Photographer and Machine

•September 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

resonances

I came of age in the 60s and 70s and music was very integral to our lives. Everyone I knew including myself played guitar to some extent, and guitar virtuosos were held in very high esteem. It wasn’t enough to just be an accomplished guitar player. You had to have something more. I remember conversations we would have where some “amazing” player was mentioned and someone would immediately interject, “Oh he’s just a machine.” That was the worst put-down possible.

Digital photography and the internet have made photography very commonplace and there are a lot of very technically savvy people out there, but to me, most of them are just machines.

The technical craft of photography is very important to master if you want to be a photographic artist. How can you actualize your vision if you don’t have the skills to capture what you want. But the craft, when mastered, is boring. I want the artistry. I’m notoriously closed minded about most of the technical tricks that one can learn in photography and its post processing. I’m only interested in learning about the ones that I want to use.

I generally don’t like to talk about equipment, because equipment is only a means to an end. When people ask me what camera they should get, I advise them to go to their local camera store and try the Nikons, Canons, Sonys and Fujis and see which one they’re most comfortable with.

However, in my constant quest to get an ideal macro lens, I was made aware how equipment can such a difference in your images.

By some blind luck, I purchased a new and very inexpensive Sigma 70-300 macro zoom because my 80-200 Nikkor was in for repair and I wanted a quick replacement. Now, a large part of my current images are taken with that Sigma 70-300. The lens drives me crazy. It vignettes a lot in macro mode and the vignetting isn’t evenly distributed so it’s really a pain to correct. I tried going to a 70-300 Nikkor with a +1 close-up lens and the coverage was much better, but it wasn’t as sharp as the Sigma. The Sigma is quite a sharp lens.

I decided to try the 200mm Micro Nikkor, but because the lens, costs $1700, I rented one for a week. OMG what a sharp baby. Just looking through the viewfinder and focusing it I could tell the difference. But, when I started working on my raw files I saw something else. Yes, the lens was VERY SHARP, but just like those machine guitar players it was missing something. The out of focus areas were also sharp, sharper than the Sigma and sharper than the Nikkor 80-300. But it wasn’t just sharpness. I guess the term you would use for it is bokeh. Wikipedia says that bokeh “is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens.” As much as I’d grouse about the Sigma, I didn’t realize how much of my images depended on its awesome bokeh.

What to do. I’m learning to work with the Nikkor, using larger lens openings and being very careful about my backgrounds. I just purchased a used older version for fairly cheap. I’ll probably use both of them depending on my subject matter.

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What to Teach

•September 16, 2018 • 4 Comments

with-car

I’ve been told numerous times that I should give workshops and classes and I’ve been interested in pursuing teaching, but I have one huge huge problem. I have no clue as to what to teach.

Teaching generally consists of imparting something that can be learned. I could teach digital photography, large format photography, color printing, black and white darkroom printing, macro photography, strobes, and studio lighting. Probably more things will come to my mind when I proofread this. The trouble with teaching any of these things is that pretty much all there is to know about them is readily available through Google searches. The rest is using the techniques and getting comfortable with them.

Then there’s also my bad attitude. I’m not very interested in just teaching technique. I’m an artist and any art requires the craft (technique) to actualize one’s artistic vision, so craft is very important. But craft is just craft. It requires learning and practice, but artistry is not required.

It’s the artistic vision part that interests me, but how does one teach artistic vision except by lying and claiming one can teach something that is so inner and so personal that even the “teacher” can get in the way of ones pursuing it.

This morning I was out at my favorite fall grass location. I’ve been photographing grasses for probably 4-5 years now so I don’t think very much about the technical aspects of what I’m doing except to get an image that looks right to me. The reds, purples, browns, yellows and everything in between of the grasses are just amazing this year.

I look around and walk around. Something grabs me. I may look at it for a moment and move on or maybe I think there is something worth pursuing. Not a whole lot of thought goes into the decision. If I choose to pursue it, I’ll get into position, set up my tripod and look through the camera. I zoom in and out till I find a composition I like and then I determine exposure. I want maximum sharpness, but I also don’t want the image to be too busy. I use an accessory flash unit and I make a guess at the power I should use based on the exposure my camera gives me and my distance from my subject. I take a photograph. I take a look at the histogram to check my exposure. I look at the image on the LCD to check if my flash is too much or too little. I work with everything till the histogram and LCD image look satisfactory and then I move on.

Not terribly exciting. Have I put you to sleep already? What is exciting is what’s happening inside of me during all this. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working and making photographs like this, but all of my thrills and excitement are nonverbal. I would even go so far as to say the creative experience for everyone, not just me is, nonverbal. It doesn’t come from our minds. It comes from a place much deeper.

How does one teach that?

