Responsibility

•March 5, 2019 • Leave a Comment

just-so-3

When working on new medical cures or developing new scientific theories, the proof of any success is being able to reproduce the results of the original experiments. You don’t have to reproduce the same results every time, just enough to make it “statistically significant” which means that your findings didn’t happen just as the result of chance or other unforseen events.

I mention this because we seem to follow the same methods when it comes to making art. What worked before should work again. “Someone made this beautiful photo of Delicate Arch at sunrise. If I go there at sunrise, I can make a beautiful photo.” Just replace Delicate Arch with Tunnel View, or Maroon Bells, or Abraham Lake… You get the point.

It takes skill to make a good photograph from these locations, but creativity? Obviously, if you can make a unique images from these known places, it does take creativity. But very few of us do. We just do the same take on the known image.

Creativity requires our ability to see things freshly and to respond to them freshly. That is what I mean here by responsibility—the ability to respond.

Most of us, myself included, go out with our camera with the intention of producing a certain kind of photograph. We’ll choose a time and location for an image we may have in our mind or just a conception of what we want to get. How much does all that intention and mental imaging keep us from just seeing what is in front of us and responding to that?

We can hold onto our mental images and find subject matter to fit them and that’s how some people create. However, if you’re like me, the mental images and desires just get in the way of really being creative—taking risks and experimenting.

My favorite time to take photographs is in the morning. My mind is fresh and quieter and I love the morning light. This morning, it finally warmed up to 5 degrees, so I thought I’d go out on South Boulder Creek and do some ice images. I expected the creek to be mostly frozen and hoped the strong sun we had yesterday would have burned off the snow. I was hoping for some interesting ice patterns and reflections.

The creek wasn’t as frozen as I had hoped and it was mostly covered with snow—no interesting ice cracks and patterns.

I wandered around on the creek breaking through the ice a couple of times and was mostly uninspired. The cold weather and my slightly wet fee were getting to me and I was wondering if I should just give up and go home.

That willingness to pack it in was all I needed. I surrendered to my failure to get what I thought I wanted. Without those desires operating, I stopped looking for particular photographs and just started looking and responding.

All of a sudden I noticed these interesting lines and patterns in the snow. Along with the rays of the rising sun and the shapes of snowy stones, there was a lot to inspire me and get my creative juices going. What fun to work with these new shapes, patterns and colors. This is what I love about taking and making photographs—this seeing things in ways I never did before and being able to play with this new seeing.

Creativity is just creativity. There’s no guarantee you or I will make great art. Hopefully sometimes we will. At least, for me it makes going out with a camera one of my favorite things to do.

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Responding To Our Subjects

•February 19, 2019 • Leave a Comment

winter-meditation-2

I love taking photographs and working on photographs. I go out most mornings with my camera either locally or to the high country to wander around in some beautiful place and try to capture some of its beauty.

I’m always looking for new places to go, but most of the places I frequent I’m very familiar with, and will chose different ones based on light, season and weather.

We’ve had a lot of cold and snowy weather here recently. It makes for very striking winter images, but I’m looking for more than that and I’m still learning how I want to photograph snow.

This morning it was 14 degrees with light snow and I went to one of my favorite places on South Boulder Creek hoping for some interesting ice. There was more snow and less ice than what I was expecting and initially it was hard to find something that moved me.

Let me be clear, where I was, was absolutely beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the snow on the trees and the creek. However, what I was hoping to photograph was mostly beneath the ice and snow, so I had a different landscape from what I was comfortable with.

The beauty and the quiet of my location were such that it was very easy to get quiet and just look at things. I’m always looking for new ways to see things and that inner quiet is necessary so that I don’t have any pre-disposed ideas of what I’m looking for or what kinds of photos I’m trying to take. From that quiet place, seeing things differently and experimentation is natural.

Sometimes I come up empty; but this time, probably because of the natural beauty of the place and the winter quiet, I found some interesting things.

I find that that inner quiet is necessarily to really see things freshly and and photograph them freshly. We have many ways to quiet down and meditation is probably the best known way. In meditation we surrender our desires for and against and that allows our minds to quiet down.

We don’t have to meditate to surrender—we can be merely aware of what our desires are at the present moment. If we’re out taking photos, are we looking for a certain type of image? We have to be willing to drop whatever we want to get or achieve, and just fall into ourselves and allow ourselves to respond to what’s in front of us. Meditation is a formal way of doing that, but I prefer wandering by a creek on a cold snowy morning.

Integrity is About the Heart

•February 15, 2019 • 5 Comments

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.

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 • 11 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.