Tag Archives: triptych

Different Enough?

Triptych, Flux No. 1.

Someone told me the other day that my White Trees series of photographs (see e.g. last month’s post) is “repetitive” and merely travels “well-trodden” subject material.

Okay, this different enough for you?

Maybe the three panels here simply are repetitive of one another.  Maybe this abstract simply is derivative of all those abstracts that have trod before it.  Truth is, so many people are doing so much photography these days that just about any photograph likely can be said to be derivative of something else.  At least one relatively well-known photographer’s name comes to mind that this abstract might be said to be derivative of, though personally I didn’t even know that name when I started the series of photographs of which this one is a part.  As for repetitive, what a subjective judgment that is.  Is Alfred Stieglitz’s “Equivalents” series repetitive because they all are of clouds?  Is a series of portraits repetitive because they all are of people?

Good thing I make my work pretty much for myself, or else that little bit of criticism might have stung a bit.

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Every Artist Needs An Audience

Triptych, Feathers No. 1

Triptych, Feathers No. 1

Every artist that you know or follow is looking for an audience for his or her work.  How do I know that?  Because if you’re aware of their work, it’s because they chose to make it public, and if they chose to make it public, it’s because they want people – an audience – to be able to see it.

Naturally, having a website and a blog, I include myself in the category of artists looking for an audience.  Looking for an audience is a funny thing, though.  If you look too hard for one, it can create problems for your work.  This can arise, for example, when you start making work based on what you think your audience wants too see.  Go down that road too far, and you run the risk of losing touch with why you started creating work in the first place.  Rather, the creation of work may become an exercise in repeating past successes to please your audience, or becoming preoccupied with trying to ascertain want your audience wants to see so that you can provide it to them.

On the other hand, in an ideal world, you would want to sustain the connections you’ve made with those who have taken an interest in your work.  Changes in your artistic vision or process may result in changes to the work you put out, which can run the risk of alienating those who have followed your work.  It’s not trivial to worry about if your audience will come along with you should your work branch off in a different or unexpected direction.

I suspect my thoughts have wandered off into this space as a direct result of the making of a number of abstract triptych photographs over the last week or so, including the image in this post, “Triptych, Feathers No. 1.”  Over the past year or two, I’ve devoted a lot of my photography time to making landscape photographs.  Probably most of my audience (small though it may be) (but again, thank you sincerely to everyone who’s taken an interest in my photography) has come to know me for this kind of work.

Perhaps oddly enough, I’ve never thought of myself as a landscape photographer.  Early on, I made a number of abstract diptychs, triptychs, and other kinds of subject matter.  While I love landscape photography and don’t anticipate stopping it by any means, I’m excited to have rediscovered a passion for these different kinds of photography, and I look forward to working them into my repertoire.  I’ll just be wondering a little bit if my audience will come along for the ride.

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Photography, not iPhoneography

Triptych, Flow No. 3

Triptych, Flow No. 3

The image in this post was captured with an iPhone.  If that makes you yawn, I don’t blame you.  Not so long ago, using a smartphone to produce a fine art photograph was something of a novelty, and images made in this manner had a bit of a “wow” factor.  Now, smartphones are so ubiquitous that juried exhibitions of nothing but images captured with mobile devices are commonplace.  There’s certainly nothing particularly noteworthy about using smartphones for fine art photography anymore.

What is noteworthy, though, is how infrequently smartphones are used for “straight” fine art photography.  Most fine art photographs captured with smartphones that I come across look like they have been highly digitally processed.  The goal seems to be to create images having certain “looks” – vintage, painterly, selectively focused, over- or under-saturated, whatever the case may be.  These kinds of photographs have been called “iPhoneography,” and while sometimes the results can be worthwhile, the whole thing seems to rely on digital gimmickry to get to the end result.  Few people seem to be pointing their smartphones to make straight captures of their subjects in the way that, say, Edward Weston or Henri Cartier-Bresson pointed their film cameras to make straight captures of their subjects.  It’s as if no one believes or take seriously the possibility of creating works with a smartphone that can stand on their own, without the aid of some kind of digital processing crutch.

That’s a shame.  Smartphones are perfectly capable of producing fine captures, worthy of being made into fine photographs.  Sure, smartphones have their limitations.  The pixel count on my iPhone is dwarfed by that of my Canon 5D Mark ii, its fixed lens limits the kinds of subjects I can capture, and the 8-bit jpgs it captures limits how much the digital file can be worked over.

