I have not been showing any work particularly during the pandemic. I’ve had some work remaining in some League of NH Craftsman galleries, and I think a lot of that is sold, so I’ve got to replenish work in those galleries. I’ve refreshed my work in Long River Gallery in White River Gallery.
I’ve been posting new work on my Mastodon account — a refreshing and better alternative to Twitter, especially for photography. It’s quite a passionate-about-photography online community. I’ve been much more daring, posting work that is more like sketches than fully formed and printed pieces. Somehow in that context I feel more comfortable doing that than anywhere else. Really, I’ve never liked to post work that is not “locked in” to an edit, including the paper I print it on. However, in recent years I’ve accepted that I will want to improve work and will do it actively — and it’s a shame to keep something locked into an interpretation when I’m seeing it better or have better capability to express it than I had in the past. It’s why I rarely do limited editions. Though I also understand the idea that the print is the print and will be the print — that’s the print. But anyway, I’m feeling flexible these days.
To find my photos on Mastodon you can use the hashtag #johnlehetphoto. I tag pretty much everything. And follow me. My current address on the Fediverse as of 3/10/23 is @[email protected]
Anyway, this upcoming show, for April. The theme the gallery wanted is Spring. So I have a range of spring interpretations, quite a lot of photos I’m considering and working with the trade-offs between the wide range of my work interpreting spring, versus the harmony between pieces. It is in a state of furious flux at the moment.
I’ve been rather behind on posting new photos to this blog, but I’ve got a digital ton of new stuff to put on here. Will do quite soon!
Edited this post to remove the stuff about turning the blog into a federated server. I was excited about Mastodon (still am, and I have deleted my Twitter account). There was no need for that plug in or publication of the blog to the fediverse automatically. I’ll post links on mastodon.
The Mastodon address for this photo blog is [email protected] if you want to follow it. I think. Just trying it out now!
It’s been an odd time, in so many ways. I’ll try to stick to photography instead of wandering off into the psychological and spiritual aspects of dancing with a time of uncertainty and drastic change. Oh, never mind. It’s all cut of the same cloth.
In my photography, as in so many aspects of my life and development, there have been kind of two modes. There’s plodding along, putting one foot in front of the other. Then there are sort of quantum jumps, where it’s a shift, and it’s hard to describe, but there is a big change that colors my work and vision for that period. I have tried to point out some of these as they happened in this blog, but there are a large handful, and they are often hard to describe. It can be really hard to describe, and sometimes hard to know what I’m experiencing or working with myself.
This kind of quantum shift can be triggered by a shift in my gear — a new format, new kind of camera, a new lens with a special character; in the old days a new film or paper or chemistry; these days also new software can shake up how I see.
Some of the biggest periods like this have nothing at all to do with gear. One such period I remember still has a big impact: I spent a lot of time for a period studying “Floating World” (Ukiyo-e) Zen inspired Japanese woodblock prints. They filled my mind. If I closed my eyes I saw them. And it changed the way I viewed the world and used a camera and printed.
The first time I really noticed this I was young, and I guess I was already in the power of this kind of a change-of-vision caused by taking up a 4 x 5 view camera and using big film. But the thing that threw me was a doomed love relationship, short but intense. And the world had a kind of clarity and light in a way I had never noticed seeing. I can remember some of the film exposures I made in that period. I’m not sure any of them were great photographs. The other thing about this is that a strong emotional experience can shift things, but it only counts in photography if you can get it down, make a print that conveys that transformation. Same with the “feeling” of some lens, whether vintage with character like say my Minolta 58/f1.2, or new with sparkling and advanced optics like one of the amazing new lenses coming out of Cosina/Voigtlander. It only counts if the whole chain from vision through exposure through print and frame and exhibit can work out.
Meditation experiences, especially some long retreats or pointing-out by true masters have also shaken my vision into new places at times. This is a more subtle but deep thing.
The impact of the pandemic has been altogether different. Without going through too much life detail, the pandemic knocked me on my butt. It was hard to bear all the suffering that was happening in the world, and that was obviously still going to come. My normal process of photography got stalled in terms of my usual flow ending up in prints that get framed and go to a gallery. Instead, some of the galleries that had the biggest collection of my work closed, and I had to pick up framed work and bring it home. I was obviously not traveling far afield, and in fact I rarely left home, a situation that is even more constrained as I am in limbo, waiting for a vaccine and watching now virus variants expand into the improving but still awful numbers of our sick population.
