Author Archives: john lehet

About john lehet

Up and down the east coast…

It’s been too long since I published a photo of the week. To the extent that they are new photos on the site, I’m still late — but I have an excuse. I’ve been traveling a lot. Lots of good news in that: I got to see friends and family; I made a lot of exposures, had experiences, did good work. The farthest extent of the travel was to Washington DC, with my daughter, where we saw my photos hanging in the Senate building, in my senator’s office (Bernie Sanders). I don’t think Bernie himself had anything to do with this, but rather his staff and an intern, who we met. Kind of a cool honor to be hanging in the Senate building…

Here I am with them, through the lens of my daughter’s iphone

I had fun with one of my newest vintage lenses, an old Olympus 50mm which has a nice f2.
Here, in Boston on the street (straight out of Lightroom; if I print this I will probably edit it)

And here are my friends from Nepal, visiting Boston, inside a shop. This old lens has an unusually nice quality of blur in the foreground. I think those tulips closest to the lens might look funkier through many other lenses
boston shop window

Insubstantiality of Place

Row of Willows in fog

Just a simple photo exposed on film when I was young and skinny with long(er) hair. A simple bit of writing might match it nicely, but I’m afraid nothing is as simple as it looks, or as real, and I’ve been thinking about this all week so I will be going deep.

I exposed this image on 4 x 5 film in 1982. I was driving my VW rabbit to New York City to show a gallery some silver gelatin prints. I was a couple of years out of college and had been working very very hard on my photography, quite sure I was going to have my photos hanging everywhere in the world quite soon. A March morning just like this one, still some snow, drizzle, and fog hanging over it — and I saw this row of trees off the highway as I drove through Massachusetts from Vermont. Of course I pulled off a nearby exit, set up my view camera, and exposed some sheet film. It’s always slow to set up a view camera, and, like now, I was always late for everything on account of photography. I was a little late to the gallery meeting, but the image was better than the gallery meeting. It’s important to stop if you’ve got a chance at something. (I don’t remember the name of the gallery or the woman I met. She was kinder than she might have been in telling me my photos were not going to make it into her 1982 New York City gallery, the work I was doing then, and that gallery. I remember there were some platinum prints, or they looked that way, of flowers hanging there then.)

The reason this comes up now is that I was driving past that spot a couple of weeks ago in a different Volkswagen. I had driven down to Northampton MA to buy a used car to replace my almost 19 year old current car. In the test drive we drove by this erstwhile row of trees, which had been broken to bits by time and storms. It was nothing like it had been. That was very striking, though of course I was trying to pay attention to the test drive as best I could. I’m used to buildings I have photographed going down, trees falling or being cut. Happens all the time. But this whole row of trees was kind of smashed to bits, and it hit me.

And then the other day I was out with my camera on a trail I take camera hikes on pretty often. I like that trail not because it is a steady example of enduring reality, but because it manifests constant change. Images I make there on any day will never be the same as on any other day. Here’s one I made the other day, as an example of something you won’t see if you go there today:
Little Cascade Falls Frozen, Ascutney Mountain

I often annoy people who know me when I claim that time doesn’t exist. I don’t mean the clocks don’t tick, or that we don’t have appointments we will be late for when we stop with a camera. I just mean that from a human perspective, it’s complicated. I’ll talk about time in another post, or maybe in a book.

This week I was experiencing how it’s even more crazy than that. Places don’t really exist, at least not in an enduring way. From the point of view of making subtle photographs that aren’t set up with artificial props and light, the light and matter we use to make the exposure onto film or sensor is so fleeting, as is the mood and vision and entire cognitive realm; that configuration only exists for the briefest moment, and then, from an experiential standpoint, that place no longer exists. If I go back to those GPS coordinates tomorrow, the light is different, I feel different, I see differently. Also physical bits of the world often quickly manifest as impermanent. I often joke to my wife, who, amazingly, understands me: “I’ve never been here before” — and I say it in a place where of course I’ve been. Earlier in our relationship I would explain, “The light is different.” I leave that part out now, as it is well understood. The thing is I really have that experience. The place is different. I’ve never been there before.