Still, the files are robust enough to produce a good print.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this image by one of my favorite photographers, Cole Thompson.  He was able to print it to 15 inches wide – I’ve seen it in person, and it looks great!  Still don’t believe me?  I’ve had several images captured with my iPhone exhibited in juried exhibitions of straight photography.  I didn’t disclose that they were captured with an iPhone (nothing sneaky or underhanded, mind you, the capture mode was irrelevant to the exhibitions), and the image quality was good enough that they fit right in.

Plus, smartphones bring certain advantages to the table that other cameras don’t.  There’s the obvious fact that they are with you all the time.  There’s the further fact that as small, handheld devices, you can really move them around to get angles and points of view that you might not make the effort for with larger cameras.  Both of these attributes were key in producing the image in this post, since I came across this subject at a place where I never would have had my big camera, and I was able to wave my iPhone around a lot to get some interesting perspectives.

My process in making the image, though, was the same as if I had used my Canon 5D Mark ii to get the captures.  No fancy filters or effects.  I knew what I wanted the final image to look like even before I started capturing the subject, and my workflow was the same as it would have been for any other black and white print.  That’s why when I use my iPhone’s camera, I think of it as “photography,” not “iPhoneography.”

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Three Images in Three Days: Black Tree No. 3


Black Trees Triptych

In my Three Images in Three Days concept, I’ve been talking about using multiple images to make single presentation formats.  Here on day three, I’ve used the two images from my previous two posts and a new image, “Black Tree No. 3,” to make the triptych in this post, “Black Trees Triptych.”

My previous post mentioned the idea of employing visual cues to create relationships among multiple image panels, using a diptych having a center-weighted composition to illustrate this point.  The compositional considerations obviously change much when going from a diptych to a triptych, adding a layer of complexity but also opening up expanded visual possibilities.  Here, I’ve tried to create an overall sense of movement from left to right across the three panels, both by placing the right-leaning trees at each end of the composition and through some dodging and burning. The left-right movement also is helped, I think, through some implied diagonal lines created in the clouds.

While a pure left-right movement can be compelling, it can be even more powerful to break this rhythm by placing an interrupting element in the line of movement.  I’ve tried to do this in the middle panel with the tree that leans slightly to the left, hopefully introducing some tension into the composition to add to the visual interest.

Of course, the broader point is that there are many compositional possibilities when working with multiple images.  I hope I’ve illustrated that over these last three blog posts.  I do believe that each of the individual images I’ve been working with – the black trees nos. 1, 2, and 3 – are strong enough to stand on their own.  But given the similarities in these images, they’re naturals for combining in the diptych and triptych formats, and I believe those diptychs and triptychs stand on their own as individual works in their own right, too.

If you’re a photographer, I encourage you to look through your archives for images that can be combined into multiple image presentations.  It’s lots of fun, can yield some pretty interesting pieces, and is a great way to set yourself apart from a crowded field of conventional, single-frame imagery!

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Three Images in Three Days: Black Tree No. 2

Recent Work

In my previous post, I talked about my belief that photography is especially suited to multiple image formats, such as diptychs and triptychs.  To test this theory, I’m posting Three Images in Three Days and exploring the diptych and triptych formats.  For day two, here is a diptych made from the image in the previous post, “Black Tree No. 1,” and the second image in my Three Images in Three Days concept, “Black Tree No. 2.”

As mentioned, I believe the inherent realism of photography contributes strongly to making photographic diptychs and triptychs unitary and self-contained works.  However, to really make the diptych or triptych format successful, I also think it is important to create a strong relationship between the panels.  One way to do this is conceptually, wherein the panels may not look much alike but may be bound by an underlying concept.  For example, a diptych about trees might show an uncut California Redwood in the first panel, and log in a sawmill in the second panel, to make a conceptual point about unsustainable wood harvesting practices in old growth forests.

Personally, I prefer using visual elements to create a strong relationship among the panels.  It may be enough simply to have similar or complementary visual subject matter, such as the similar black trees and grey skies in each of the panels here.  However, visual elements can be used more creatively.  Here, for example, I tried to place the elements to create a center-weighted composition of the two panels.  I arranged the panels such that the right-leaning tree in the right panel is balanced by the slightly left-lean and large left branch of the tree in the left panel.  More subtly, I burned the tops of each panel such that they tend to darken toward the center of the diptych.  My hope is that I’ve created an overall, single movement within the diptych that tends to radiate out from the center toward the edges.

