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Tag Archives: New Mexico
I’ve been listening to a lot of EDM lately (that’s Electronic Dance Music – check out Deadmau5!). It fascinated me to realize how much that kind of music makes me think of photography. The way the music works there feels to me like the way light works in photographs. The steady beats feel like the visual rhythms in the composition of an image, like the earthy, shadowy areas in a landscape. The rises and falls of the crescendos and drops feel like the way light spills from one corner of the frame to another, like a dramatic backlit sky on a stormy day. The way the bass kicks after a quiet break feels like the abrupt transition of a dark tree rising above the bright line of a distant horizon.
Maybe it seems like an odd connection to make, but to me it’s perfectly logical. I think creativity is something that resides within you. You bring it to bear on all of the things you do in your life. Creativity doesn’t seep into you from the outside, it’s something from within that colors the way you perceive the world. It’s an internal logic all of its own, personal to you, that allows you to see connections where others don’t. That’s one thing about it that makes it so wonderful.
I gave away for free a small print of the image in this post to a good friend of mine who voiced a special connection to the subject matter. I do that kind of thing from time to time, and as the creator of these images, I’m happy to be in a position to do so.
However, it’s the exception, not the rule. I do price my work and if people want to acquire it, I generally expect them to pay for it.
It’s not that I’m after the money per se. I sincerely appreciate it when people take an interest in my work, and part of me would like to provide everyone who sincerely enjoys one of my pieces with a print to enjoy.
But I just can’t do that. Why? Put simply, it’s because I value my work. Whatever other functions it may serve, a price at least demands some level of acknowledgement of the value of the work. If I were to give my work away for free, or even for less than I think it’s worth, that would be tantamount to me saying my work has no value. And if I signal that I don’t think my work has value, how can I expect anyone else to think it does?
My Canon 24-105 L lens is broken.
Well, maybe not broken exactly, but it’s developed a habit of creeping. If you point it straight up, for example, and set it to 105 mm, it will slowly creep down to 24 mm because the mechanism that holds the zoom at a fixed focal length apparently has become loose. I’ll be sending it in to Canon for warranty service, but in the meantime I’ve been needing to hold the barrel by hand if my exposure is more than a fraction of a second.
For the image in this post, the lens was pointed up fairly steeply at the cross on the roof of the old St. Vincent’s hospital (now a hotel) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but I checked it before I tripped the shutter and it seemed to be holding steadily in place. I was wrong, though. Over the course of the exposure (probably somewhere in the 10 to 30 second range, I forget exactly), it crept back a bit, effectively zooming out as the exposure was made.
Turns out I like the result. This troubles me a bit, because I’ve never thought of myself as someone who would seek to achieve optical effects by moving the camera around during the course of an exposure. It’s always seemed kind of gimmicky to me. Nevertheless, I think the image here has some emotional impact, at least for me. Though the effect in this case was produced by accident, certainly it seems possible to do the same thing intentionally. I may have to rethink my position on moving the camera around during long exposures.
Most of my photographs are pretty carefully chosen, set up, and executed. I believe that one of the things that marks a photographer as an artist rather than simply a snapshooter is the ability to see potentially good images in an otherwise cluttered and chaotic world, and to take deliberate, considered steps in a controlled and repeatable process to realize them, rather than simply snapping the shutter a lot and relying on large numbers of captures to get a few that turn out well.
Still, whenever you’re working in real time in the real world, there will be things you can’t control. Chance will play a part, sometimes serendipitously so.
I was working on a slightly different composition of the Cross of the Martyrs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The cross was to be largely as you see it here, but the sky would have been a clean background, and the bottom of the frame would have had the hills that rise to the west of Santa Fe to ground the composition.
I spent a fair amount of time setting up the composition how I wanted it, metering the scene, choosing a graduated ND filter to bring down the brightness in the sky, adjusting the polarizer to whiten the cross and darken the sky’s blues (this was to increase the contrast in the final black and white version), setting the focus at the hyperfocal distance, etc.
Just when I was ready to trip the shutter, I noticed the airplane. The airplane’s path and the contrail behind it were such that they would make a perfect compositional placement in relation to the cross.
But it would mean recomposing the scene. There were literally only a few seconds available before the airplane would pass through the scene and be out of position, so there was time only to unlock the ball-head of the tripod, roughly position the camera to include the cross and the expected position of the airplane in the composition, and quickly trip the shutter. No checking if the camera was level, no checking if the metering needed to be revised, no checking if the new angle of the polarizer would create unevenness in the sky, etc. The last thing I noticed before tripping the shutter was the glare produced by the sun, now very close to the edge of the frame, and I figured it was long odds that I would get something useful.
Well, I think I got something useful. That glare turned out to be, to me, magical. It still took a fair amount of editing after the fact. I’ve included the jpg straight out of the camera below so you can see the capture and the final result. But, at least the basics were there in terms of exposure and focus. I was a bit sorry to lose the hills in the background, which I feel would have given the image more of a sense of place. But I was glad to make this trade-off, since I think the composition and impact of the final image is much stronger, if a bit more abstract.
How closely should a photograph reference the place at which it was taken?
I think back before I got into the practice of photography, and simply was a consumer of photographs, I tended to favor photographs of landscapes that I had personally been to. I think I’ve always been an observer of the landscape, and on that basis photographs of landscapes that I had personally experienced were more meaningful to me.
When I began making photographs of my own, I think my perception of photographs changed. I’ve tended to favor photographs of anonymous locations, where one can’t tell simply by viewing the photograph where it was taken. Perhaps I’ve felt the emphasis should more properly be on the content of the photograph itself, divorced from any associations one might make from knowing the location.
