summer greens

rock and male body

elements

As summer moves along and begins to wind down, I’ve been reviewing some things and generally reflecting on my practice. There have been many ups and downs lately, something that is not always easy to go through.

We had a lovely vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park at the beginning of the month. As I expected, most of what I made there was of the simply scenic and vacationey type. Not that there weren’t possibilities. But we mainly were on busy trails, so getting too artsy was difficult. Plus, it was all pretty new to us, not having been in big mountains before for any length of time. So it was overall good and fun, if not particularly productive artistically.

In July, though, I did two series of male nudes. At first, I wasn’t too worked up about either of them. But after vacation and coming back to them, I found that there were possibilities. So, I’ve put some time into working up a few of them with some success. Overall, the mood is very dark and almost despairing. It comes with the territory, though. Even some of my scenic photos from vacation had bit of an edge occasionally.

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PhotoMidwest Fest 2014

artistic still life with body

decay

It’s probably already two weeks ago, now, that I found out that I had two photos accepted into PhotoMidwest Fest 2014. This year, the theme of the show is “Of midwest, by midwest,” so it’s pretty clear that my work falls into the latter category. The juror is Wally Mason , curator of the Haggerty Museum at Marquette University in Milwaukee. I’d submitted four works, so to have two accepted is a good thing. The letter said that the exhibit will be forty-two works by thirty artists, out of over 400 submitted, so that’s even better. The exhibit will hang at the Galleries 1 and 2 at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin, with the opening on Thursday evening, September 25th, as the kickoff event of the PhotoMidwest biennial.

The work above is one of the accepted works. The other, I posted previously . These are among my best works of the past year, so I’m happy that these were the ones accepted. The other two I submitted were a bit more experimental and one had some blurry male nudity. As I’ve written before, my direction is becoming clearer, based on the work of mine that gains some attention. Whether it’s ultimately original or not, whatever that might mean, is not what interests me, but it does represent some clarification of my vision. It seems that I’ve been treating this practice seriously enough for long enough, now, that my aesthetic orientation is emerging.

In the course of this, I’ve also begun to understand the importance of the final stage, which is presentation. Both prints will be made by Starprintz, a local producer of top quality inkjet prints mounted on aluminum. It’s been a pleasure working with them over the past couple of years.

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summer

man submerged in prairie grass

sinking

Work is progressing, if slowly.

There’s been a broadening of my practice, of late. One aspect of that is the technique of layering. Usually, what I want is two photos that complement each other. Other times, it is the more typical process of using a texture layer, as here. It’s been clear to me for a while that the inclusion of layers adds layers of meaning if done effectively. I like to, and prefer to some extent, to be able to do it in the camera, which is part of the reason I purchased a Canon 6D recently. But the process of adding layers in post is also appealing.

Gradually, I am coming to see what I do as camera-based digital art; or whatever such a thing could be called that is less clunky. In film days, there was perhaps a certain cachet in stressing the “decisive moment.” But those days are past. The trend of photography as expression has evolved over the past 30-ish years into a realm of pre-visualization that often includes some explicit narrativity. This field is wide, ranging from Wall to Witkin. For me, the central concept is still shape and structure over story. Having two or more layers interacting can result in a work that exceeds those parts individually. A sense of abstract narrativity, of a narrativity without words, pushes images into a realm of imagination and evocation. Meaning can emerges gradually for the viewer.

While there might be some vague relation of this sense of structure to Minor White’s ideas of “equivalence,” there is no mysticism in my work. There is no higher, or transcendent, realm to seek or discover. It is just this world, seen. And this world conceptualized, through conscious perceptivity. The artwork creates it’s own reality, creates it’s own presence.

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sensing

woman in low light

sense

There’s something to image-making. An idea is central. It builds from there.

The image is the evidence of that thought process. It is not evidence of the world or of some reality. It creates its own reality, its presence.

Perception then senses the image and its existence. At the limit, where our sense and the image touch, there is the point of art, of touching, of sensing.

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January thaw

scar

scar

Surprisingly, this January is turning out to be somewhat active for me. Usually, being stuck inside is a down period for my photography. So far, though, this year is being a bit different. Not only have I been making an effort to make some photographs, but a photo of mine has been chosen as one of thirty for a rather high-profile exhibit here in Madison.

