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Tag Archives: Denver
I used to hold the opinion that “good is good.” Specifically, I think there is a branch of criticism in the photography world (really, the art world in general) that cliched photographs of cliched subjects are per se bad, even if done very well. Think photographs of sunsets over beaches, the Milky Way at night, or iconic locations like the Grand Canyon, which all have been photographed over and over again to the point where even the best executions of such images mostly really do tend to fade into a sea of duplicate, derivative, and look-alike imagery. My counterpoint always used to be that good is good, so even a cliched photograph of a cliched subject can be good if done well.
Truthfully, I think I still largely stand by that opinion, but I’m beginning to see the merit in the other side. I look at a lot of photography, and if you look at a lot of photography, you can’t help but notice the repetitive onslaught of the same depictions of the same subjects done in the same way over and over again. For example, I think I’ve candidly reached the point where I don’t need to see another long exposure seascape, unless it’s done by Michael Kenna or perhaps another of a handful of photographers who really pioneered or otherwise contributed to this genre.
It’s become a relevant consideration in my own practice of photography. I think a conscious motivation behind making the image in this post was to try and reach past photographic cliches. Which, on balance, I think is a good thing. I just need to remember, for myself in my own work, anyway, not to sacrifice fundamentals – like strong light, strong composition, and a conveyed a sense of emotion – that always make the “good” so “good.”
If I had to wager on it, I would wager that the image in this post won’t be one of my more popular images. I haven’t been a photographer as long as many others who practice this discipline, but I’ve been doing it long enough now to have a sense of what will “land” with most people and what won’t.
So why do I do work like this?
Basically, because it speaks to me.
I didn’t set out looking to make this image. In fact, the day I photographed this, I had not intended to do any photography at all. I was in Denver, Colorado on completely unrelated business and found that I had some time to kill. Walking down an alley between two buildings, I just happened to look up over the rooftop of one of the adjacent buildings and saw this scene. I suppose it struck me just right – it moved me enough to motivate me into the exercise of getting my camera from out of my car and making this capture.
And having finished the image and lived with the print a little while, I still like it, so I’m posting it here even though my guess is that it won’t be most people’s cup of tea. I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope that people would like my work, but ultimately it’s more important for me to stay true to my own vision and not let the reactions of others set the agenda for how I produce it.
A lot of the photographers whose work I admire seem to get labeled with the appellation “minimalist.” While I have a working sense of what minimalism in photography is, I was curious if there was a formal definition or approach. After doing a little looking online, it turns out there doesn’t really seem to be a consensus, so I’ll go with the definition set forth in my favorite non-authoritative source of knowledge, Wikipedia – “movements in various forms of art and design… where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts.”
Minimalism causes a bit of a tension for me in my practice of photography. For the most part, my photography comes to me fairly naturally. I see things in the world that provoke my visual interest. I react to them with my camera, and I edit the camera’s captures to translate them into what I saw with my mind’s eye. It is, blessedly, a fairly simple and straightforward process, at least at it’s most basic and fundamental level.
Not so with minimalism. In my mind’s eye, I can easily visualize the kinds of minimalist imagery I would like to be making. In the real world, it’s difficult to isolate minimalist compositions from all of the background clutter and visual noise. Whereas most of my imagery results from compositions that practically jump out at me from the seen world, with minimalism for the first time it’s just the other way around – I’m having to work to try to see where the minimalist compositions are. As of right now, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
As an aside, I will say that about 98% of the minimalist photographs I see out there – at least in the landscape realm – seem to be scenes of water or snow. This is understandable, since water and snow are naturals for minimalist compositions. I live in Colorado, a state not known for its extensive shorelines or large bodies of water, so my opportunities to use water in this way are limited. We do get a fair amount of snow here in Colorado, but being a good Coloradoan, if there’s snow on the ground I’m usually skiing on it, so I probably miss a lot of photographic opportunities that way.