We Buddhists say things are “empty.” This is a simple thing, but tricky. There are a lot of ways to attempt to describe and understand it. The brilliant Indian Nagarjuna has lots of difficult but good text. Our current Dalai Lama frequently talks about emptiness enthusiastically, and he often cites Nagarjuna. Dogen, in the Zen tradition points to it in his “Moon in a Dewdrop.” But I think the only way to understand is to meditate, really quite a lot I think. And, like Nagarjuna and Dogen, photography points it out as well.

I’ll leave with a bit of a prose poem to point this out a bit more

Clouds In Each Paper

–by Thich Nhat Hanh (Mar 25, 2002)

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

“Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be”, we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Row of Willows for sale as a print

Ice on Little Cascade Falls Print

New Book Cover: Silver Road

Blue New Ice and Birch Reflections at Dawn

I’d already posted this as a photo of the week from about a year ago, but I just got some copies of a beautiful book in the mail. It’s a book of “Essays, maps, and calligraphies” by Kazam Ali, called Silver Road, published by Tupelo Press and designed by Ann Aspell. Though my own fine prints of this image have a little more contrast and depth than this book cover as printed, this is printed book is very handsome indeed.

Silver Road Book Cover with photo by John Lehet

It just happens that I included this photo in the show that is currently hanging at Long River Gallery. I thought I’d try printing it pretty big and matting it, and it did not disappoint me. It’s not framed on the wall, but matted in a 22 x 28 rag mat in a bag in the flip-bin.

Available as a fine print here: New Ice and Birch Reflections 2015 II

The book is available directly from Tupelo Press as well as from Amazon and other book vendors.

Show Opening on March 2

Pink Fuchsias, Purple Raincoat, Greenhouse

(I have featured the photo above before, but here it is again, because it’s very probably going to hang in my upcoming show at Long River Gallery next week)

As for this photo, I wrote a little bit about it when it was new, last year. But I would probably write differently about it now, and I’ll add a bit.

One of the most interesting things about photography for me, always, over these 40 years I’ve been doing it, is the mystery of how a photo works, how it sticks in one’s mind and keeps resonating, or not. I first noticed this sitting long hours in the art library at Dartmouth College in the 70s and early 80s pouring over books by famous photographers. What was it about some of those images that rang me like a bell, and kept ringing over years? I also saw that quality in some of my own photos. Of course some of it can be explained: having a good composition, a good technical execution, etc. So we try to do a good job, to put it simply. But as I said, there’s some mystery. Tapping into that mystery is in a way, for me, tapping into THE mystery.

So anyway, this image is digging itself deeper and deeper. I knew I liked it, but I like it more all the time.

OK, as usual, I’ve digressed. The point is, I’m having a bit of a show through the spring of ’18 in White River Junction Vermont. You can see this print there, and others. I think I’ll post more about that show!

Adding A Page on the Site: Matted Prints for Sale

Matted Prints in Rack

Above are some matted prints in a rack at Long River Gallery in White River Junction Vermont, below the framed print, “Blue Pom Pom Hat.” They’re a bit jumbly in the photo, but that’s how they are in real life there.

I’ve been matting and bagging smaller prints for galleries for over a year now, and it just recently occurred to me to put them on the site.

I personally think of my prints as being larger than 8 x 10, usually, because I work so hard for subtlety and detail that will hold up in a bigger print. Some of my prints, from the newer full frame camera or scans of old large format film could hold up as quite large prints. However, there’s a place for small prints. We don’t always have a lot of space, for one thing. Small prints are a lot easier to print for a number of reasons, so I can make them cheaper. Also, in some cases these matted prints are not so small. I’ll include prints that I have matted for exhibition, but which are now out of their frames and in bags.

I build my site in a really unusual way. Except for this blog, which is WordPress, most of my site is built from a sort of smart database I have made and programmed. This page of matted prints is generated from that data, so it’s limited by my data entry and inventory-taking. It’s incomplete for now. Contact me if you’d like a matted print you don’t see on the page. I also have to code the page into my menus. Right now it’s an island, but i’m about to link it here: the Matted Prints for Sale Page

Prints Heading Out to Bernie Sanders’ Office

Prints ready for FedEx to Bernie Sanders' Office

I should be back tomorrow with a new image and some writing, but I’ll be heading out to FedEx soon to send off these prints to Washington DC to hang in Bernie Sanders’ office. I am a Vermont resident, and in fact have lived in Vermont more than anywhere else in my life, by far. (For the other part of my adult life, I’ve crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire for some stretches). So the news is that an intern from Bernie’s office contacted me requesting the loan of some images to hang in the DC office. I gave them various options, and in the end they picked these four, which of course are all Vermont images. They’ll be there for a year, and I’m pleased about it.

