I’m continuing to dig deeper into the work of some of the photographers that were part of the New Topographics exhibition curated by William Jenkins in 1975. These were a group of photographers working to find ‘beauty in the banal’, making ‘photographs of a man-altered landscape’. In many ways it’s easy to dismiss this work as having a ‘snap-shot’ aesthetic and for some of this work I really struggle to connect with it. This week’s project has been Stephen Shore. If you read his biography one of the first things that is pointed out is that he sold his first photographs at age 14 to Alfred Steiglitz and that at 24 was only the second living photographer to have a solo show at the MoMA.
His work in the New Topographics exhibition was in color whereas the other 7 photographers were shooting in black and white. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that at that time in the early ’70’s shooting in color was not what you did if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Color was okay for magazines but not for ‘art’. Perhaps this further adds to the sense of these photographs being snapshots. In looking over this work and some of the subsequent work that arose out of these early projects I can’t help but think that this would be a great instagram feed and indeed you can find Stephen Shore on Instagram although I was surprised to find that I don’t connect with these photographs in the way that I do with the images in his books.
I often feel like I’m missing the joke when I look at contemporary photography and so it’s been useful for me to listen to Shore talk about his work in the videos below and lift the veil, at least a little.
Sometimes I catch myself and otherwise others give me a helpful prod but if you’re going to use the ‘creative’ moniker then that means, or at least should mean, actually making things rather than thinking and talking about the creative act. I’ll give you that pushing the button and making the image could be the creative act but for me the end product of creative has to be some tangible thing. To keep my feet to this fire I have been using my iPhone more than ever before to play and make images. I’m pairing these experiments with Artifact Uprising’s printing service to make little prints and now books all without leaving the iOS environment.
I was very happy with my little book part one of what I hope will be a four part series, one book of images per quarter, and perhaps a ‘greatest hits’ compilation at the end of the year. And perhaps I will pair the images with a collection of essays that describe the journeys and experiences and maybe make a slipcase to put them all in and, and, you know how it goes. I have to remind myself one step at a time. Small doable chunks.
Around the same time I got my little book I got Magda Biernat’s little book ‘Adrift’. Biernat’s project Adrift begins a dialog about climate change in the pairing of images of icebergs in antarctica with abandoned hunting cabins of the Iñupiat eskimos in the Arctic. The natural and the man made are both adrift in increasing numbers as the poles warm, causing more icebergs to be cast off and the hunting cabins to be abandoned as the animals the subsistence hunters pursue either dwindle in number or their migration patterns change.
What blows me away about the book is how creatively well done it is. There are a number of ‘what if’s’: What if we prepare the book as if it were a Japanese accordion book? What if we have the accompanying essays bound as a separate text block. What if the book opens on the horizontal, bottom to top, rather than the vertical right to left? All of which work and all of which serve to draw me in further.
It’s worth keeping these things in mind when you’re working on your own book projects, perhaps using templates from some of the big on demand publishing services, that you’re getting locking into a standard format. How can you work within that box and yet break it so that you have something that better serves the work and that is uniquely your own. Daniel Milnor photographer at large for Blurb continually is pushing at the edges of what is possible with the Blurb format and is well worth paying attention to as you think about developing your own projects.
Todd Hido‘s name penetrated my consciousness at some point along the way and so when his name came up again yesterday I thought it was time to finally find out more about him. I’m probably most familiar with Todd through his books that Nazraeli Press have published. His work seems to have focused on the American Landscape – interiors of vacant buildings and night shots of homes – that remind him of his childhood in Ohio. Check out the videos below to hear Todd discussing his work.
There has been a good bit of fanfare surrounding the release of the beta version of Lightroom 4. One of the new features that caught my eye was the integration of a variant of Blurb’s booksmart software, making it possible to layout and then send to Blurb for production a book of your photographs. As someone interested in delivering my photographs to the world not just as prints but in the form of books this is a very cool development. While I frankly would have preferred the book module to be a generic layout tool not tied to any single book producer, perhaps pulling key features from Adobe’s In Design product, Blurb has a tremendous range of products that surely suits the needs of most, if not all, people interested in having a book of their photographs.
Check out the tutorials from the excellent Julieanne Kost below.
I’ve had an extended break from blogging in a vain attempt to catch-up with all of my other responsibilities and draws on my time. I’m not fully caught up but I’m back.
I know a lot of people look forward to the new year with a list of resolutions. I do something similar to that too, although my list is usually a combination of the pragmatic and the impossible. Things that I absolutely need to get done and things that only in my wildest dreams would come true. Usually there’s not a lot of stuff in the middle. In no particular order here are a few of the things from my list:
1. Publish a book of my photographs
It is becoming easier and easier to self-publish. The recent announcement of the Beta version of Lightroom 4 includes integration for Blurb. One can only imagine that a raft of self-published photobooks will ensue. Makes me think that if everyone’s going to be doing it then I’ve missed the boat but then I could say the same thing about photography too!
2. Complete the planning for a trip to Shikoku in early 2012
3. Learn Japanese in anticipation of my Japan trip
While languages are certainly not my forte Shikoku appears to be far enough off the regular visitor trail that some Japanese could come in handy. The Rosetta Stone language immersion program looks like it would be a good way for me to get started.
An exhibition of my photographs will be up at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography gallery for 3 months starting the first week in May. Very excited about that. Please stop by and say hello if you’re in Missoula the first Friday in May.
5. Live more sustainably
I’m not much of a tree hugger but when I see things such as the albatrosses that Chris Jordan shows with his work it makes me want to be more conscious of the things I buy and how I get rid of it. Quality over quantity has to be a good thing.
Still on the sustainable living theme – the image below is taken from Azby Brown’s book ‘Just Enough Japan’ which is a look at how the Japanese in the 1600’s facing a lot of the same problems that we face to day dealt with them. Very interesting reading.
I end up buying a lot of books, some I find more interesting and useful than others. The difficulty that I have is knowing what level the book is pitched towards. Books about photographing kids can be a real mixed bag. I have found a few that I liked. Nick Kelsh‘s book ‘How to Photograph Your Baby: Revised Edition‘ is interesting. Not f stops and shutter speeds but more what it takes to get a good shot of your kids. Working through some of the ideas had a significant impact on the quality of the photos of my kids. Well worth a look.
My recent purchase was Photographing Childhood by Lanola Kathleen Stone. I regretted the purchase as soon as I’d clicked buy on the amazon.com site. What was I thinking? I take a lot of photos of my kids but I’m happy enough with what I’m getting that I don’t feel a need to pursue this hard. I was blown away when Photographing Childhood showed up on my doorstep a few days later and I began flipping through it. The book covers a lot of ground, beginning worth a historical tour through some of the masters who’ve shot children and then onto the only chapter that deals with technical issues ‘Tools of the Trade’ which discusses light more than it does f stops and shutter speeds (awesome!) before hitting ‘A Timeline of Childhood’, a tour through some contemporary photographers and dealing with issues of file storage. If you only read the the chapters dealing with the historical and contemporary photographers you’d be ahead of the game. Buried in this section is a primer on how to view new images and a list of questions to run through as your doing so – for me this was worth the price of admission. Even if your primary focus is not shooting kids this is a great book to have on your shelf. Go get it!
Lumiere Press are celebrating their 25 th anniversary with the release of STEICHEN: Eduard et Voulangis . As I’m sure you’re all well aware Eduard Steichen was an American photographer, painter, and art gallery and museum curator. Amongst other things Steichen was the first fashion photographer and the curator responsible for the family of man exhibition at the MoMA: An exhibit of 508 photos by 273 photographers in 68 countries were selected from almost 2 million pictures submitted by famous and unknown photographers.
STEICHEN: Eduard et Voulangis focuses on the period of Steichen’s life just after the first world war when he spent time in his home village of Voulangis, just outside of Paris, experimenting and developing as an artist. The volume pairs a very early portfolio of the early modernist work of Eduard Steichen, with an essay from Michael Torosian that charts the path of Steichen’s early development as an artist, his ascent in the orbits of Paris and New York and the confluence of cultural, aesthetic and personal events that dramatically forged his work as a photographer. My copy arrived just before I headed off for a trip to Europe and I’m looking forward to chance to dig into when I return home.
One of the first things I do with any book of this type us to scan through to find the sections that look like they would offer immediate value. One such section is seeing differently. I was surprised to find that this short section was almost entirely devoted to a case study from one of my friends and mentors, Cary Wolinsky. Michael’s interview with Cary that includes the case study can be found here. I’m still working through the book but it looks like it will be a valuable addition to the photographers bookshelf, particularly the one who us interested in further developing visual literacy and the language to go along with it.
Check out the videos below to hear Michael discussing professional photography and his books.
The deeper that I delve into photography the more I realize how hard I find it to create a successful photograph using just a rules based, intellectual approach. The successful images come when I apply the technical understanding to capture the scene that really stopped me in my tracks. Being able to be stopped in my tracks happens when I slow down and quiet the chatter. This kind of slowing down and taking time to quiet the chatter is something that I’ve come to naturally but is something that I have heard both Michael Kenna and Paul Caponigro refer to. Michael Kenna has called this communing with the land, while Paul Caponigro refers to his stance of silence and to having to shut up when the subject calls to him.
Some call this contemplative photography. It was this phrase that caught my eye when I was browsing amazon.com and that led me to The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Kerr and Michael Wood. The focus here is on seeing clearly or as Cartier-Bresson puts it ‘putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis’. Kerr and Wood break down contemplative photography into 3 distinct phases: The Flash of Perception – the recognition of something special that is likened to ‘being awoken form sleep by a loud noise’: this is then followed by Visual Discernment, maintaining the contemplative mind after the flash of perception and then finally, Forming the Equivalent, taking the picture that is equivalent to your perception. Each of these stages is explored in detail with their own chapters that include assignments to help you practice and example photographs to provide inspiration. The example photographs aren’t exemplars or templates to be repeated since we all will respond to our environment in different ways and as a result make very different photographs.
I must admit that I enjoyed reading and working through the book. I also find the connection made between photography and Buddhism interesting too. Kerr and Wood argue that both contemplative photography and Buddhism are concerned with clear seeing. They argue that clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance, freedom from which is a key tenet of Buddhism.
The book is not all sunshine and roses – I can’t help but take issue with the notion that the use of telephoto lenses and filters adds an unnecessary artifice resulting in plasticky photographs. Does this mean that we should only be using ‘normal lenses’ that mimic the human eye? Hardly. One of the reasons that I’ve been disappointed with my results in the past is that I haven’t been able to simplify the scene to a point that makes me feel satisfied when I see the image on the computer days later. Similarly using a filter to ensure that I don’t blow the sky out, to compress the dynamic range of the photograph is increasingly important to my being able to capture a successful image. I would argue that you should use whatever tool or tools it takes to be able to render the image that you felt and that the key is to reach a level of fluency with those tools such that the technical doesn’t get in the way as you move to making the image that stopped you in your tracks. A minor quibble with a book that I have enjoyed working through over the course of the last few months.