In any case, if you take water and snow away, it seems there’s a lot less role models to look to for minimalist photography. I think the image in this post fairly can be called minimal. It consists of only three elements (the mountains, the sky, and the thin strips of clouds) and just about only two tones (nearly pure black, nearly pure white, and a small portion of grey tones in between). Keeping with my working definition of minimalism set forth above, I hope it captures the essence of the sunset over Colorado’s Front Range, at least as I saw it on that particular day, by eliminating all of the non-essential things that were unnecessary to communicate that essence.
Speaking of eliminating non-essential things, you may be interested to know where this image was photographed. Spoiler alert – if you like to experience your photography purely, without knowing the story behind the work, then read no further.
This image was photographed in the parking lot of the Park Meadows mall in suburban Denver, Colorado. Just outside of the bottom edge of the frame, not included in the image, are the miles and miles of sprawling city lights of Denver, and if I had moved the frame just a bit lower, you would see the light poles and concrete parking spaces of the mall. Photographing with my camera and tripod set up, I can’t tell you how many strange looks I got from busy shoppers heading to their cars with their day’s purchases, and I suspect the circling mall security patrol might have given me trouble if I had stayed longer. Still, it’s consistent with my firm belief that compelling images can be seen just about anywhere, no matter where you have to plant your tripod’s legs to capture them.
Happy New Year! I sincerely hope everyone reading this is looking forward to a wonderful 2015 ahead.
Originally, I had a different image lined up for this post, but that one will have to wait because I decided to go with this one instead. This one felt more in the spirit of the new year to me, not because the monument in this photograph has anything to do with 2015 specifically or new years generally, but rather just because of how it feels to me when I look at it – bright, clean, soaring. Full of promise, kind of like the new year.
As I continue in photography, this kind of thinking has come to figure more prominently in my approach. The American photographer Minor White said, “one should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.” When I started in photography, I thought I was photographing simply the subjects that captured my interest themselves, but the more I photograph, the more I realize I’m photographing to capture my feeling about the subject. There’s a difference. If you want to see simply a picture of the DTC Identity Monument, just Google it online. If you want to see the DTC Identity Monument the way I see it – in the way of “what else it is” to me – then I hope you’ll see that difference in my photograph of it.
“What else it is” can be a tricky concept, but that doesn’t make it any less real or relevant. In fact, I would suggest that the ability of a photograph to convey to a viewer the “what else it is” about a subject is one quality that sets apart true fine art photography from ordinary snapshots – or indeed any art from that which simply is ordinary and mundane.
When someone views your art, do they know it’s yours, even without seeing your name on it? I’ve heard this standard posed as one measure of being successful as an artist. It’s been called having a style, having a voice, having a vision, but really it all comes down to the same thing – have you put a piece of yourself into the art you make, recognizable and distinguishable from everyone else out there? Are you in your art?
There’s a lot of advice floating around on how to achieve this. One piece of advice I’ve heard is to pick something and become known for it. What that thing is could take a nearly infinite number of forms. For example, you could choose to become known for a particular kind of subject matter – landscapes, portraits, documentary, whatever. Or, you could become known for a certain kind of process – printing on crazy materials, using homemade cameras, employing really obscure darkroom methods, and so on. Maybe you could become known for a unique approach – photographing only at certain locations, or certain times of day, or under particular phases of the moon.
A lot of photographers who struggle with putting themselves in their work take this kind of advice seriously. And I don’t necessarily dispute that it may be effective, but to me it seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse. I would like to think that if you simply stay true to your own vision of the world, then that vision will come through in your work, no matter what kind of work you to choose to make or how you choose to make it. I have no problem with any of the techniques I’ve described above, but using them should be in the service of your vision, not something that you impose upon it.
The image in this post, “RE/MAX Building No. 2,” is the latest in a string of architecture images I’ve been posting. Before that, I was posting a lot of landscape images. On this website, I’ve also posted several abstracts, and even a color image or two. It could be argued that these different kinds of images don’t have much in common, and that I may be diluting my work by failing to be consistent. Instead, I sincerely hope my personal vision for each piece I’ve made comes through in my body of work as a whole.
Not too long ago, I spoke to someone who had looked at this website for the first time.
“Nice work,” they said. “Why are there so many pictures of trees?”