One thing that is interesting is that out of all of the range of papers I print on, these are all images I print on Epson Hot Press Natural paper, a creamy and velvety matte paper with a warm tone. I like this paper for infrared photos, because it tends to look more natural, and I sometimes like it for snow scenes because it gives a smoother rendering of images with a lot of high key or white in them. Two of the images are infrared, and the other two “normal” capture, one on black and white sheet film.

The images are:

Three Trees, South Strafford
This is an early exposure of mine, exposed to 4 x 5 film. I was a skinny young adult just out of college, schlepping a big view camera around. In my darkroom days I used to print it on a warm tone portrait paper, Agfa Portriga I think it was called, and then tone it hard with selenium. So I print it the same way now.
Three Trees, South Strafford Vermont

Haying in Progress, Barn, South Woodstock, Vermont
This was a day when I had a lot of time in this location, in South Woodstock, Vermont. A pleasant summer day, and I had time to pass. They did a lot of work on that hay field while I was there, and the clouds of course changed quickly and constantly. I made a lot of exposures with a normal camera and also the infrared camera. This one, from the infrared, is the one I’ve picked of them all as the best.
Haying and Barn, South Woodstock Vermont

Field of Dandelions and Barn
This is a conventional capture, printed as black and white. I’m very lucky to have this particular hayfield a short walk from my house. Most years, the dandelions go crazy. It’s a rare year though when there is a good bloom and seed-set like this, and also an opportunity to photograph the full display before the wind, a thunderstorm, or the hay-cutters take them down. I haven’t managed to photograph quite such a display in more recent years, when some changes in camera and lens choices would make it interesting to experiment. As it is, I’m not sure I could beat this one if given another chance:
Dandelions and Barn, Vermont

Spring Cornfield, Hay Field, Clouds, Hartland Vermont
This is also near my house, but in another direction. Within a half mile of this, I’ve probably made well over a thousand exposures in all seasons. It’s quite a spot. This is my only really famous image though, and doubly famous now. The first brush of fame is that the Boston Athenaeum bought this print, and then chose to display it (I had three prints hanging in the show, out of the dozen or whatever that they bought) — displayed it in a show of “recent acquisitions” last summer. It was a really great show, and I was honored to be hanging in it. It’s an infrared exposure, but it looks quite natural, I think.

Spring Cornfield, Hayfield, Hartland Vermont

Kandinsky Again

I don’t have a formula for composition, obviously. I like simplicity, I like abstraction. I like foggy mystery, but also piercing clarity. I’m happy enough sometimes to simply represent something interesting, but mostly I’m looking to move the eye around a space, and to move the mind with it. More and more (though I always have), I think of art as being a reflection of, or projection of, mind. Mind doesn’t really have a form or shape or color, as any meditator or neuroscientist knows. But somehow I feel like a state of mind (always transitory and fleeting) can have a graphical representation. A lot of modern art is interesting to me not purely because of color and form, but because of Mind. Kandinsky is a different state of mind — when viewing the painting you are in a different state of mind — than say in front of a Rothko.

Photographing ice on a winter stream is always an opportunity to explore a lot of mental states, a lot of chances for simplicity, tranquility, and also more kinetic and energetic situations.

I like this one, for now, because it has about as much energy, form, texture, detail, as I dare squeeze into a photo. The eye moves around the image; it’s not a simple, settled thing. Like Kandinsky paintings, the mind can be this way too. It’s worth spending time with it, whether it is a Rothko or a Kandinsky.

This is a stream in New Hampshire that I particularly like to walk along, because there is a nice trail along it, and the stream is interesting — sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes even a waterfall. The stream is a mind of its own, moving through all the states and shapes and form that a real mind will, and always changing. In winter here, pretty much any day will be different from the next in terms of how a stream like this will look, and of course the light changes through the day too. It is as fleeting as a one day flower, a dandelion head in a breeze, a human mood or set of thoughts.