So what to do? I’ve been buried in my Lightroom catalog, the asset management system for all the digital files — some scans of film, mostly raw sensor data from all the cameras through all the lenses I’ve ever had. Instead of being distracted by every new direction I might have found myself pulled in, I am re-visiting my previous exposures. I’m looking hard at images from the past: what did I see when I tripped the shutter? Why haven’t I printed it yet? How does it work, or could it work? Often the result of this inquiry has been more severe cropping. I’ve always like panoramas, and as I know from my study of Oriental art, these skinny formats, whether vertical or horizontal, can both concentrate the impact of a compositional element, and also create a different play of space against form.
The flow is still interrupted. I’m not printing so much as looking and just touching these images, not pushing them all the way through to the printer. It feels unsatisfying in its lack of focus, clarity, and quick end result. The quantum realm, the space I have wandered into, is immense and without a single defining vision or end result. So many tones, textures, colors, forms, spaces; one kind of composition, vision, feeling — or a completely different one — hundreds and hundreds of times over. We can see why an artist chooses a focused, finite, tight project, a style, a “thing” to constrain all the possibilities.
Yes, I am pulling some work I really like out of this deep pocket; maybe some of it will be my best. But it’s a weird process, in a weird time.
When I was young and just taking photography seriously, I got a 4 x 5 view camera, and then for several years I only used that. Working with a view camera, you look at the composition on the ground glass before inserting the film holder, under a dark cloth. You get behind the camera and under the cloth, and the image is upside down and backwards, glowing on the glass. The whole experience is an abstraction. It’s no longer a sense of “There is a thing in front of my camera, and I will capture it.” (Of course one was never going to capture the thing, and photography is always working with an abstraction). But with the view camera, the picture upside down and backwards, the feeling is much more “There are forms and tones and textures on this glass glowing here in the dark.”
In those view camera days I had two lenses. One was expensive and very good; I think the other one was just as good really, if less fancy. And in those years I looked at the work of other photographers and saw sometimes a sort of glowy quality. Photographers I liked had it: of course Atget. But also some contemporary photographers showed it as well, like maybe some of Olivia Parker’s work. I thought it was something to do with the film, since my experience with lenses was so constrained. Of everything I learned in those old film days, my knowledge of lenses was the biggest hole; and now it is one of my obsessions. It’s only in these modern times that excellent vintage lenses have gotten relatively cheap, and very easy to adapt to a mirrorless digital camera. I can use any old lens on my modern camera (though it is harder to use cross brand modern lenses). I’ve come to know that glowy quality by the name “spherical aberration;” it shows up on some lenses at wide apertures. Usually it’s a negative characteristic. I’ll often think less of photos that show it a lot. I never had it on my old great lenses, or even my modern early digital transitional mediocre lenses. But in the right context, like be beauty of good bokeh blur, it can be a beautiful thing. I love the subtlety of the tones in this week’s image, and this glow works with it to fantastic effect.
Every year I photograph garlic scapes. My usual endeavor involves working with these plants during the brief window as the scapes are coming up and the roses are blooming nicely. I discovered I can do things like this:
The roses peak a little earlier than the scapes, so it’s brief. The roses get a bit ratty while the scapes are still providing interesting forms and textures. So I photograph them without any roses sometimes. But up to now I had been thinking without the color of the blurred bokeh roses in the background, that these scapes without roses were perhaps less. But no. And maybe the scapes alone were too abstract? Again, no. (I have an awful lot more good exposures of this theme with and without roses than I have published on the site).
Back in those view camera days when I looked at the image as an abstract of form and tone, I mostly carried sheets of black and white film, and so I trained myself hard to only see in black and white, or more accurately, the many tones of gray in between black and white. I’ll save it for other posts how my eye evolved to see color, but the surprising thing is that I no longer see in black and white as my primary vision. Form, tone, texture, movement of the eye through the composition, sure, just like before but better. Those gray tones though I usually see later when working on the computer. This was no exception. But when I saw it: Bam! That’s it.