Is there something you’d like to learn from me? Leave a comment here or contact me via my web page, http://www.timelesslight.com, and I’ll see if I can help.

Timelesslight

•July 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

unknotting

I’ve updated my artist’s statement as part of updating my web page. Each time I update it, it feels clearer and more honest. Here it is below.

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I love being out in the natural world. There’s nothing I like better than wandering around the mountains and foothills with my camera. Though the natural world is my inspiration, I’m not content capturing beautiful photographs of mountains, streams, flowers, etc. I’m more interested in capturing little vignettes that pull us inward to experience our own beauty.

I’m a photographer and not a Photoshop artist. What you see in my photographs are what was in front of my lens—with occasional removal of small distracting elements. In my youth I took pride in my darkroom skills where I would take a negative and make a beautiful print from it. The same goes for today. Today, my “negatives” are raw digital images and my chemicals and trays have been replaced by my Mac and Photoshop. However the intention is the same—to take the raw material produced by the camera and turn it into a beautiful print.

So, when you see my prints or jpegs, I don’t want you to marvel at the beauty of Colorado or the Rocky Mountains—I want you to marvel at the simple beauty in the photographs, and in that marveling, be quieted and become peaceful.

I remember as a youth seeing Picasso’s Guernica at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. It was this very large painting on a very large wall and you could just sit there and be taken in by it. At that time I knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War, but Picasso’s mastery was such that the painting could stand on its own and didn’t need history or politics for its appreciation.

The same goes for my art. I have strong political opinions but I’m not interested in making art about them. Governments come and go. I’m looking for my work to be timeless. I want art to inform us of our higher nature, of the intrinsic beauty in all things: of the timelessness of existence—hence the name Timelesslight.

Suffering and Transcendence

•June 17, 2018 • 6 Comments

harmonious-blend


I was recently directed to a photographer’s web page that I found very compelling. Some of the work I found intellectual and boring, but some of the work was really beautiful. I wanted to know more about the photographs so I read the artist’s statements for some of the portfolios. Each statement was about the artist’s personal suffering. One might say that their candidness was brave and admirable, but there was also the glorification of personal suffering in the production of art.

Many artists have truly difficult personal lives and making art is one way of transcending those difficulties—but the art is the transcendence, not a documentation of the suffering. Now it seems documentation of of one’s emotional suffering is the way to go.

If you’re reading this or just interested in photographic art, odds are you’re pretty well off—you’re well fed, housed and can afford your own computer. You may have difficulties in your life, but compared to most of the world’s population you are extremely lucky.

There is real suffering in the world. You don’t have to leave your computer to find it. Read a news site, just look at Facebook. There are separations of families, epidemics, floods. Life for many people is very hard.

I don’t know much about the life of the painter Mark Rothko. Small reproductions of his art on the web don’t do justice to his paintings. I remember walking into a exhibit room in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and one of his large pieces had its own wall. You’d just stand there and be mesmerized. You wouldn’t want to leave that space. Mark Rothko committed suicide. He was very successful so I guess it was mental suffering that did it. But, his art didn’t glorify his pain. It transcended it and each of us lucky enough to see his work experience that same transcendence.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is “Life is Suffering.” We all have good times and bad times. For me, art isn’t about good times and bad times—it’s about something much larger than that. Whether I suffer or not is my problem. When you appreciate one of my photographs, I don’t want you to care about my life: I want it to bring joy and transcendence to your life.

There seems to be a lot of thinking nowadays that dark times require dark art. After writing this blog, I had the opportunity of seeing the latest episode of Civilizations on my local PBS station. They had a piece on Henri Matisse. Old and confined to a wheel chair, Matisse was stuck in occupied France during the second world war. Dark times. He refused to do dark work and instead did these wonderful abstract collages. Forget dark art. I’ll put my money on Henri Matisse.

Comfort Zones

•June 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

little-ones

I’ve become a creature of habit. For certain subject matter I go to certain places that I think will provide what I’m looking for. Most of the times they do, and once there, I can play within my defined realms.

It’s getting on summer, which means that the grasses should start beginning to look interesting. There are two locations where I do nearly all of my grass photos. They are both on land managed by Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP), but they are also open to grazing of cattle as well. For some reason my go-to place for beautiful delicate grass flowers has now been chomped down so fully that it looks like it’s been mowed. And in my second go-to place they redid the fencing, so there is basically nothing that’s not been chomped either.

Will there be anything in either location for me to photograph this summer and fall, I don’t know. It looks pretty bad now.

So besides feeling sorry for myself and imagining my calls to Boulder OSMP, I had to make do with what was there.

I was out of my comfort zone. I was looking at what grasses weren’t eaten and seeing if there was something to photograph there.

