Back when the weather turns for the worse.
I first came across Robert Adams when I was looking for the answer to the question ‘why do people photograph’ and found his book ‘Why People Photograph‘ and then later I came across his book ‘Beauty in Photography‘. These small books are collections of essays covering topics such as collectors, humor, teaching, money and dogs and discussions of Photographers such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Meiselas, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. I have enjoyed reading these books and get something new out of them as I reread them with a deepening understanding of photography as an art.
Why People Photograph must have been on my bookshelf for almost as long as I’ve been taking photographs, almost 10 years now, and yet it was only last year that I realized that Robert Adams can not only write but he is a well know photographer too! How many other holes in my appreciation of the history of photography could you drive a truck through?
I’m at my beginning of my exploration of his work, and I’m doing so by starting with his most recent projects first. Photographs taken around his home near the Oregon coast of the forests, coastline and meadows, very different subjects to the photographs of the American west increasingly spoiled by the urban sprawl that brought him to prominence. This work can be found in ‘The New West‘ a new edition of which will come out in the summer.
Check out the interview of Robert Adams on Oregon Public Broadcasting here and the interview below from 2006 that supported his exhibition ‘Turning Back‘. Also below is a profile of Adams by Joshua Chang, curator of the retrospective exhibition ‘The Place We Live‘.
With all the snow that we’ve been having here in New England you would think that I would have had time to finish working on my images from Japan wouldn’t you? A reasonable expectation but I’m swamped here at the moment. More about what’s going on in a few weeks.
I’ve mentioned here before that I generally take a lot of frames when I’m out shooting, particularly when I’m photographing water. With flowing water each frame will be different and potentially offer something unique. Also worth exploring is a range of shutter speeds – I generally try to keep some sense of motion in the water rather than blur the water completely with a very long exposure.
I’m still working on the image above – I’m happy with this version but will now live with this for a while to learn what I like and what I like to change.
Over the last week or so I’ve been making a list of my top 12 influences, visual artists and their work that influence and inspire me. Consistently over the years Hiroshi Sugimoto has made this list. Born in Japan, Sugimoto moved to the US to study in the mid-70’s eventually settling in New York. While he’s returned to a number of subjects repeatedly over the years, including ‘American Theatres’ in which he photographs old movie theaters and drive ins using long exposures in an attempt to show time in his photographs; ‘Dioramas’ which are beautifully executed photographs of exhibitions in natural history museums and more recently of wax-work figures; ‘Architecture’ in which he photographs structures slightly out of focus which gives a sense of the form that the architect had in mind without you getting lost in the details and my personal favorite ‘Seascapes’. His seascapes, such as the one above, give a real sense of the vastness of the ocean that particularly appeals to me.
Check out the documentary below for more about Sugimoto’s life and work.
Often I find that I am crunched for time, which means that I need to quickly process my images and get on to the next thing. Having a little bit of extra time to work on learning new techniques, how to use new equipment and then to integrate that into my everyday workflow is a real luxury.
Over the last six months or so I’ve been dabbling a little with both of these – learning about new masking techniques and how those can be used to composite images together to make large files that will be used to make large prints.
The image above is one that I had struggled with earlier in the year. I posted an earlier version of this image here. With a little bit of extra time over the Christmas break I was able to play a little, make some composites and finally get close to the image I had felt when I was there.
Sometimes time is the best gift of all.
I was reminded of the Bruce Lee quote ‘Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water if you put water in the cup it becomes the cup and water can flow or it can crash’ last week. I was in California and had expectations of what I was going to photograph. I believe that it was Ansel Adams spoke about previsualization, having a sense of what the image is going to be before you make the exposure. I think that Ansel was probably previsualizing as he stood in front of what he was going to photograph. I on the other hand was guilty of previsualizing from thousands of miles away.
As I stood looking at the pounding surf, 3 feet above a normal low tide, that hid the rocks that I had imagined photographing for the previous 2 years it would have been a natural reaction to be frustrated. I’m not sure why I wasn’t but I just let it go, enjoyed the magnificence of the fury of the Pacific Ocean, and then moved on to photograph other things. I don’t think that anticipating and being prepared to get a specific shot is a bad thing but it is bad not to be flexible enough to recognize other opportunities that come your way. While they might not be what you’d prepared for they could be equally, or more, enjoyable.