So I have a lot more of these, million shades of subtle gray toned abstracts of garlic in the garden. This year I am not traveling or even starting the car very often; the COVID-19 Trump pandemic keeps me home.
I’ve been working hard on the inner workings of this website, re-writing most of the 2000 or so lines of CSS that control the layout and behavior of these pages. Now that it’s done, I can add more images to the site, maybe cull some too. Stay tuned, stay safe, check back!
In the Tibetan Buddhist context in which I practice, hope and fear are considered to be essentially two sides of the same coin. I don’t know the original Pali Canon teachings well enough to know if the teaching goes all the way back through Buddhist history. I assume so.
From the point of view of ego clinging, hope and fear are so closely related they might as well be the same thing.
To be clear, this is not about the kind of hope that might be connected with a larger view of compassion: May all beings have happiness and the root of happiness May all beings be free of suffering and its causes etc
Compared to greater aspirations of compassion, normal hope is inextricably connected to apprehension. I want things to work out for me. I don’t want to lose what I have. The “I” in those sentences is doing a lot of work. There is a kind of an “I” that Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls the “Mere I,” but our normal “I” is more or less made out of hope and fear. The hope that I get what I want and get to keep everything together is essentially the same as the fear that I will lose it, not get what I want. Take a step back and they are the same, but get caught in them and they seem to have very different flavors. Being caught in hope or fear obliterates a greater awareness, a bigger view, whichever flavor manifests.
So now in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the balance has shifted from hope toward fear in general. Certainly it has for me. By now the fear is less acute — social distancing has helped a lot and in general we feel safer than we did at first, maybe, depending on where we live, our situation.
When I’m not caught in the fear of our current time — and make no mistake, sometimes I am — I find it’s oddly a bit helpful to have shifted a little bit from hope, at least in my photography.
I may have mentioned that some of the most fruitful times in my development as a photographer have been in times when I had little hope that making exposures would yield anything, when working with a camera was more of a pure exploration, more like play. I think most of my worst pictures were from the time I was most serious, when I used a view camera and big film and worked in my own darkroom. Though I have well over a hundred pounds of silver-infused paper and film, I have few images made that way posted on my website now. By contrast I made great progress in the time when I had no darkroom and digital cameras were new and sucked so badly that there was no chance of making a great print or selling something from that work. It was freeing and fun. As digital cameras got better, and then really good, the continuum of hope-for-success has shifted with the quality. And make no mistake, with the better cameras and the better (and sometimes quite old) lenses I’m using now, better results are easier to come by. I just have to keep some sense of that freedom, stepping back from some kind of hope for fruition. Right now, with the world imploding, that hope is easier to let go of.
Hope does sometimes put wind in the sails, it keeps one going. In a pursuit like photography — a mix of the worldly and the realm of light and mind and awareness — hope sometimes makes the whole thing possible on a long term basis. But it also blocks the light of open possibility. Hope stands in front of the lens like a big oaf. Hope gets behind you like a big oaf and gives you a shove forward. It’s up to us to keep our balance after that shove, to move so it’s not blocking our vision.
Now, in this dark time, all the galleries are closed. Who knows when they will be open, when people will feel brave enough to go in them and have money to spend on prints? And still I work on photography, more free from the burden of hope. Sometimes I spend time — lots and lots of hours these days pass uncounted — hiding from the fear in the realm of glowing pixels, looking through my lightroom catalog, seeing what potential I can tease out of images already exposed.
I care less about the current state of art photography. I am enjoying making beautiful photos these days, though I make other kinds. But what I need, and what I’m happy to bring into the world, is something very beautiful. It’s a different emphasis for sure.
I think of “How to Cook Your Life,” the Zen book by Uchiyama and Dogen.
In this book, after some discussion of how food might be prepared by the cook in the monastery, Uchiyama describes the existential situation. We don’t know what will happen in the night, and yet the cook prepares for the meal the next day.
“In preparing the meal for the following day as tonight’s work, there is no goal for tomorrow being established. Yet our direction for right now is clear: prepare tomorrow’s gruel. Here is where our awakening to the impermanence of all things becomes manifest, while at the same time our activity manifests our recognition of the law of cause and effect.”
Right now we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We keep working if we can.
