Art Speaks Where Words Cannot Explain

Black Trees, Series 3, No. 3

So, I’m not going to pretend that a work of art is as important as a ventilator, or that the work of an artist is as important as the work of a doctor or an ICU nurse. Priorities have to be placed, and it’s obvious where priorities should now be falling.

Still, art does have its place and its value in a society.  As the title of this post says: art speaks where words cannot explain. If you have experienced art to enrich your life in good times, as I have, then no less can it be healing and comforting in bad times as well.

Consider saying thank you to an artist. Of if not a thank you, just a note of some kind to let them know you appreciate their work. Creating artwork can be a very lonely experience in the best of times, and working artists can very easily fall through the cracks when times are bad. Again, not to take away from the doctors, the nurses, and everyone else on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. But a simple, quick, and heartfelt expression of appreciation to an artist whose work has reached you in some way will, at the very least, make their day.

And no, please don’t send me a thank you. I’m doing fine, and plus I don’t want this post to be misconstrued as trolling for compliments. Besides, I am for better or worse a bit of a lone wolf by nature – I probably wouldn’t know what to do with a compliment anyway.

 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

That Plain Little Church…

San Rafael Church. La Cueva, New Mexico, 2016.

Sing those hymns we sang together
In that plain little church with the benches all worn
How dear to my heart how precious the moments
We stood shaking hands and singing a song

— Hazel Dickens, “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me”

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

Wax and Wane

Moonrise Under Tangled Branches. Fort Collins, Colorado, 2015.

I haven’t been terribly active with photography over the last few months, but I don’t think I’m too worried about it. I think there’s a natural wax and wane that comes part and parcel with creative endeavors.

I’m comforted in part by my experience as a musician.  I’ve been active in music for a long time, much longer in fact than I’ve been active in photography.  Over the many years that I’ve played music, there have been many stretches lasting months or even years where I was not very active with music at all.  During those times, I never once doubted that playing music remained a strong part of me, and indeed all of those stretches came around full circle back to being active in music, including being so even today.

I’m pretty sure photography is in my bones now.  I don’t think I could not be a photographer even if I wanted to.  The wax and wane just is part of living a creative life.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |

Splash

Longs Peak Sunset. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017.

I was thinking the other day that making a photograph and introducing it into the world is a little like tossing a stone into a pool of water.  You would like to think that the pool is still, and the impact of the photograph will be like the splash the stone makes, commanding attention and then contemplation until the last ripple fades away.  In truth, I think it’s more like throwing a stone into a tempest-tossed sea.  Hardly anyone notices the impact, and it disappears into the chop nearly instantly in any case.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |

On Posting

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 5 (Archivaldo by Jorge Marin). Denver, Colorado, 2017.

The noted photographer Garry Winogrand is reputed to have said “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”  I think sometimes I post to see what photographs will look like posted.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

Realism and Abstraction in Painting and Photography

Five Cars, Building Clouds. Eaton, Colorado, 2019.

It’s been observed that painting is an additive medium, whereas photography is a subtractive medium.  In painting, you start with a blank canvas and add elements to it to build your composition (for example by painting a house, painting a tree next to the house, painting a blue sky above the tree and house, etc.), while in photography you start with a cluttered frame and subtract elements from it (for example, by moving the camera to exclude the fire hydrant in the foreground, zooming in to eliminate the gas station next to the house, etc.) until you have only the elements left necessary for the composition you are trying to achieve.

It seems to me also that painting is a medium concerned with the adding of realism, whereas photography is medium concerned with the adding of abstraction.  In painting, you start with a blank canvas, the ultimate expression of abstraction.  There’s nothing there, it can be anything you want until you start painting on it.  The process of creating the painting is essentially the process of adding realism to it, right up until you reach the level of realism that you desire, be it a still-pretty-abstract piece of abstract expressionism, a somewhat-more-realistic work of impressionism, or a very-realistic work of (quite appropriately named) photorealism.

Photography is just the opposite.  The nature of the camera is to produce an image that is perhaps the ultimate expression of two-dimensional realism.  However, if you hold a camera up in front of something and simply click the shutter, the resulting image will be photo-realistic, but rarely will be pleasing.  It takes the application of abstraction to make a photograph interesting, and the tools of the photographer are largely used to introduce abstraction into the photographic image.  Such tools include, for example, camera placement, lens selection, long exposure, and dodging and burning, which were the tools used to in the making of the image in this post.

