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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double exposure


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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man crouching in decaying grass


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.


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


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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reflection of rock in water


When you look, what do you see?

Something is there. Is it the world? A reflection in your mind? A trace of existence?

A quote:

“Perhaps it is precisely this unpredictability of impact that is so attractive about any photographic approach that disorders the domicile of vision and upsets the furniture of interpretation. As motive for the creation of new documents, cannot the play of light, the interactions of time and chance, the interventions into set methods of production, and the willful introduction of untoward elements justify photographs without pictures?” (Lyle Rexer. The edge of vision: the rise of abstraction in photography [New York: Aperture, 2009]: 20-21.)

Photographs without pictures. What a wonderful description of what I am about.

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up nort’, hey

arm with birch bark


About a month ago, already, we traveled to the Grand Marais area on the North Shore of Minnesota. We were there a couple of summers ago for a couple of days and liked it so much that we decided to spend a whole week. So we found a small cabin some miles north of Grand Marais, just across highway 61 from a stony beach on Lake Superior. The cabin had no running water and we used the wood stove most evenings to take off the slight cool and dampness.

It was a quiet and relaxing trip. The weather was pleasant and sunny, so nearly everyday we took hikes, mostly to several of the numerous waterfalls that tumble out of the back country of the Arrowhead and over the slope of the ancient rift valley into the cold water of the lake. Some of them are quite impressive; in particular, the Devil’s Kettle at Judge Magney State Park, a part of the river that falls into a hole and no one has figured out yet where it goes. So that was quite intriguing. At any rate, hiking around was good for us and I took some mostly vacationey photos while we were walking.

I knew, going, that many of my usual urban thematics wouldn’t likely be available, so I was happy to use the naturey elements that were everywhere. Those included Artist’s Point in Grand Marais, a rocky peninsula with much visual appeal; hence it’s name. Last time we were there, I spent a few hours wandering and doing photos and this time I was able to spend some time there twice. It’s a fascinating place. At the farther eastern reaches of it, when no one is around, the cold water and the bare, ancient lava make very real the time depth of the place. You can sense to your core that that cold water has been moving along those rocks just the way you observe it for uncounted years, at least since the last ice age. It forces you to feel the truth that humanity is evanescent in the bigger picture and that ultimately we are unimportant, that our impending self-destruction will hardly be noticed by the physical world. Water will continue to lap the rocks and clouds and rain will work on the land long after there are any people to observe it and write dorky blog posts about their observations.

There were also a few opportunities to make additions to my ongoing embodiment project. The photo here is among the better of those. One stream of the project is making use of available light and found objects and incorporating them with some part of a body, so it’s necessary for these things to coincide at a time when I have the camera and there’s time to work on the photo. This stream is, of course, always out in the world somewhere, not in the studio, and usually, so far, in a natural setting and using bits of decaying plant matter and/or rocks. So for this one, we were on the beach and I found this bit of birch bark, to which I added a forearm and some small stones. The fading evening light worked well with the warm tones of the bark and the skin.

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it’s been another month, or more …

a man's legs and shoes in reflected light


How does time move along so quickly? Granted, it’s summer and my camera was in the shop for a while. But there’s also been some ennui that I’ve been struggling with. During June and July, I took photos on exactly 5 days; and two of those were family events where I was more or less obligated.

This photo was from one of those days, when I chanced upon some very beautiful light reflected off of office buildings onto the street. It’s my favorite sort of light (or maybe tied with light filtered through leaves), so it was a treat. Unfortunately, there are very few glass buildings here and even fewer that reflect light into a space where people are with any regularity. This time, there were lots of folks milling about, so I was able to park in a good spot and shoot at will. It felt good: I miss street candid work. Here’s another from that day; and another.

Although I haven’t been shooting as much, it seems when I do it’s clear that there’s been development from inside. My eye is seeing differently, more concisely. So much of what I see is not the actually thing in front of the lens, but the shapes and patterns. A flat plane with colors and lines. And yet, the light can make it sing.

Playfulness and letting the eye see; that’s the key.

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light filtering through torn plastics sheets

plastic light

Things are a little slow now. I’m home for a few days while my wife recovers from surgery and between the slight anxiety it causes, helping her do things, and just the general disruption of habits, it’s been tough to concentrate on anything serious.

Last weekend though, before the surgery, I went to print enlargements of some photos at my local photo group, which has set up a printer for folks to use for a pretty reasonable fee. It works pretty slick and the results were quite nice. I made three prints, all where the longest dimension was 20 inches +/-. In each case, the color was spot on from my monitor and the prints at that size had a depth that isn’t so apparent at the max 8×11 size I can get out of my home printer. So it was worthwhile and I will likely do it again.

Today’s photo is from a shoot I did a couple of weeks ago, when I took a drive in the country and ran across an abandoned barn. I spent an hour or a little more poking around and making photos. As usual, I wished I had a collaborator to make photos of/with; so, making do, I made a wide range of abstracts, most of which used decay as a sort of theme. There were a high percentage of relatively successful ones, which was gratifying. It seems that lately I am more selective in making the photo to begin with, so that helps. At any rate, it was good to get out.

I decided not too long ago to drop my PhotoShelter site and switch to SmugMug . The new site is a bit less flexible, but for the almost no hits I was getting at PhotoShelter it was way too much money each month. I’m still building the new site, so there aren’t too many photos there yet. It’s partly been a casualty of the other stuff going on. So I hope to get to that a little more soon.

Finally, I had a weird thing happen a couple of weeks ago in that I couldn’t log in to my Creative Cloud account. So after calling Adobe tech support and being bumped up two levels over a couple of days, the problem was finally resolved. It turned out that over the years I’d registered software, etc, and created so many accounts with the same email that their system was being confused. But they were able to solve it and now I can log in normally.

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back at it

hand behind roots


A couple of weeks ago, it was finally time to take my camera in to the shop for some repairs and cleaning. It had been exhibiting various electrical sorts of errors at random times. So, since, I felt in a somewhat fallow patch, it seemed a good time to see what was the matter. It turned out that it needed a new main circuit board, which wasn’t too expensive — certainly less than a new camera — so I took care of it.

When I picked it up, I went out and made a few photographs, of which this is one. It really is a wonder to me, sometimes, how when you find the right place in the right frame of mind, images come. I made three or four in this series that afternoon. They all have good qualities. One, in particular, was spectacular: one of my best, so far, perhaps.

All of the photos will become part of my ongoing series, “Corporeal.” This series explores how the skin bears the traces of our existence. It’s not skin alone, but as part of the world; seen aesthetically, aiming for mystery, through obstructions and the unknown.

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