am doing from day to day, I suggest to like my Dan Baumbach Photography page on Facebook.

See Different

•November 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I know it should be See Differently, but this is my pun on Apple’s slogan, Think Different. And as artists, we need to see different.

I’ve been told enough times to believe it that my photographs don’t look like others; that I see things others don’t see or that I see differently. One of my goals as an artist is to not just reproduce what other’s are doing. My goal is to make compelling images that don’t look like others, work.

This point of view doesn’t win me many followers. Maybe I’m just not that good, or maybe people want to see what’s familiar to them; probably a little bit of both.

We all know that most people who photograph the landscape are happy to get their version of some iconic shot. How many Mesa Arch, Maroon Bells, Tunnel View photos have we seen? How many lakes with the boat dock in the center leading us in? The new thing seems to be soft focus quasi spiritual black and white images. I’m not putting any of this work down. The original photo of Mesa Arch with the sun illuminating the underside of the arch, I’m sure was fantastic. Ditto for Galen Rowell’s Horsetail Falls photo. The same goes for artists Susan Burnstine and Beth Moon. The trouble is, that every one feels it’s enough for them to do mediocre versions of these photographer’s work.

If you’ve gotten this far, I doubt this is your goal. So, how do we do original artwork? The first is that we must desire to do original work. Then we must get to know ourselves well enough to know what we like and dislike. There’s so much information out there telling us what we’re supposed to like, what’s good photography, and pitfalls that we must avoid, that we often get lost accepting that all of it is true. As artists we must get to know ourselves, what we like and what we want to accomplish. This is not necessarily easy work. There are plenty of days when I scroll through my recent images in Adobe Bridge and I have no clue what I think of them. But eventually I know what I like.

Loving my subject matter is what works for me. When I’m photographing what interests me and what I find beautiful, I get absorbed in what I’m doing, I forget about the rest of the world and I’m just happy. Even if the conditions are bad and I’m feeling frustrated trying to accomplish something, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

So, we had a great time in the field and we’re excited about seeing and working with the images we took. There’s one problem, however. The first thing we’ll notice is that just because we like the subject matter and the photograph is technically competent, it is still not necessarily an interesting photograph.

So, now we need to move from merely technically savvy individuals who document what they find interesting and beautiful to, artists who can take their impression of what they find so compelling about what’s in front of their camera and communicate that in a photograph.

That’s where the real work and real fun is, and I’ll address that in a future blog post.

I’m Just a Brooklyn Boy in the Rockies

•September 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I come out of the forest trail and arrive at my destination, Mitchell Lake. It’s still pretty dark, but I probably don’t need my head lamp anymore. Mitchell Lake is at about 10700’ in altitude. Another 800’ is tree line and the landscape looks it. Most of the trees are pretty small and there are a lot of rocky areas.

The clouds in the sky begin to show a little color and I flip into action. I’m thinking about compositions and how to capture the bright sky, the dark trees and the reflections in this little creek in one exposure.

Most of the thoughts are about solving technical matters. I leave the art matters up to something else. There is a tremendous amount of awe in me as the sky picks up color. The little creek coming out of Mitchell Lake reflects those reds and golds beautifully. The little shrubbery around it is starting to turn autumn colors with patches of red everywhere.

I’m just one big WOW and I’m trying to make a photograph that expresses my awe, wonder and appreciation be here at this moment. Whether I’m successful will be determined later when I’m going through the images on my computer. I’m just doing my best just to capture it now.

Will I get images that will capture what I want? Will they just look like other sunrise mountain images? Will my exposures work to get the focus and detail I want without a lot of noise?

These questions will be answered later. I can only just be quiet, take it all in and make exposures.

I never know if I’ll be happy with what I’ve gotten till after I review them, but many times it will be days or weeks before I know if I’ve really gotten anything.

I just hope I learn from my mistakes and do better next time.

When I was young I remember asking my mother why this political candidate from the West wasn’t interested in preserving the beauty of their environment, while we, living in New York City wanted to preserve it. My mother answered that maybe because they live there, they take it for granted, while we who can only rarely visit it or see photographs of it appreciate it more.