 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Black Trees, Series 3, No. 2 (aka “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”)

Some photographs are special to the photographer.  Not that they’re better or worse than any other photograph in the portfolio (truly I like all my photographs the same), but they carry a special meaning.  This is one of those photographs for me.  When I first made it, it made me feel something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  I called it “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Today I’m feeling a little bit of the grandeur and the banality, the beauty and the terror, the good and the evil in all that is living and being alive, and it made me think of this photograph.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Developing a Personal Style

Great Sand Dunes National Park, No. 5. Colorado, 2014.

Wow, I’ve read a lot of stuff online and elsewhere about how photographers can and should develop a personal style.  As a preliminary matter, my understanding of personal style (I’m sure different people have different opinions on this) is that it is a way of making photographs, such that viewers readily recognize them as being the product of a particular photographer.  Having a personal style seems to have become a sort of “holy grail” among photographers, as if having one will be synonymous with success, creativity, and fulfillment.

So how do you develop a personal style?  Don’t try.

If you think having a personal style is important, I’d get over this.  Don’t listen to the advice of people on how to develop a personal style, and don’t have it as an agenda item on your “todo” list for improving as a photographer.

Instead, just photograph what you want in the way that you want to, honestly and humbly.  Photography, to me, really is a simple thing:  you see something in the world that moves you, and you try to isolate what moved you, first by capturing it with a camera, and later by editing your capture with whatever tools you choose to use (e.g., a darkroom or a computer).  Notice that this process does not include a step of making sure that what you capture and how you edit conforms to a personal style, or indeed any other agenda point to tick off in the photographic process.

If you practice photography in this way, I suspect that your personal style will find you.  I can’t tell you this from firsthand experience, though – I don’t even know if I have a personal style, and I’m pretty unconcerned about it.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Editing, Not Processing

White Trees, Series 2, No. 9

Making a photograph largely is a two-step process:  working with the camera to make a capture (in the field, in the studio, or wherever), and working with the capture to make the final photograph (in a darkroom, on a computer, or whatever).  The second step commonly is called “processing” the image.

It’s a term I don’t like.  “Processing” makes it sound like the second step is very mechanical, rote, or devoid of creativity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Working with the photograph after capture often is where the key creative decisions that craft the final image are made. 

In the case of black and white photography, the decisions typically are on questions of brightness and contrast.  Sounds fairly straightforward, right?  It’s not.  There are myriad ways to work with and apply the grayscale spectrum to a black and white image that dramatically, decisively affect the way the final image looks.

This White Trees image is a perfect example.  The concept behind the White Trees images are very white subjects against very dark backgrounds.  It didn’t have to be this way – the image could have been made to make the trees very dark against very bright backgrounds, or relatively mid-toned against a mid-toned background, or in any other combination of brighnesses and contrasts achievable in a darkroom or on a computer.  The impact of the White Trees images comes precisely because the white trees/dark background combination suits the subjects of the photographs so perfectly.  It was a deliberate choice that was made, and deliberately carried out in working with the images after capture (not always a technically easy thing to do, by the way, but that would be a subject for a different post).

The term “processing” cheapens the act of working with the image after capture, in my opinion.  It sounds like something you would do to a tax return.  For this reason, I prefer the term “editing,” which I think more accurately describes the creativity in what is being done.  It’s true, usage of the term “processing” is so widespread that I, too, slip up and find myself using it now and then.  But as much as possible, I try to use the term “editing.”  I believe the words we use to describe things are important, because they subtly shape our perceptions and biases when we undertake the actions they describe.  Being an “editor” provides a much better mindset for working with images after capture than being a “processor.”

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Speak to Me

Cross in the Landscape. Near Velarde, New Mexico, 2016.

These things speak of New Mexico to me: distant mountains, overhead wires, low hills, low scrub, clear blue skies, clear golden sunlight, wooden fenceposts, wooden crosses.

It’s not an exhaustive list for sure, there are other things too of course.  But photography is the art of subtraction, taking things out of the frame until only the essential of the subject remains.  That’s what I’ve done here – removing element after element until the only things remaining in this view of the New Mexico landscape are those that speak to me about it. 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |