I’ve been working through how to give meaningful feedback to other photographers about their work and in the course of that I realize that our reaction to work tells us more about ourselves and less about the photographer. That was certainly the case with my initial intersection with Wynn Bullock. Bullock is generally regarded as one of the most significant photographers of the mid-twentieth century. He was a close friend of West Coast photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and a peer of Minor White, Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer. I remember seeing his famous photograph Child in the Forest from the 1955 Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen and dismissed him as not doing something that I was interested in.
I was recently given a copy of ‘Wynn Bullock: Revelations‘, a comprehensive look at his entire body of work that was produced to support the exhibition now showing at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Of course there are a good number of nudes included in the book which was where he was as a photographer early in his career but then there are a large number of images such as the one above that reflect his interest in how to represent time in a still image. There are a large number of abstract color images that I also find very interesting.
In listening to the interviews with Bullock below much of what he has to say about his photographic explorations resonated with me. Well worth a look.
Most people that I know, and who know me, always seem to be a little nervous when they’re in the car with me. I consider myself to me a ‘generally safe’ driver, other than a few minor hiccups there’s nothing to see here keep moving along. What I think people realize quickly is that while I’m watching the road I’m also watching everything else that’s going on around the periphery. I’m looking for photos. I do this so much in fact that I had stopped realizing that I was doing it until I almost ran off the road last week.
For the image above I originally saw from the car what you see below.
This mental cataloging process works well for me when I’m driving around locally when I have a chance to come back when the lights better or the weather’s different but doesn’t work so well when I most likely won’t have the chance to return or it may be a year or more until I’m able to stop by again. In those cases I’m trying harder to stop and take the shot even if it only serves as a sketch or record of a location that I should return to.
None of my cameras have built in GPS, although I know that is a feature in some, but my phone certainly does and so I’ll be making more sketches and record shots with my phone just so that I know where I want to come back.
What about you? Do you have a system for cataloging places that you want to take photographs? I’d love to hear about it if you do. How would you manage locations that you’ve got GPS tags for in photos?
I’ve been going back through the archives looking for images that could be used to extend exisiting projects and identify themes to be developed for new projects. It can be a nice surprise to find images that were previously overlooked, a little bit like finding money in a coat when you wear it for the first time in a long time.
One of the things that I’ve been doing while I look through my images is to set up smart collections in lightroom that will be populated when certain criteria are met. I have a simple color scheme that I use to label my photos – I mark images that I’ve worked on green, ones that are to be worked on yellow and ones to be deleted red. All the photos labeled green (the keyboard shortcut to do this on the mac is simply by pressing the number 8) will then appear in my smart collection folder ‘selects’. I’m in the process of refining this collection using keywords that will then put images into project folders – ‘coast’ captures the images at the coast that I like so much, ‘trees’ is my tree project that is slowly coming along and ‘water abstracts’ is a project that came to light as I was going through the archive. The image above is one from the water abstracts collection. A screen grab of this collection is below.
There’s definitely a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ element to this collection that I will need to resolve at some point, either by punting the offending image or building additional images into the set so that it is no longer a singleton. Having a number of clarified projects percolating in the background means that I’m sensitized to the opportunities for adding to these projects which will hopefully allow them to mature more rapidly.
How about you? Are you thinking about the images that you make in terms of projects? Any approaches, tricks, techniques or thoughts to developing projects that you want to share? I’d love to hear them
Watching David Hobby’s series I had a couple of thoughts. First I hadn’t put him in the travel photography camp, perhaps I should have?, and second I had a visceral reaction to the thought of ‘travel photography’ as a genre. It was an odd reaction and perhaps I was thinking largely of the cheesy postcard photos that are used to advertise high-end vacation spots, photographs that do little for me.
I’ve been traveling a good bit this year and while I wouldn’t put myself in the travel photography camp, it’s clear to me that I’m a photographer that travels. This was brought home to me when I mentioned to a friend that I was heading out to iceland and they commented on the potential for great photography. While this is true, some might argue that Iceland as a photo tour destination is now somewhat a cliche, what I’ve increasingly found is that regardless of where I go I end up taking photographs that in essence I could have taken anywhere. I’m drawn to particular things, water in the landscape, rocks, intimate landscapes and abstract details. I’m compelled to take photographs of these things, to the exclusion of perhaps more obvious grand vistas. I find that I even like particular colors or combinations of colors and will be more attuned to potential photographs with those colors than others.
Travel for me broadens the range of opportunities to find combinations of the things that I’m interested in that I haven’t seen before. What are the reasons you travel?
Forgive me if I’m in danger of beating this horse to death but my recent weight-loss success has made me wonder if the same approach that I used for weight loss could be used to affect transformation in other parts or my life – personal finance and creativity/photography being just two areas of interest.
In many ways losing weight was easy – Tim Ferris had done much of the heavy lifting for me already. Tim Ferris is the author of the ‘Four Hour’ Series of books – Four hour work week, four hour body, four hour chef. The titles are super cheesy and I must admit that I read the four hour work week with a high level of skepticism. Certainly for someone like me it’s hard to imagine how I could engineer to work remotely, managers after all serve the people that report into them and so to do that job effectively you need to be available to help with whatever’s going on. In any case, Ferris’s books are case studies in learning. How to subvert the established way of doing things and get maximal results for minimal amounts of effort. Once you cut through to this central idea his books get much more interesting.