A winter swim, and a wet camera

Small waterfall in early winter, Vermont

This photo was exposed along a little stream I like to walk along, a few miles from my house, in December. I went back there on a colder day, after some much colder and much warmer weather, in the end of January. I fell through some ice, and dropped my secondary camera in the water a couple of feet deep. The camera turned out to be waterproof and undamaged! The lens that was on it, not so much.

The photo above I posted as an illustration to the story on The Online Photographer. That little waterfall was going to be my ultimate destination on the walk, but I never made it there. I kind of thought, in terms of putting the image on the site, “Yeah, right, another waterfall-stream photo.” But the quality of the water (I tried quite a few shutter speeds with the camera on the tripod, as I often do with moving water) is really just right. And every time I saw the photo, I liked it more and more. I still like it.

The photo is available as a pigment print here.

The full story is here, on The Online Photographer

I’ll have more photos posted here quite soon!

Printing Subtle Images — Harder Than it Might Seem

Four Morning Glories in Autumn

I’ve been printing a lot just lately. As I mentioned last week, I had a request from my senator’s office to send some prints to hang in their Washington DC office. So I’ve been printing for Bernie Sanders. He wants Vermont images. I’ve printed some of my most popular images, things I’ve printed a lot before. It’s gone well. But then I’ve been trying to push out some new work, as I always feel inclined to do in these circumstances. This printing has been harder than hard. I think sometimes people think a photographer just presses the shutter on the camera, click, and then to print you push a button, click again. Done. So easy. Who would pay for that?

I won’t talk about the camera and lens work, but I find that in some ways printing never gets easier, with some images. Indeed, as my aspirations grow, it just gets harder. I think in some ways the hardest of all are the moody, atmospheric images I’m working on a lot these days, which in some cases only have a relatively small area of sharp subject, and the rest are tones and subtle colors. I think that a more traditional landscape — everything sharp — is a whole lot easier. The detail and the “reality” of the subject distract a lot from other aspects of what is going on with tones and colors. Of course such a print still benefits from the work to get the tones all working. It is just more critical when the photo is more of a tone poem than a detail-subject.

I had been printing in the darkroom since the late 70s, and I got to be quite the craftsman after I took a couple of weeks of workshop given by John Sexton in 1982. He was working as Ansel Adams’ darkroom assistant at that time, and he taught us the craft as Ansel Adams was practicing it. Besides a lot of burning and dodging, paper choice and a lot of tweaking of chemistry were involved, and it took a long time to nail a final print in those days. I printed in the darkroom until about ’98, when I moved away from a darkroom and never had one of my own again.

At first, digital printing was even harder for me than darkroom printing. At first everything was out of control, and I couldn’t get a handle on it. I longed for the darkroom. Eventually I learned the characteristics of a handful of papers, how the ink works, most importantly calibration of monitor and printer profile. Still not easy. Sometimes pretty predictable. Sometimes surprisingly not so. I’ve spent quite a bit of time and expensive materials, but now I have a really nice print of this morning glory in autumn light on Canson Etching Edition paper.

I’ve been working on printing of the image above since mid-December, and I’ve just got prints I’m happy with today, finally. I’ll send one to Bernie.

A print, by being reflective, is a different kind of thing than glowing pixels on a monitor. The image above features some light coming through, the gold burst from the autumn foliage behind the top morning glory. I’ve got to get the paper to convey that sense. The colors are bright and vivid, but it’s tricky to keep it from looking like a cartoon. In some of my attempts it has been hard to keep it from being murky. This is a tricky one.

My first take on working on an image where color and tonal fidelity will usually be to try Canson Baryta paper. This was a complete failure for some reason. It was just too contrasty, and I couldn’t get the feeling to come across, even when reducing contrast in the file I fed the printer. Printing on more textured mat papers, like Canson Edition Etching opened the whole thing up better, less deep and made the light glow, but then there were other problems — color fidelity not as good, and also not a good “anchor” from the deeper tones. I find on some of my textured papers, even with a calibrated workflows, some colors get a little wilder and harder to control.

I had to make a file just for printing, and then tweak the file to get the print to work, a different file from what I display on the screen to look good. The goal I insist on is that the print and the image you see on screen will have the same impression.