I noticed these long single stalks with no leaves and little flowers growing right out of the stalks. Could I make something interesting with this? No knowing how it would turn out, I let myself get into them. I think I got some nice things. Photos grow on me over time so it will take me some time to really know, but I’ll come back and photograph them some more.

Instead of my go-to places I’m now looking at other grassy locations where there are no cows. It’s not summer yet when my favorite flowers start appearing, or fall when the grasses turn wonderful colors, so I don’t know how these places will turn out; but I’m enjoying getting images that are definitely different from my usual grass photos and that’s a good thing.

For as much as being creative means inventing and looking things in new ways, I find that I develop habits out of fear and control that are antithetical to creativity. Maybe Boulder OSMP has done me a favor by making me get out of my comfort zone. We may give lip service to getting out of our comfort zones but I think we all need to be pushed sometimes.

Making It Up

•June 3, 2018 • 4 Comments

We’re a country of contrasts. We laud successful entrepreneurs, but most of the training we get in our families and schools is to be a good sheep. For the every Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs there are hundreds or probably thousands who’ve tried to do something original and failed. These “failures” are scorned and we’re again reminded that no one ever got into trouble by being a good Sheep.

I try to be a good sheep, but I fail miserably at it and being a sheep is so boring. Being creative and original is so much more fun.

The same goes for photography. I used to frequent a nature photographer’s critique site where I would post photographs. I tried to do good landscape photos, but I was never one of the stars. When I started veering into other subject matter—clouds, trees, grasses, I became even less popular.

At one point I realized I wasn’t benefiting by posting images on the site. These people obviously weren’t my audience and I would never find my audience there.

Some time later I published a blog where I warned about choosing your critics wisely, and someone I knew from the site posted a comment accusing me of being a coward for leaving. If I stayed, then I would have been a coward.

There are a lot of places where you can get your work critiqued, but I find most of these critics are blinded by what’s trendy. And, what’s trendy in nature photography is very different from what’s trendy in “art” photography. Occasionally an original comes along and manages to get recognized and then they’re trendy, and we see a whole lot of copiers.

Like most people my age, I learned about love from TV and friends. I tried to do the right thing with relationships but I was not very successful and I was mostly alone. Then by some unaccountable luck, I met my wife of 35 years. Shortly after we were married I noticed that I was very frightened because I didn’t know how to be the good husband. I was making it up as I went along. I immediately realized that that was it. There were no rules to being a good husband that meant anything. You had to make it up as you went along.

The same goes for being an artist. People who want to sell your art may give you all sorts of rules to follow so you’ll be successful, but ultimately success is mostly luck and being in the right place at the right time. You might as well make it up as you go along—your chances are probably the same.

Do you want to be a Sheep or a Failure? Even better, don’t be either. Just be who you are, naturally. Make it up as you go along.

When people ask me what the best photography magazine is, I invariably say LensWork. I’m thrilled to announce I’ll have a portfolio of my grass images or as I’m thinking of calling them, Grass Menageries, in the August version of LensWork. I’m just praying it wasn’t a psychotic episode and I really did receive the email.

Unsellable

•May 31, 2018 • 2 Comments

I was recently in discussion with an online gallery to handle some of my images. They were interested in my grasses and maybe another portfolio. Then they took a look at my web page. It wasn’t organized around portfolios and had too many images which they considered unsellable.

I have no argument. My web page needs upgrading. A lot of people are now presenting their work in terms of portfolios or projects instead of locations and subject matter like my site is. On top of that, it would help if I had a beautiful description of my intent for each portfolio.

I’m okay with all that. If you want to sell your art, you have to present it to possible buyers in a way they can be open to it. And, if portfolios and descriptions help, I’ll do it.

To me, portfolios and descriptions are all about marketing. I don’t shoot in terms of portfolios. Portfolios take shape as I find myself gravitating towards a particular kind of subject matter. What bothers me is, what about all the images I want to make that aren’t so easily categorized? Do I not make them because I can’t sell them? If art were a business to me, I’d say the answer is yes. But to me, making photographs is not a business—it’s a love affair.

So, this past week I was at a sublime retreat in the Sierras. The Sierras have their own beauty that is so different from the Rockies. I wandered around with my camera, got quiet, and looked at everything. There were some beautiful grasses, some interesting rock faces and the little creek run-offs were captivating. And I gave into my lust and took photos. Now I wonder if any of these photos will fit into my “portolios.” Since I don’t spend a lot of time in the Sierras anymore, will I ever be able to put these images into portfolios? Am I wasting my time making unsellable images?

The photo above of a Russian Olive tree is one of my favorites. Russian Olive is an invasive tree here in Boulder and I have no other images that will work with it in a portfolio, But have an idea. Along with the Grasses, Leaves and other portfolios on my new website, I will also have a portfolio called Unsellable.