spring brings flowers

drooping tulips

nearing the end

There’s a certain discipline, I find, in working with still objects. Light and shape become the narrative. The quietness is where the image lives and breathes.

As A.D. Coleman wrote a long time ago, the real work of photography is “making things look, deciding how a thing is to appear in the image.” This encapsulates an important aspect of what I aim for in practicing photography. What I aim to present is not so much about whatever happens to be the content within the frame; rather, it is the total perceptual and affective effect of the shapes, the lighting, the mood, the interaction of subjectivities with each other. Such interconnections create a narrative that is often, and perhaps preferably, without a linguistic counterpart, a narrative that responds to and places itself within a larger artistic conversation.

What this larger conversation encompasses, it seems to me, is different for each individual photograph. Sometimes, it goes as far as to participate in the image-making tradition in its wider institutional sense, the one supported by museums and established modes of criticism. At other times, the context is personal and idiosyncratic. Mostly, it is a mishmash of competing contexts and it is in their complex interactions where the meaning, or interpretation, is to be sought. At any rate, the conversation is among the artworks themselves, not the way they are categorized within criticism and historical commentary.

The stillness of images, then, is how and where each work positions itself within the ongoing conversation with the art that is its ground and compost.

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more learning


DB—high key

For the past several weeks, I’ve been heavily into working on technique. Mainly, it’s been post-processing. But I also decided to take a little class on using flash, which was something that I was still a bit fuzzy about. Taking the class, though, was very helpful. Through the practical parts, I came to understand more about sync and exposure compensation, as well as getting some hands-on with off-camera lighting and light modification and shooting wirelessly.

The example here is one of my photos from the off-camera session. There are three lights in this: left (soft box), right (bounced umbrella), and behind (aimed at backdrop). Being a class, things were a little rushed, so that everyone could shoot, etc., but even with that the result is good.

One result of the class, was that I realized the usefulness of having more than one flash unit, so I’ve already rectified that.

I know this is pretty much a standard sort of shot and not my usual artistic sort of approach. It’s been fun, though, to have several shots like this to work on, as well as a new subject.

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winter’s here

naked man on couch in bright light

winter rest

Unsurprisingly, the winter doldrums have arrived. Maybe even heavier than usual.

Reading and studying have been occupying much of my time. Since they seem to be well-known and they come up all the time on my Amazon homepage, I borrowed from the library and have read through some books by John Berger and Robert Adams. While there are some interesting points made by both regarding photography and art generally, I can’t say that I’ve been too impressed. Berger strikes me as an old-school activist, i.e., someone whose ideas were set by European Leftism of the ’50s and ’60s. I liked his analysis of the role of capitalism in art and the art world. Otherwise, his writing seems pretty dated and more of historical interest than as a guide to contemporary creation. And, given Adams’s photography, I expected him to be more progressive. But he comes across in his writing as a demoralized idealist and traditionalist. Not that that isn’t surprising, given our socio-political-economic situation. But, again, what he writes seems addressed to a different world than that of today. Maybe the fact that Aperture Foundation publishes some of their books says something about their outlook, as well.

There are several other things I’ve been reading, as well, among them books on Ernestine Ruben and Jitka Hanzlová. Ruben is a good find for me. Her use of nudes as a source abstraction is along the lines of my own tendencies, although limited to black-and-white. Similarly, I find Hanzlová’s work with the forest very apropos to my work. There’s a moodiness in her work that is fascinating.

At any rate, I have made some time for creation. Some of it feels a little more experimental, as I try out some new techniques, both in-camera and in post-processing. One area that I’ve been working with is having highlights with very dark background and nice chiaroscuro. I’ve learned that this requires some thought, since the internal light meter in cameras takes a general reading of illumination. Which leads me to think that getting an incident light meter might be a good next investment. Another area that may become more important is printing and the photo as object. There is a smoothness to digital prints that somehow I need to supersede. I have zero interest in exploring antique chemical processing itself, but the surface effects possible with collodion are attractive, as is the ability to have some physical texture on the surface and variable edges on the image.

So, if not a lot is being made, there is percolation under the surface.

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crouched man


With the disgusting results of the past election, the early change to winter, and the ongoing possibility that my health could go south at any time, I often wonder what the point of doing art is. Never in my life have I been the type who was particularly enraptured with life; it’s always been mainly something to be borne with as much equanimity as it’s possible to muster. So there’s that. At the same time, though, thinking about and doing art (and music, too, for many years) is what engages me and keeps me going. A couple of weeks ago, I took some time to go though my archives and it was fascinating to me how some of my art from 30-plus years ago prefigures ideas that I’m exploring now; especially the photography that I did in the mid-70s. It’s uncanny, in a way. Is it really the case that our mind and imagination are that consistent? That whether you try or not, what you create is that deeply an expression of who you are?

So, if being an artist is really that much a part of who I am, it’s unlikely that I could, or would, stop doing it. The fact remains, though, that it’s a struggle. Everyone who works with art knows that, it’s not new learning. Living it is the issue; getting the gumption up to make some photos or sit down at the computer and do some processing, especially after a day at work where you sit at a computer, as well.

I’ve written about his some before, but increasingly during the past year I’ve been making composites, multi-layer images. It’s not an easy process. Sometimes you pick images that work together almost immediately. Other times, you just slap a couple together to see if anything sticks. In the past month, or so, though, I’ve been having some slightly greater success. Most of them include random nudes combined with some sort of natural setting. In this case, it’s a dark hole in a cave. Also, many are quite dark in mood, which reflects the ongoing situation of my mind. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s curious to observe what comes out after working for a while.

On slightly other fronts, I think I’ve made enough progress in my thinking that I’ve been considering doing artsy portraits; not just head shots and happy group photos, but something a bit more engaged and inward looking. Not only could it bring in a little income, but I could gain experience working with people, directing. At the portfolio review I did a month or so ago, one of the comments were that I should begin to think of what I do in almost cinematic terms and as a director. The suggestions they gave were Wong Kar-wai and Peter Greenaway, but since then, I also discovered Sally Potter. All of these directors are engaged with things that emerge in my work: rich color, layering, the body. So it seems that if I can gain some experience and comfort working with people in the somewhat more straightforward process of portraiture, it could help in my artistic work, as well.

And then … these more positive thoughts are undermined by my increasingly substantiated observation of the seeming race between the wingnuts and climate change to bring civilization tumbling down, sooner, rather than later. And I’m left wondering … why, and for what?

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autumn light

brick wall with nice light

yellow line

It’s been an interesting last few weeks.

The main thing, though, was the opening of the Photomidwest festival’s “Of Midwest, By Midwest” show at the Overture Center. It’s a good feeling to see your working hanging in such a public and prestigious location. The exhibit was juried by Wally Mason and he gave a very nice talk introducing it at the reception.

That was exciting enough, but I had also volunteered to do the portfolio review session presented as part of the festival. The session followed an unusual format, in that the three volunteers had their work discussed publicly by the panel. The panelists were Wally Mason, Sarah Stankey (of Lenscratch), and Paul Henning (of stockanswers.com). Overall, it was a good experience. It seemed that they were genuinely interested in my work and they gave some very good feedback that I have been reflecting on since. It’s made a difference in how I think about what I’m doing.

So, after being under the weather this past week with some sort of flu-ish thing, it’s time to get back at it.

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summer greens

rock and male body


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


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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man submerged in prairie grass


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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woman in low light


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



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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