Of course, there are many ways to use visual cues to relate the panels of a diptych or a triptych.  Tomorrow, I’ll explore this concept a bit further.

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Three Images in Three Days: Black Tree No. 1

Recent Work

Cameras have the power to generate a lot of output very quickly.  Unlike a painting, which can take days or weeks to complete, a finished photograph can be (although not always should be) finished in a comparatively short period of time.  This is one of the inherent properties of the photographic medium, and it can be a curse and a blessing.

It’s a curse when you think about the huge, huge, huge number of pretty mediocre photographic images out there.  The subject of the image in this post is a tree, so let’s just consider the number of people in the world with cameras and the number of trees that are being made the subject of photographs.  It shouldn’t take long to conclude that by sheer numbers alone, you will end up with quite a number of unoriginal and repetitive snapshots of trees.

However, the relative ease with which a camera can produce a lot of images is a blessing when this property is used creatively.  One way to do this is to use multiple photographs in the creation of a single presentation, such as a diptych or a triptych.  Combining multiple images in a single presentation like this leverages the high output capability of photography to create works that arguably uniquely exploit the capabilities of the photographic medium.  It is, of course, true that painters and other artists can produce diptychs and triptychs as well, but I would suggest that it’s just not quite the same – the inherent realism of photography binds the panels of a photographic diptych or triptych much more closely than a painting, creating a more unitary and self-contained work.

Over the next three posts, I thought I might put this theory to the test.  We’ll start with the image in this post, “Black Tree No. 1,” and see how things develop!

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The Story Behind the Image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” Part 3 – Think Creatively!

Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky

Here is part 3 of the story behind my image, “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” shown above.


Well, on one level, there’s not much to tell, really.  When I saw the two images “Touch the Earth” and “Touch the Sky” that I had taken separately, I knew I had to put them together in a diptych.  I cropped each image square (because I prefer the proportions of equal-sized panels in diptychs, triptychs, and the like), increased the overall contrast of the combined image a little, and voila – not much work at all.


But on another level, I think this image has a lot to say.  First, while I think the individual images “Touch the Earth” and “Touch the Sky” that I used to make this diptych are strong images that stand well on their own, I also think the diptych is more than the sum of these two parts.  I believe that putting these two images together, in this format, makes a statement that is unique to itself and independent from the component images.  For example, there is a new composition to consider:  the form of the trees creates a symmetry across the two panels, and the whites and blacks of the foregrounds and backgrounds are analogous, but reversed, in the two panels.  The subject matter, too, invites a comparison and contrast that is not available in the individual images alone, for example a consideration of the sky and earth motifs within and between the individual panels, and the relationship of the trees to each.  Of course, I also hope the image simply is pleasing to look at!


Second, I think there is much to consider on the subject of framing.  As a photographer, my guess is that well over half of the photography I see is presented in a horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio (I believe this is the typical aspect ratio of 35 mm film).  Much of the remainder is in a vertical 3:2 aspect ratio.  It is much rarer that I see square aspect ratios, panoramic aspect ratios, or other kinds of aspect ratios, and it is even rarer that I see diptychs, triptychs, or presentations having multiple panels.


I wonder why this is?  Since it is relatively easy to capture an image with a camera, it seems to me that photographers are uniquely positioned to create works that push the dimensions of traditional framing, be it by experimenting with aspect ratios, panels, or the like.  Moreover, I might suggest that, given how ubiquitous the horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio is, images presented in alternative formats add an extra element that contributes to making the image more interesting.  This is not to say that a bad image presented in a non-traditional framing will become good, nor that a good image in a horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio is bad.  I’m saying only that the framing is an important component in the composition of photographic images, and that it can be used with a high degree of creativity to add to the impact of the image.


Here’s another example of this principle.  I don’t print many 8.5×11 images for display.  Why?  It’s not because 8.5×11 is too small.  Indeed, one of my personal favorite formats to print in are small, 5×5 square images.  No, it’s because all day long, in the course of handling ordinary business, I look at document after document printed on 8.5×11 paper.  I’m sure this is the case for most people.  To me, an image printed on 8.5×11 paper loses a little bit of appeal, just because I see the 8.5×11 format all the time.  It’s just so ordinary.


Is there a takeaway here?  If so, maybe it’s just to think creatively about presenting your images.  Why not start with the framing?


Edit:  I forgot to bring up in my original post, but meant to, that I believe Brooks Jensen at Lenswork Daily makes a similar point here, worth checking out!


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