A couple of weeks ago a call went out for photos of iconic Madison sites for an exhibit at the Monona Terrace conference center to encourage visitors to explore Madison beyond the capitol square and the few blocks around the convention center. So I sent in a few examples and one was chosen, a photo I took in 2009 of Arboretum Drive at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum on a beautiful fall morning. It’s been one of my more popular photos on Flickr and otherwise, so maybe it’s not too surprising, but still it feels good. What’s interesting about this photo is that this was taken on the first day I decided that my photography had developed to the point that I would switch from shooting jpg to RAW, so there’s that personal connection to it, as well. One nice additional perk of being in the exhibit is that the Terrace will frame the print gratis and return it to me with the frame, assuming it doesn’t sell. And, there’s also the opportunity to put some things in the gift shop there for the duration. All of which is a new thing for me.

The exhibit, called “Reflections: Madison,” curated by David Wells (Gallery Director at Edgewood College and curator for Sundance Cinemas, Madison), will begin on 2 February as part of the grand re-opening at the Terrace. It will run through the beginning of October. Apparently, the show will be in the main corridor between the convention center and the Hilton Hotel, so it should get a lot of traffic.

Last week, I also roused myself to get out to one of the Center for Photography at Madison‘s 3d Thursday programs where photography scholar James Rhem was speaking. It turned out to be rather interesting, as he addressed what he calls one of the “open questions” of photography, the idea of what makes a portrait revealing, using examples by Walker Evans and Richard Avedon. While he generated some good discussion, as well, I felt that there was too much emphasis on the representational aspect of photography. For me, the real question is that a photograph is a thin trace of chemicals on a ground and that representation is somewhat irrelevant in assessing the aesthetic effect of photographs, and art in general. That’s maybe a discussion for another post, but it was worthwhile going out to hear him speak.

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winter

snow and trees

winter scene

Then, again, sometimes you just make pretty pictures.

They’re there, and you’re there, so why not?

There’s no denying that part of the attraction of photography is making pretty pictures. It’s more satisfying, ultimately, to work more artistically, more conceptually, more intentionally. But, once in a while, something just grabs you visually for what it is and there’s no point in over thinking it.

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December

double exposure

verticals

It isn’t very often that you open up a new avenue of exploration.

Recently, I’ve been looking at Harry Callahan again. First started looking at his work in the mid-70s, I suppose, during my first bout with serious photography. But about a year ago, now, I first consciously learned about both his color work and his use of in-camera multiple exposures. Both of which, I find immensely fascinating. But especially some of the multiple exposures are simply amazing for the level of technique and seeing that they represent. Such consciousness and awareness; not only to remember what is on each roll of film and in what order, but also the basic structure of each image so that a complementary scene can be superimposed. Some of those photos are simply staggering.

Harry Callahan photograph

Harry Callahan. Providence, 1978.

One of the defining characteristics of Callahan’s work in this direction is that the multiple layers nearly always have a relationship with each other; they are not just random shots superimposed. Doubtless, he made dozens or hundreds that did not work, but the ones that he released are clearly designed, composed, intentional. Given all the variables involved, it’s nearly inconceivable that any would really work, but especially the ones that layer complex cityscapes push the limits of the possible.

At any rate, a week or so ago, I had the thought to try a multiple exposure, although since I use digital, I had to do it in Photoshop. Even so, the process is similar, in that you need complementary images to begin with. So I picked on of my photos from Pittsburgh, an uneven wall with a small bush and fallen leaves, to begin. Then, it popped into my head that perhaps some photos I made of legs during the summer might complement well. And the first one that I tried resulted in the above photo. It blew me away how well they worked together, with only very minimal work in Photoshop.

In the time since, I’ve only had a chance to try a few more and, so far, I’ve pretty much deleted them after a few minutes of futzing, since they didn’t combine in any interesting ways. Only one really was successful, and I posted that on my Flickr. This one is actually six layers of people passing a spray-painted blob on a wall, with each image centered on that blob. While this photo seems to work fairly well, it’s a bit more complex that I expect would work well on a regular basis.

So, something new …

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almost winter

a street corner in pittsburgh

pgh dpw

A month ago, already, I went to Pittsburgh for a conference. It didn’t work out that I had too much time to wander around doing photography, but it was fun to actually be in a large city and also one that has many old buildings. The thing that I looked for mostly for during those days was light. I have always liked how light is reflected from high windows into shady areas of the streets below. There wasn’t a lot of this, due to the cloudiness, though on the day I made this photo there was some occasionally. What I was looking for, besides, light, was shapes, how elements could be brought into the frame to create a structure. In this, I think I was generally successful; but the result was fewer exposures, overall. That’s not a bad thing, though.

