Tag Archives: 2017

Make Something

Baroque Figures, Study No. 3. Asamkirche, Munich, Germany.

Baroque Figures, Study No. 3
Asamkirche, Munich, Germany, 2017

Do you know a writer who doesn’t write?  A painter who doesn’t paint?  A musician who rarely plays their instrument?  Maybe, a photographer who rarely gets out their camera to photograph?

I bet you’ve met a few folks like this.  There’s a lot of people out there who are more in love with the idea of being an artist than actually being an artist.

Real artists make things.  Writers make prose, painters make paintings, musicians make music.  And, photographers make photographs.

It doesn’t matter if your photographs are good or not.  If they’re not good, don’t share them, maybe throw them away.  I’ve made many, many photographs that have never seen the light of day.  The point is to be making them – if you’re making them, you’re being an artist.  If you’re not making them, well… you know.

Making something isn’t about numbers or time.  Some people will have a high output of work, some people will have a low output of work.  It’s also, of course, okay (and even desirable) to rest or take time off now and then.  There are no hard or fast rules, everyone is different.  In your heart, you’ll know if you’re making the cut or not.

Because ultimately, making things is where the rubber meets the road.  If you’re an artist – get out there and make something.

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Torn

Marin's Figures, Study No. 4 (El Abrazo by Jorge Marin)

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 4 (El Abrazo by Jorge Marin)
Denver, Colorado 2017

I’ll confess I like these “Marin’s Figures” images out of which I’ve been making a series.  The subjects are sculptures by the contemporary Mexican artist Jorge Marin that I encountered entirely by chance in Denver, Colorado back in 2017.  I found the sculptures so compelling that I was quickly moved to photograph them.

As much as I like these images, I’ll also confess I’m a little torn.  With regard to the sculptures themselves, their compelling nature is down to the work of Mr. Marin.  My photographs of them to a large extent therefore are simply recording the artistry he has already produced.  If I like these photographs, how much of that is down to me?  In evaluating these photographs, where does his artistry end and my artistry begin?

I think the standard answer to this kind of question among photographers is that photographers create artistry through the choices that they make in their use of the photographic medium.  The eye of the photographer creates composition through excluding elements from the frame and carefully arranging the elements that are included therein; the camera can be used to to create blur or sharpness with shutter speed and aperture controls; the computer or darkroom can be used to manipulate brightness and contrast so as to create visual harmony and the placement of emphasis within the image.

I certainly used all of these elements in producing these photographs.  With respect to composition, I used low camera angles and very close placement of the camera to the sculptures so as to present a very specific view of the sculptures set within a precisely arranged background of sky and branches.  I used a relatively wide aperture and slow shutter speed largely to accommodate the low light levels of the dusk in which I was photographing, but also to soften and blur the branches in the background.  At the computer, I very carefully worked with the brightness and contrast to achieve the specific look I was after, in this case a very shadowy figure against a comparatively bright background.

Without meaning to sound pretentious, these choices are artistic decisions, and they do indeed dramatically affect how the final image looks.  Don’t believe me?  Just go online and search for pictures of “El Abrazo” by Jorge Marin, there’s lots out there.  You may or may not like my photograph, but I do believe my photograph genuinely looks different than most photographs of Mr. Marin’s sculptures (or indeed of the sculptures themselves when seen in person, though this is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison).  If my photograph looks different, it’s a result of the artistic choices I made in the photographic process, which certainly are down to me.

In the end, like many things in life, I’m not sure there’s a clear answer.  I like the photographs and I believe in my artistic contribution to their making, but I suppose it’s okay too to feel a little torn about them.

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Proving Ground

Moon and Dark Sky Over Rock Cut

Moon and Dark Sky Over Rock Cut
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017

Over the years that I’ve written this blog, I’ve come to realize that it’s become a kind of proving ground for the images I post here.  When I create my images, I subject them to a fairly intense process of scrutiny.  Naturally this includes reviewing the images on the monitor as they are being created, but also I make prints of every image I post here on the same grade of paper that I use for the sale and display of my work.  The printing often involves several iterations reflecting successive stages of editing, and often each iteration will sit on my desk for days or even weeks as I live with the print and gradually see what changes I can make to improve it.  In short, I invest a lot of time and effort to make sure I’m satisfied with an image before it is posted here.