But I wonder if that view really holds up. When I went to title this image, I could have used a title non-specific as to location, such as “Tree and Mailbox” or “Reaching Tree, Curving Cloud.” But somehow I felt that the title, and therefore the image, should reference its place at the side of a bend on the Low Road to Taos, New Mexico.
Maybe it’s better not to overthink these things, and just go with your instinct.
I’ve read somewhere that as a photographer you should try to see past the images that are obvious, and that if you don’t spend a substantial amount of time working on your images after capture, it’s likely that you have not developed them to their full potential. As a practical matter, I find these propositions generally to be true in my own photography, as most of the images I’ve made that I like tend to follow this pattern.
As with most things, however, I don’t find them to be inviolable rules. This composition was pretty obvious to see in the field, at least to me, and I don’t believe I spent more than about five minutes working on it once I brought it into my computer. Sometimes, the obvious choices are the best ones, and there’s no need to put in more work than the amount that is required.
Nothing fancy here, just the simple facade of one of the very many, very cool little churches that dot the landscape of northern New Mexico. So much contemporary photography seems to be about grabbing attention, whether it be by grand subjects, super-saturated colors, gimmicky concepts, or other “look at me” kinds of things. I wonder if there’s still a place for quieter, more understated kinds of photography? I hope so. Quietude and understatement seem to be qualities that don’t carry a lot of weight in our culture, which is a small tragedy, since so many good things can be found in these small things.
One of my favorite photographers, Chuck Kimmerle, wrote a nice blog post recently called “The Myth of ‘Good’ Light.” His basic point is that photographers are encouraged too much to photograph at times early or late in the day, because the quality of light at these times is presumed to be better than at other times of day. The better approach, however, is to be open to seeing the possibilities under any kind of lighting conditions, even those that are thought to be “bad” for photography. I couldn’t agree more.
It is true that the light early or late in the day can have a very nice quality, and so the advice of shooting then often is offered to novice photographers to try to help in producing pleasing photographs. As with much advice given about photography, however, it’s been blown way out of proportion. Just because this light can be nice, it seems to have become presumed that the light at other times of day is less suitable, or even unsuitable, for photography.
This simply isn’t true. The light at different times of day is just, well, different. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s a mediocre photographer indeed who is blind to photographic opportunities just because of the time of day.
Midday light, for example, commonly is thought to be harsh and one-dimensional. That’s a pretty narrow way to choose to see it, though. It’s equally valid to say that midday light produces strong, dark shadows, and can bring out texture on surfaces. These are both characteristics that are very useful building blocks for interesting images. The image in this post, “Lamp, Window, Buttress,” was photographed in the middle of a sunny Santa Fe afternoon, and I tried to use both of these elements to the advantage. Indeed, I don’t think this image would have been very interesting without them.
For some other great examples of wonderful photographs that wouldn’t have worked but for strong midday light, I refer you to Chuck’s post, along with the thought that great photographs can be made under any lighting conditions at any time of day.
One thing I enjoy about photography is the sense of living in a parallel world. What I mean by this is the ability to see things in a parallel way. On one level, I certainly see the world in the work-a-day, get-around kind of way that everyone does. But it’s also fun and enjoyable to see the world as a photographer, looking for and being struck by light and shadow, frame and composition, and so forth.
I think we all live in parallel worlds. When I look at the San Jose de Gracia church, I see it as a work of visual art. An engineer might see it in terms of load, structure, and dimension. An historian might see it as representing the Spanish colonial influence in New Mexico. A New Mexican might experience it with warmth and a feeling of home.
Living in parallel worlds like this gives everyone a unique perspective on the common world we all share. Sharing these unique perspectives is one of the great joys of life. Whatever your parallel world is, embrace it, live it, revel in it.
To me, northern New Mexico is one of the last places in the United States that retains a distinctly regional cultural flavor. Among the things that contribute are the many adobe structures that dot the landscape. The church that is the subject of the image in this post, San Jose de Gracia in Las Trampas, is a well-known landmark and is a popular subject among photographers and painters.
When you take the time to see how this church has been represented in painting and photography, a certain theme becomes apparent. The depictions of the church in fine art painting and photography tend to place it in a pristine, unobstructed environment. Fine art photographs rarely include the telephone poles or the dirt road in the foreground. Paintings often take even more license, such as by changing the arrangement and proportion of the church to the ridge in the background, either to profile the church against the sky, or to position it in the shadow of the surrounding mountains.
I certainly don’t have a problem with any of this. An important element of art is interpretation of the subject. Most people probably take this kind of manipulation for granted with paintings, where the term “artistic license” is well known and understood. It may be less known (among non-photographers, anyway) that photographers also can take quite liberal and substantial artistic licenses with their subjects. Techniques such as framing, camera placement, lens selection, etc. routinely are used to make photographic subjects take on attributes and characteristics that don’t necessarily reflect the reality of how the scene actually looked. I myself work hard to present the subjects in my photographs in very considered ways designed to communicate a specific vision I have of the subject that I want the viewer to see.
Nevertheless, I am surprised that I don’t see more attention paid by artists to the environment surrounding their subjects. If you were to survey the body of fine art paintings and photographs of this church, you might come to the conclusion that it sits on an isolated hilltop, surrounded by rolling meadows that gently and perfectly blend into a magnificent mountain backdrop, with nary a telephone pole or dirt road in sight. It’s as if this way of presenting the church, while certainly valid, is the only way.
I hope that’s not the case. I think that showing this church in the context of its surroundings – it’s contemporary surroundings – is not only valid, but has a dignity and beauty of its own. While not appropriate for every photograph, the in situ approach of using surrounding elements to show the subject in its natural environment is a powerful and often underused mode of presentation. This is especially true where the subject is a popular and frequently depicted one, as is the case with the San Jose de Gracia church.