When I’m up in the mountains, I’m still that visitor. I’m still a Brooklyn boy in the Rockies. I hope that never changes.

Walking and Seeing

•August 29, 2016 • 2 Comments

I love going out in the morning and taking photographs. There’s something that happens to me when I walk around with a camera that takes me out of my mind and allows me to get very observant. It first happened to me when I was in my late teens and I was wandering around city streets with my camera in my hand. I’d be looking and looking, and at some point, something would click and I would see things that I would ordinarily pass by: faces, relationships, attitudes. I would see interesting things to photograph everywhere.

The same thing happens today. I’ll be walking on a trail with pine trees on either side: no great changes in color, no dramatic light. But as I walk along and get quieter and quieter, I see all sorts of relationships between trees, rocks, mountains, sun the sky. I just shoot and shoot hoping that I’m able to capture what I’m seeing, but realizing that most of it is out of my hands.

People who’ve studied contemplative art tell me I’m a contemplative photographer. I generally think of contemplation as involving thought but the contemplative artists say no. The contemplative photographer label could be put on me, but I’m reluctant to put it on me. I’m not thinking of performing any spiritual practice when I go out. I have a desire to get some good photographs, but I realize if I put too much attention on that desire, it will distract me from my experience so I don’t dwell on that. I just look around and take it all in and try to capture the quiet beauty and relationships in a photograph.

The taking of the photograph is an integral part of the experience. Seeing something that I find interesting and beautiful and seeing if I can capture that in a flat image with defined borders. How to compose it. How to expose it. All of this is part of the joy. I’m getting excited just writing about it.

Quiet

•August 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m always looking for ways to promote my photographs so I’m always checking out calls for entry. I apply to very few of them because I’ve learned that very few of them are looking for what I do. My images are not of people. They are not exciting and innovative. They don’t say anything new. They don’t push any boundaries. They aren’t made with any ultra-new or obsolete-old processes.

My photos don’t fit into those categories because I’m consciously not trying to fit into those categories. I’m trying to fit into the oldest category there is – silence.

I work with scenes whether small or grand that I consider beautiful, and I try to distill that beauty into its essence: quiet, peace, joy, love. Even those words are too much. Let’s just call it divine silence.

I have found that images of silence and peace are not very readily appreciated on the internet where attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Or, maybe I’m just not that good at it.

I love all kinds of photography, from landscapes to street shots to fashion. But when I’m taking photographs I tend to focus on simple and quiet. I don’t think about trying to take quiet images – I find that it’s just what I’m drawn to and what I enjoy making. If I have a goal it’s to make images that are quieter and more beautiful.

Second Wind

•July 24, 2016 • 2 Comments

I had a photo on exhibit at a local photographic art venue and I took the director up on the offer for a portfolio review. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I saw their eyes glaze over as they looked at my nature photos.

It seemed that most people in the photographic art world saw all nature photos the same. Whether it was a me-too photo of Mesa Arch or a compelling intimate landscape that they had never seen before, it was all the same to them.

So, for the past few years I’ve been moving away from nature photographs and doing more abstract images. This hasn’t taken a lot of effort or self-denial because I love doing abstract images–but I also love taking nature images.

I recently had the great good fortune to come in contact with one of the principals putting together a number of History of Boulder Visual Arts exhibits. I had wanted some advice about picking images for an upcoming exhibit. She looked at my website, at my abstract images and at my nature images and she saw no difference. She even pointed out the abstract qualities of some of my nature images. It was a revelation. I wasn’t just another guy waiting for the sunset at Tunnel View. She saw me as an artist.

Being an artist means being intensely inner-directed. You can’t make art and be too concerned with what others will think or what will sell. You have to please your heart first.

At the same time, when someone sees your art and gets it, they also get you, and the validation is very powerful. So during the week I still go out and photograph grasses, creeks, rocks and stuff, but when I have more time, I’m indulging my love of the Colorado high country and taking nature photos.

It’s the best of both worlds.