It’s been quite busy for me lately. On top of just many life things and the beginnings of the holiday season, much of my photo time was taken up selecting photos to submit to a couple of portfolio prizes. I found it a good thing to take the time to sort through the last few years of work to evaluate it and give it some thought. One thing that was clear was that I have definitely made progress in conceiving and executing my work. It is much less haphazard and random, even when I just roam around looking for things, which was clear to me on my rambles through downtown Pittsburgh. If I wanted it, there was a lot of old building detail and associated decay that I could have concentrated on, but I’m not so much into that nostalgic documentary mode.

Working through a lot of photos in a shortish period of time was also good in that I learned several processing techniques that I hadn’t known about. So, now, my photos have much improved contrast and definition. I realized that in some cases I was way overcooking certain procedures and that less is actually more; in particular with the sharpening masking in Lightroom. That was very good to find out before I sent out those photos.

At any rate, even though it’s unlikely that I’ll even get honorable mention in either of the contests, it was worth the effort. It’s becoming clearer to me that I work mostly for myself. That’s how it should be, I suppose. It certainly seems to be the case for many artists that I read about; they work in obscurity for years, or their whole life, and, if they’re lucky, maybe they get a little notice occasionally. So the journey continues …

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decay

man crouching in decaying grass

curled

Autumn comes every year. Changing, bringing things to a pause.

Taking time to assess my practice of late. It’s time for some working on developing my thoughts into what can sustain. I have been reading a lot of Jean-Luc Nancy of late and I am coming to understand that his ideas are quite close to what I have intuited for a long time: the difference is that he has developed a way to put them into words. They are not easy words, but to me they reflect what I perceive of the world. There are many things to possibly mention, but for now just these, briefly.

He says that the body makes a space for existence. It creates a place where we are and a surface at which we sense the world and the world senses us.

and

Images are distinct from the world. They are an act that becomes a thing in the world that contains its own being, its own meaning.

So … what we put into an image, the sense that it arises from, creates a constellation of sense and meaning. It exists in the world and yet apart from it. It exists as a surface on a ground and yet as a thing distinct, independent, separated.

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low color

lighted wall at night

something

One thing that continues to amaze and confound me is the amount of black & white photography you see everywhere these days. On my streams at Google+, Tumblr, and Flickr, it’s sometimes almost half of the photos that appear, even from photographers who often or usually do fine color work. And for what reason? I mean, I understand the whole argument that BW is already an abstraction from reality and that it can emphasize the structure of a photograph. That was certainly true for much of photographic history when that was the main choice people had. I respect and appreciate that, from a historical viewpoint.

Today, though, is there really a point, other than nostalgia and aiming for some kind of retro ambiance?

Most of the time when I see contemporary B&W work, my mind adds the color, because I know of, and/or do, similar work in color. When that happens, I just feel a lack, a complete and utter surrender on the part of the photographer to something other than their own visual sense and perception. Call it follow-the-crowd-ness, or worse.

I’m not really including in this those artists who work with film or antique photographic processes. This is a whole other area and I think wonderful work is being done in that area, by artists from Sally Mann onwards. This isn’t an area I find personally interested in pursuing, but the idea of using old processes in ways that accentuate the art over representation has opened up new visual areas for exploration, not only through using those processes but even for those who, like me, seek a more complex surface, a surface where the elements are not always recognizable and that interact in unplanned and visually expressive ways. I have done experimentation in this direction where I have achieved similar effects in the camera and without using layers in Photoshop. (See, for example, this earlier post.) It can be done.

Now, when all digital cameras record color as their raw data, to remove it completely in post-processing seems precious and evasive. People use b&w and all the easily applied antiquing filters as a veil, a cover, a filter, aiming for that hip Instagram look. (I’m guilty of it myself, for some of my phone snaps.) Certainly, there are times when dialing down the saturation is useful and appropriate; but to do so completely removes too much. The world that we perceive contains both color and luminance information for our brain; it’s important to use that for expressive purposes.

So, here, we have a photo that perhaps many photographers would automatically think of making b&w. But in that case, the intense, though subtle, warmth that the photo has would be lost. And to what gain? In this photo, the structure is still completely clear. Plus, there are the color cues that are the main elements creating the mood. Without those subtle blues and oranges, what is there?

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