Nevertheless, the act of posting seems to change the way I look at the print.  On more than one occasion, I’ve cued up a blog post with an image that I’m going to post, but before I post it I’ll see something about the image that makes me pull it back.  A couple of times, I’ve even done this after the image has been posted.  Usually I’m able to further tweak those images and they make it back on the blog, but sometimes those pulled images never see the light of day.

There’s just something about posting. The act of committing the image to public view creates a kind of feedback that I just don’t get when I’m editing an image in private. It’s a valuable kind of proving ground that I’m grateful to have at my disposal.

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Fill the Frame

Marin's Figures, Study No. 3 Denver, Colorado, 2017

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 3 (Equilibrista 90 by Jorge Marin)
Denver, Colorado, 2017

I generally don’t take a “rules” approach to photography, as in where some say that following certain rules or formulas are what it takes to produce compelling photography.  The one possible exception may be the “rule” that says to fill the frame with your subject.  Nine times out of ten, I find that doing this results in a stronger composition.

It’s been said that photography is a subtractive art – taking things out of the frame until the only things that are left are those that are necessary for the photograph, and nothing else.  Because the world is a visually chaotic and cluttered place, this is where much of the challenge of composing for a photograph comes from.  Indeed, I often have found it simply is not possible to compose a photograph that I want, because I cannot eliminate distracting and non-essential elements from the frame.

Filling the frame with your subject is one way toward subtracting out those kinds of distracting and non-essential elements.  Obviously, the more space your subject takes up in the frame, the less space there is for anything else.  It probably seems intuitive and simple to understand when I write it here this way, but I think many novice aspiring fine art photographers make the mistake of not filling the frame with their subject, and consequently having too many distracting and non-essential elements therein.  I know I did.  It really is a skill to learn just where to draw that fine line.

On a related point, filling the frame with your subject really requires that you pay attention to your background.  If you have filled the frame with your subject, odds are you are either standing very close to it or have zoomed in on it with a telephoto lens.  This makes it easy to change how the background looks, since slight shifts in camera position will have a big effect on what appears in the background.  So I rarely accept that the first spot in which I’ve chosen to stand is the best.  Instead, I move around and try out different camera positions to see how that affects what appears in the background.  The background is a critical part of a photograph, and is worth investing the time to get right.

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I Make the Photographs I Want to See

Baroque Figures, Study No. 2. Asamkirche, Munich, Germany.

Baroque Figures, Study No. 2
Asamkirche, Munich, Germany, 2017

There’s a lot of photography being done out there these days, and a lot of reasons being given for making photographs.  In the art community, in particular, it often seems to me that a photograph is not seen to be complete without a small treatise of theory and explanation to accompany it.

Introspection in an artist is a good thing.  I like to think about the reasons I do what I do, and certainly I encourage anyone engaged in an artistic discipline to do the same.  But it can be taken too far, I think.  Getting too wrapped up in the theory and explanation of photography takes away from its practice.  It can get in the way of producing work or, even worse, compromise the purity of the work being done.

There are many reasons I practice photography, but only one that underlies them all – I strive to make the photographs that I want to see.  I think this both helps to keep me grounded in my approach to photography and keeps me true to my own internal vision in my practice of it.

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On Portraiture

Marin's Figures, Study No. 2

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 2 (Perselidas by Jorge Marin)
Denver, Colorado, 2017

“All photographs are self-portraits.”

– Minor White

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Theft and Authenticity

Marin's Figures, Study No. 1 Denver, Colorado, 2017

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 1 (El Tiempo by Jorge Marin)
Denver, Colorado, 2017

“Nothing is original.  Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.  Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.  Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.  Authenticity is invaluable, originality is non-existent.”

– Jim Jarmusch

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When We Look at Our Photographs

Baroque Figures, Study No. 1 Asamkirche, Munich, Germany, 2017

Baroque Figures, Study No. 1
Asamkirche, Munich, Germany, 2017

When we look at our photographs and find not the slightest reflection of ourselves, it’s a good sign that our images have lost their souls.

– David duChemin

For the record, I’ve always considered my photographs to be highly reflective of myself.  For better or for worse, I can’t imagine undertaking photography (or any kind of art) in any other way.

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