Integrity is About the Heart

•February 15, 2019 • Leave a Comment

heart-through-it-all

As I write this, I’m listening to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, Pastorale, played on piano. If you’re familiar with Beethoven symphonies, you’ll know that they are grand orchestral pieces. Hearing them live played by an orchestra is extraordinary.

The piano rendition I’m listening to was transcribed by Franz Liszt and performed by Glenn Gould—both very respected in the musical community.

Hearing this piece on solo piano is definitely different from hearing it played by orchestra, but it’s beautiful and compelling in its own way.

I wonder if Beethoven were alive today what he would say about this. Would he call this a violation of his artistic integrity and refuse to have it recorded and played? Maybe he’d say, “Hey, I’m deaf. If the music captures and transforms you, who am I to argue.”

It’s easy to see analogies when they’re taken out of the immediate context which here is visual art, specifically photography.

A designer recently asked me to modify one of my images to make the mountains and reflections more gold and less orange for their client. I looked at the image and I immediately agreed without a second thought. It’s going to be in an executive’s office. If my photograph uplifts him and brings him joy, who am I to argue. Isn’t that what I want my images to do, uplift you and bring you joy. As an artist, what more can I ask for?

Would I do that in every case; probably not, but I can’t say.

I mention this because I’ve seen some postings online about integrity as an artist that I find disturbing and egotistical. The creative experience of making the image is all ours, but once we present it to the world, it’s the world’s for how they want to appreciate it. Do we show our art for just the ego gratification and validation, or do we show our art hoping that the joy that we had creating it is also transferred to those appreciating it?

There’s an Ansel Adams exhibit going around that I hope makes it to a place where you can see it. It’s of Ansel’s early work which consisted of mostly contact prints. Later on Ansel started enlarging these images and working on them more. I fully expected to find the exhibit boring, preferring Ansel’s enlarged and more dramatic interpretations.

I was shocked to find the opposite. The images are small, mostly less than 8×10, so you have to walk up to them and look at them carefully. However, they are so intimate and stunning, I was completely blown away. Did Ansel violate his artistic-integrity to be able to bring his images to a wider audience? Do you care? Most of us Ansel fans only know his work from these enlargements.

Integrity is about the heart, not the mind.

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Visual Articulacy

•January 22, 2019 • Leave a Comment

leaf-art

I was walking through the parking lot at Fallen Leaf Lake when I was startled by a young teenage bear. He or she was as shocked as I was and we both stared at each other seemingly fascinated by the other till he gave in to his fear and ran off.

My friend Leah encountered the same bear and I wish you could have heard her description. Instead of only presenting the facts, like I did above, she made the encounter into a story that brought all listeners into her experience. She didn’t change any details of the encounter—she just had a wonderful articulateness in how she could describe things.

I have no such skill with words and I haven’t had much motivation to develop any. However when it comes to visual articulateness, I am very motivated.

What I love about working with a camera is its ability to capture what’s in front of you. The more you understand how your cameras and lenses work, the more you’re able to use their strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies to create the photographs that you want to make.

Like my articulate friend, I’m not interested in just conveying an accurate reproduction of what’s in front of me. I want to create something that’s more than that. The details may be the same, but it’s how they’re presented that counts. That’s what I call visual articulacy.

I use and challenge my visual articulacy in a number of ways with the hope of continually improving. First is subject matter. I have zero interested in copying photographs or compositions I’ve seen before. I want my subject matter to be different or at least seen differently from how I’ve seen it photographed.

I’m very careful about my composition. I don’t consciously follow any set rules. I only want the composition to look right to my eyes.

I take care in my post processing. As far as I’m concerned, post processing is as creative an act as taking the photograph itself. I’ll look at a raw image and see something I like, so I’ll load it into Photoshop and try to bring that out. I never know what direction I’ll go in and often surprise myself. Sometimes I save more than one version of an image because I can’t make up my mind which one I like best.

This is what I mean by visual articulacy. My work is to make the image work for me and hopefully work for you, too.

In developing any articulateness, I think it’s helpful to do it a lot. In photography it can mean taking and processing a lot of photographs, or it can mean just looking a lot and seeing beyond first impressions. It’s probably a combination of both.

2018 in Review, Best Of

•December 22, 2018 • 10 Comments

What a year this has been. I’m usually not big on year end Best Ofs, but this has been such a pivotal year that I’m really into it this year end.

To start with, this year I’ve moved primarily away from landscape photography and now do mainly macros and abstracts. It was never my plan to be a macro photographer. I only wanted to make interesting and unique images. This has led me more and more to macros.

I’ve been doing close ups of grasses for a number or years, but this year I added two new portfolios. There were winters when I did a lot of photographs of ice, but the past winter was pretty warm and I ended up photographing decaying leaves in local creeks instead. These images comprise my Where Leaves Go portfolio.

I had great success working with a particular kind of grass that I can find in only few places south of Boulder. These strange angular plants combined with a slight wind comprise my Breaths portfolio.

A portfolio of my Grass images is in the August 2018 edition of Lens Work

In March of 2019 a 6 foot long backlit copy of  Magic Theater will grace the lobby of the new Psychiatric wing of Boulder Community Hospital.

In March, my Grass Managerie images will be part of a Month of Photography exhibit at the Dairy Art Center here in Boulder.

So, without more horn tooting, as of December 22, 2018, here are my favorites of the year. If I had to go back next week and pick a best of 2018 I expect the list would be a bit different. Oh well.

Here are five images from Breaths.

unknotting

 

sustained-harmony

 

public-art

 

musical-solo

 

escape-path

 

Where Leaves Go

forgetfulness

 

extraordinary

 

whistles-2

 

multiple-dwelling

 

wastrels

 

Grass Manageries

inspirations

 

free-tangles

 

signaling

 

constellation

 

in-love

Thank you for taking the time to look at them. Have a great 2019.

Next Chapter

•November 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

whistles-2

I’m of an age where most people with the exception of the Rolling Stones and politicians are already retired, and I’ll be joining their ranks in a couple of months.

I am both looking forward to and terrified of retirement. When people ask me what I plan to do, I’ve been unable to give them a clear answer. This morning the answer came to me in a huge “DUH” moment: I’m going to be a full-time artist.

Ever since I got back into photography about 20 years ago, I’ve dreamed of doing art full time. I tried all things—art fairs, open studios, magazines—calendars and every answer I got was “forget it”.

One thing I wasn’t going to do was have someone support me so I could do art. That was the life that my dad, had and like a good rebellious son, I found that lifestyle totally unsuited for me. I was fortunate enough to fall into a career of computer programming which gave some outlet to my creativity and provided a good living. Every time I thought of packing it in and just doing art, I couldn’t see how it could work.

Can it work now? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter so much. Some new work with art consultants and a huge back-lit print in the lobby of a new wing of Boulder Community Hospital are encouraging me.

As I have more time on my hands, I’m sure more things like private workshops will also emerge.

Yes, I’m terrified, but I’m so thrilled.

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.

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.

———————————————————–

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.