Because I’m a masochist, I’m working on another one that is just as hard. I’m still not quite happy with the print of this one, but I’m working on it this afternoon. My target is to get it to work on Canson Rag Photographique, a smooth paper that is still distinctly papery, and which still conveys the open quality I’m looking for. Closing in on it I think.

New Beech Leaves, 2017

Eight Wordly Winds

Icicles on Cliff, Mt Ascutney Vermont

The last week has been an interesting one photographically, and of course it always is. To start, I had a very fruitful day early last week, where I exposed the image above. The light, ice, and snow were nice all day, and it wasn’t too cold to spend a 7 hour day out with the camera. I enjoyed it, and I think I made some other good exposures.

Before I move on, what about the same exposure rendered in black and white? Thirty five years ago, when I used 4 x 5 sheet film, it would be a no-brainer: of course it has to be black and white. But I find I love the subtle colors in the image above. A photographic friend once said of me that I make color photographs like I’m working in black and white (I’m not sure it was a compliment from him). But personally I’ll take it as a compliment. For me, form, texture, tone very often take precedence in deciding a composition, but lately color is a bigger influence as well. As an option, here it is below in black and white. I think I’ll put them both on the site for sale until it is clear which is better.

Icicles on Cliff, Mt Ascutney Vermont

Anyway, it was an interesting week, as I said. After this great camera day, I had a let down from a potential vendor of my work. We’ll still see about that. But it felt like a blow. And then I think the next day, or day after that, I got an out-of-the-blue email from the office of one of my Vermont Senators, Bernie Sanders. Yes, Bernie. They asked if I would be so kind as to let them hang some of my Vermont images in their DC office. Umm, yes, I would be flattered.

Then another camera day, yesterday. It was a promising camera day, beautiful new snow lacy on all the trees, some rime ice in some places, and nice ice over rivers and streams. The only problem was that about 2/3 of the way through my stamina and camera battery supply, I fell through some ice into a stream, about belly-button height or higher. I was too busy to take careful notes at that moment. The water was ice cold and running fast. It was all I could do to pull myself up on the ledge of ice. (I noticed later I scratched my hands and wrist in that endeavor.) I had a camera backpack and a side-bag full of gear. The side-bag was floating. All the gear stayed dry enough, except the micro four thirds Olympus, not my main camera, but I love it, and on it was a lens I love. They fell in the water as I tried to scramble out. I fished them out and am drying them, though I think the lens is a loss. Besides being quite miserable for some time until I got home and dry, I was pretty bummed out about that lens. The camera, we’ll see. It didn’t seem to take on much water, and it’s quite a weatherproof wonder.

Also this last week, my ancient car, which has had charging system trouble since November, has made it clear that it is still not working. I was nervous climbing up the riverbank to it, soaked through, in about 15 degree F temperatures, not 100% sure it would start. It did. Being that wet and not sure the car would start was damn scary. It’s an 18 year old Volkswagen, which I’ve really loved for all these years, my favorite car ever. But now I think it’s time to get rid of the damn thing.

So, ups, downs, and my mind continues along, stumbling and soaring, as it does.

One Buddhist teaching on this as aspect of life is formulated as “The Eight Worldly Winds,” or often, “The Eight Worldly Dharmas.” In life we sometimes get praise and sometimes blame. Sometimes fame, and sometimes its disrepute. We get things that we want, but then we lose them — we can’t keep anything permanently. So there is always gain and loss. Likewise with pleasure and pain.

Though obviously derived from the Buddha’s teachings, I’m not sure it was formulated and presented as this list of 8 pairs of opposites in his time. I’m guessing as a list it comes from the Nalanda period in India, around the ninth century, but I’m not a real scholar of this, and there is a lot of pseudo scholarship online.

Between the idea of the title of “The Eight Worldy Dharmas” vs “The Eight Worldly Winds,” I like the Winds better. Right at the start, you get the idea. There are these winds always blowing us around. We are pulled and pushed by our attraction, aversion, and ignorance. We can tend to go off to the races every time the winds blow, or we can train to understand that this is just what happens as humans in this world and take our seat to watch the display without getting quite so caught. I like this teaching, this view, because it is basically neutral. Of course, as humans, things happen and then we respond emotionally. No blame. It’s just that we’re better served if we place our allegiance with awareness rather than with the emotional tides.

To purchase prints:
The color version
Black and White