I was photographing along the California coast last week, something that I’d wanted to do for a while but had never managed to connect the dots and make happen. Unfortunately I didn’t pick a good week for the trip, given that Northern California was experiencing the worst storm they’d had in 5 years. I was hoping to tick off one of my photographic goals and get some good photographs at Bowling Ball beach. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. I did learn a lot and got a few images that I thought were okay given the circumstances.
One of the things that threw me a little was the unpredictability of the waves on the coast. Normally I like to get close to the foreground element with a wide angle lens which often puts me in the water. Not a big deal, I’ve been around the ocean my entire life I know how the game works and respect the ocean like I would a wild animal. You have to pay attention at all times otherwise you may get bit! Here on the East Coast the waves seem to be generally predictable this was also true on the California coast in that every 5 th of 6 th wave would be huge and where there was rocks or beach for the previous few waves there would be a foot or more of water. It was quite unsettling and I eventually retreated to the relative safety of the cliffs and a long lens.
I thought that this was something related to the storm and an unusual storm surge until I spotted I sign that described ‘Sleepers’ – waves that were much larger that the previous ones which could easily knock you off your feet and cause you to be swept out to sea. Reading the sign you could easily think that it was a little alarmist but have experienced the waves up close and personal there’s definitely cause for concern when photographing at the beach in this area.
I’ve been thinking about what it takes to ‘see pictures’. People will tell you that ‘pictures are all around us’ and yet I find that few are able to consistently find them. Why is that?
Personally I feel as though I go through my day with blinkers on, really only paying attention to the things that I need to pay attention to in the specific moment. The things on the periphery are ignored in an effort to get onto whatever is next as expediently as possible.
Most of us have acquired, with time, the capacity to “tune out” the things around us. This faculty to conveniently ignore the things that don’e “matter” allows us to live without being constantly bombarded with visual stimuli. We need to be able to drive or walk without being distracted by the slightest object in our field of vision.
As adults we have trained ourselves to disregard the landscape around us in order to keep a certain focus, that is, where are we going, how we are going to answer questions during an upcoming interview, how not to trip in those brand new heels so as to avoid public embarrassment.
Jay Maisel seems to have this problem of seeing licked licked. He always carries his camera with him and is always looking for, and finding, pictures. How does he do that? He seems to have retained a child like curiosity in everything around him.
For me this enhanced way of seeing is most easily achieved when I put myself in new situations, where things are strange or scary or strange and scary. It’s amazing to me how I seem to notice everything when I’m in potentially dangerous situations – balancing precariously on rocks in the ocean before dawn, walking along the beach when it’s so foggy I can hear but can’t see the breaking waves or walking through a forest in the near dark hoping that I’m still on the trail. In these circumstances I have a heightened sense of awareness, time slows down, and I can pay attention to an enormous amount of detail. Interestingly this sense of awareness persists, so that I find that I ‘see’ pictures when I’m on my way home in a way that I didn’t an hour or so earlier.
Have you experienced this sensation? How do you get into the ‘picture taking, seeing zone’?
A section in a book that I’m reading at the moment provided a twist to the ‘you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most time with‘ idea that has been circling the internet for several years now. Specifically it said that if you’re the smartest person you know then you need to get to know some more people, if you’re the most creative person you know then you need to get to know some more people and went on like that for quite a bit. It’s funny that the Ninety Degrees Five group is five people – all are very talented and successful, if the alphabet soup of letters that they are able to append to their names is anything to go by – I wouldn’t mind being the average of this group by any means!
Of this group Christian Fletcher recently won Western Australian Landscape photographer of the year and International Landscape photographer of the year. He’s based in Dunsborough in South Western Australia, which looks like a fantastic part of the world if his photographs are anything to go by and is now on my list of places to visit. Christian seems to work predominantly with digital medium format cameras, which allows him to create large prints of his work, working with photoshop to fully extract the potential in each of his images. Check out the videos below to hear more from Christian himself.