Since this post really isn’t about the tree images I’ve made, I’ll save a discussion of that for another time. Rather, this person’s comment got me thinking a bit about insecurity and taking chances with your work.
The image in this post, “RE/MAX Building No. 1,” was captured, edited, and printed a good six months ago. It has been ready for posting for awhile, and yet I’ve hesitated to put it out there. Why is that?
I suspect it’s because at the time I made it, it was quite a departure from the typical kind of work I had been making public. Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve been principally preoccupied with making landscape and nature images (including, yes, many images of trees). To the degree that people have taken an interest in my work, I suspect that they’ve come to expect landscape and nature images from me. That’s great! I love doing the landscapes and nature images, and I look forward to doing many more to come.
This image, however, is quite different from the landscape and nature work, I think. Not only is it different, but to me, it’s really kind of in-your-face different. At the risk of engaging in a critique of my own work, I would venture that the centered composition, flat image plane, and somewhat graphic feel of this image is rather at odds with the more arranged compositions, greater depth of field, and more “photographic” look of the landscape and nature images I’ve done.
Put simply, I was afraid that putting out this image might alienate the people who have come to be interested in my work. It still might, but I’ve concluded that I can’t let that stop me. It’s important to take chances with your work – it’s the only way to stay true to yourself, grow, and mature as an artist. Consider the alternative. If you put out the same kind of work over and over again, then in the best-case scenario, your work becomes solid, maybe even good, but always predictable. In the worst-case scenario, it becomes dull and repetitive.
So, here’s to taking chances with your work. May you always have the courage to do so.
Is this building beautiful? Is this image of it beautiful? Why or why not?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. If anyone has any insights, I certainly would enjoy hearing them. All I can say for sure is that it is beautiful to me. I could spend a lot of words trying to explain why, but ultimately I think trying to explain why something is beautiful probably is a pointless exercise. When I saw the building, I was immediately enamored of it. When I was working with the camera, I could see many possibilities for the images. When I made the prints, I was really happy with the outcomes. It’s all very mysterious and subconscious. You can try to rationalize if you like it or not, but ultimately the decision is made in an irrational part of the mind.
The image in this post is called “Wellington G. Webb Building No. 2.” It is a long exposure photograph of a building in Denver, Colorado that I suspect is not photographed very much. I find it beautiful, and I hope you do, too.
One of the powers of art is the power to move people, and that’s a good thing. Photographs mesmerize, paintings captivate, songs beguile, and stories enchant. I sincerely hope that everyone reading this post has, at one time or another, been moved, challenged, or otherwise responded to a work of art in a way that has stayed with them over time and added to their life in a meaningful way.
Sometimes, being moved by a work of art crosses the line from the ordinary to the transcendent. I hope it’s not a stretch to say that art can make you rethink your assumptions, question your beliefs, or look at the world in a different way. Sometimes, it can make you look at yourself in a different way. Experiencing art in this way can be challenging, even difficult.
At such times, it’s worth remembering that all art is illusion. A well-crafted work of art can make you think that it is the truth of what it represents. It is not. For every photograph, painting, song, or story, there was a man or woman who made choices about how to use a camera, or place paint on a canvas, or about how notes would fit together on a score or how words would follow one another across a page, all with the goal of creating a specific illusion that he or she wanted you to see. It is commonly suggested that art reveals truth about the real world, and that may be true, but if so, it is a specific, contextualized truth about the real world, not the reality of it. A work of art may be relevant to reality, but is not itself reality.
As a simple example of the foregoing, I share the image in this post, “Wellington G. Webb Building No. 1.” It is a quintessential illusion. This building and this sky did not look this way on the day I captured this photograph. They have never looked this way, and they never will. The image was made this way because the photograph was a long exposure – the shutter of the camera was open for a period of several minutes, as compared to a fraction of a second for more conventional, everyday photography. What I observed with my eye – the reality of the scene – was low, fast-moving clouds hurrying across the sky on a gray, November day. What the camera recorded – the illusion – was the streaks made by the clouds as they moved across the camera’s sensor over the duration of the exposure. Does it present a truth about this subject? Perhaps. But it does not present the reality of it.