My weight loss started with the slow carb diet that Ferris describes in detail in his book Four Hour Body and which is described briefly here. I had to make some changes to make this work for me – breakfast for me has to be a quick and easy affair even the quick breakfast wasn’t fast enough and microwaved spinach made me gag. I ended up with convenience foods for breakfast (a protein shake from Biotrust) and lunch (Cliff Protein Builder Bars) and then real food for dinner. I then took the same basic diet and applied Barry Sears Zone Diet to it – 40% carbs, 30% Fats, 30% protein. This involved weighing and measuring everything that I ate to make sure I was ‘in the zone’. Finally I began a strength, metabolic conditioning and mobility program that has me moving 6 days a week.
So here’s what I did:
* Followed a template that had been previously shown to work
* Experimented with the template to find something that worked for me
* Made small changes to my behavior, worked with them for two weeks and then incorporated additional changes for the next two weeks
* Measured my progress in as many ways as I possibly could
* Engaged accountability partners that supported, cajoled and encouraged me
While there aren’t easy to follow templates for everything that I want to work on there is a remarkable amount of information available making it possible to build case studies in the way that Tim Ferris has done for whatever you’re interested in. As I continue to explore this I’ll be sure to post more here.
In the meantime – What are you working on? What transformation would you like to make but are stuck with? Have you made a successful transformation? Did you use the steps outlined above? Something different? Any key practices to share? I’d love to hear about it.
I’ve been looking at work by Aaron Siskind over the last few weeks and as part of that reading came across Carl Chiarenza who wrote ‘Aaron Siskind: Pleasures and Treasures’. Chiarenza is a splendid photographer in his own right in addition to being a great teacher. Check out the video below to get an introduction to Chiarenza. Check out the additional conversations between Chiarenza and Brooks Jensen that can be found here.
I’m reading a book of Gerhard Richter’s letters at the moment. It’s imaginatively called ‘Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961 – 2007‘. I’m not sure what the best way to read a book like this is and I’ve found myself reading whatever catches my eye rather than sticking to strict chronological order. Having read pieces from the early ’60s and also the early 2000’s it’s interesting to see that his interviewers still tie him back to statements that he made as a younger artist and that while he still supports his original position he has clearly moved on, become more sophisticated and nuanced in his thinking. I suppose it’s natural for people to continue the connection to who you were, even when you’ve moved past that stage but it would drive me insane.
I also recently came across what was to me at least a new documentary of Richter at work. His abstract work particularly appeals to me and I found it interesting to see how they’re are created, destroyed, reworked and made over again. I must admit that there was a point where I was happy with the painting that he’d created, would have been quite happy to see that hanging in my office, and then he was off again with the squeegee. Nooo!
The video has it’s own website: http://www.gerhardrichterpainting.com
To follow up on my previous post I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’d done to improve my photography and hopefully they may be useful to you. At the time I did all of this stuff I felt that I was a late starter and wanted to accelerate my learning as much as I could. This meant using the expertise and experience of photographers that I liked to quickly get a solid foundation. Please do chime in with your thoughts and comments too.
1. Find your true calling. Work out what appeals to you, what repels you. Start a scrap book real or virtual of images that appeal to you. Make a list of common attributes – color or black and white, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, fashion, wedding, dig a bit deeper what else do these have in common, what differentiates them.
2. Find a mentor. Have you found yourself gravitating to one or two photographers? Study what they’ve done and how they got the shots you particularly admire. Of course if they’re alive today they probably teaching workshops – take a workshop with them and get some advice from your photographic hero. Not only will you get some insight into how they achieve their signature works but you’ll also get some feedback on your own work.
3. Get the right gear. Figuring out what gear your heros are using to get the shots you admire and get the same stuff. Somethings you’ll want to buy now, others you should rent. But without getting the gear to get the shot you won’t get the shot. A good example for landscape photographers is a rock solid tripod – get a good one and it will last you for years.
4. Do what your heros do to get the shot. When I was at Alison Shaw’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009 I was bemoaning my lack of progress to Alison’s assistant Donna Foster. Donna quickly pointed out that there was a progression to my work but that my biggest problem was that I wasn’t shooting in the best light and that if I wanted to improve I should find some time to get out early or late and shoot when the light is good.
5. Get feedback on your work. There are a number of ways to get comments on your work I prefer one on one portfolio reviews with someone who is going to be brutally frank. Feedback from workshop instructors is also very useful, as can be comments from friends whose opinion you trust and value.
I hope that you found this useful. I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve done to improve.
I’ve been taking a deep dive into the world of a couple of different painters over the Christmas holiday. The first that I wanted to share here was Gerhard Richter. For much of Richter’s early work he used photographs as source material. Many of these source photographs can be seen in Richter’s scrapbook of source material The Atlas. Some of these paintings are remarkably realistic. I must admit however that I like his abstracts much more. These are large scale paintings made with a tool of his own design. Click here to see a documentary that shows Richter talking about his photographs and at work making some of these large abstracts.