Tag Archives: Colorado

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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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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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And Stars Too

Two Stars Over the Never Summer Range Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017

Two Stars Over the Never Summer Range
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

“What are men to rocks and mountains?”

– Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice

And stars, stars too.  If I am recalling correctly, the two stars here actually are the planets Jupiter and Venus, which came into (I believe perfect) alignment a couple of years ago.

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On Inspiration

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

It’s that time of year again, when there is enough daylight to allow me to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park after work.  For example, if I leave my house in Fort Collins at 6 p.m., I can be at this spot by around 7:30, and still have a good hour and a half of light to work with for photographing.  I’ve been making these trips in June and July for the past four or five years.  They began as an exercise to help me practice my outdoor photography skills, but have since developed into a cherished summer ritual.

Truth is, for a while now I’ve been pretty uninspired when it comes to landscape photography.  But I plan to continue my visits to the Park if for no other reason than that I’ve come to enjoy making the trip so much.  I’ll bring my camera along too, because that’s part of the ritual.  Inspiration is a flighty thing, it comes and goes without much rhyme or reason.  But I believe that so long as the underlying passion remains, the inspiration will return, and I’m not yet prepared to concede that the passion is gone too.

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