These times — facing the pandemic — are shaking everything up. As with all suffering, the sharp point of this current period in the world brings us to change, uncertainty, a lot of emotional material, and literally existential questions — and the chance for a kind of waking up. Any of us might die from this COVID-19 virus unless we are children. We might lose parents or other loved ones. We face economic catastrophe. Everything we have known is subject to change, and that change is upon us.
To this Buddhist, that paragraph above is not so far out of the ordinary view of things: everything is impermanent, subject to change. Our solid sense of the world is a delusion; it is all more like sand than rock. We could die at any time. Still, facing change of this magnitude is in fact different for most of us. To paraphrase Pema Chodron — I don’t remember which talk or book this comes from — “We all know we are going to die. But it’s different when you are really facing it.”
So what do we do, what do I do, facing this degree of change and uncertainty, fear, anger, and other strong emotions? In part, we keep on through the day, doing what we need to do. We practice kindness as much as possible. But it’s also important to feel what we feel to the extent of our capacity. The emotional states triggered by our current situation of an unstoppable pandemic are not going to be pleasant, but it’s also important to appreciate moments that are OK. The waking up opportunity of a time like this, as all times, is in the balance between experiencing fully to the extent of our capacity while not going numb in overwhelm or denial.
In my life there have been some extended breaks in which I have thrown myself into the pursuit of samsara, lost my pursuit of awakening. But really, waking up has been my life’s work, and I’ve tried to impart this transmission to everyone. As a parent, I almost always tried to keep a view that I was passing along a flame of awareness. In all my relationships I try to keep a sense of awakeness. I am beyond grateful for everyone in my life who has been willing to share this awake presence with me. Anyway, this moment brings me to a point. I’m trying to be fully aware before I die.
This is a photography blog, and I am a photographer. So what am I doing in this realm? Outlet for my work is very minimal, with a contracting economy, gallery visits down to near zero. Throughout last year I worked with great purpose toward putting prints into the physical world. This time is different. I don’t work on a piece with the sense that it will be hanging on a wall soon. I just do it.
I have more time to devote to the “darkroom” side of my work, time I didn’t have while printing, framing, and matting. I am working like mad. And for what purpose? Because it is what I do, what I do best. And I think the new work is getting better very quickly in this time of the sharp-point.
Doing the photography is a bit funny. According to my beliefs, my practice, we should fully feel, experience life fully. But this is sometimes too much for me. The news is dark, I am angry at our leaders for not taking timely action and for lying to us, which has led to this being a catastrophe from which many Americans will die. I am furious that Trump did not take action when he first knew, adopting an approach of wishful thinking instead of decisive and informed action. I am afraid I will lose people I love, that I will not get to see my friends for an extended period — and maybe never again. I am frustrated that there is so little I can do to help the world. So yes, it is important to feel these things, but also it is good to take a break from them. I lose myself in my work, long periods refining my Lightroom catalog and working on images in photoshop. It’s part of the balance, being awake — but not being overwhelmed.
Anyway, I’ve gone on too long. I’m excited about my new work. I’m working on a lot more of it. I’m grateful to all who have shared my spark of awareness and put theirs next to mine. Two matches together make a bigger flame. May you all be well.
Well, I’ve more or less lost what I used to think of as my sanity several times before. In this case I won’t talk about that, but all the new images I just put up. I’ve been really pent up in terms of working up new images. I’ve started printing them too. I’m working with the photo black ink on Canson Baryta paper, and next I’ll work on more textured papers with the Matte Black (there is some overhead to switch). So this is the biggest dump onto the site at once I think I’ve ever done. Madness.
I won’t go through them all here, but a few of the “semi-panoramas.” As I mentioned in another recent blog post, these are aggressive crops from (usually) high resolution sensor cameras to achieve a strip crop composition — a different kind of space to work in. So rather than make exposures in an arc to include a vast landscape, this is more like so, a vertical (I still need to work on the website to get these verticals to size gracefully for a screen without scrolling on the real web pages):
And another vertical: a Dicentra flower with a bokeh fiddlehead in the background:
OK, I also added several in more standard format, like this bucket of sunflowers
And this infrared photo of a four way foot bridge in Iceland
I have mentioned the big framing project, but allow me to introduce the photos. I’ve finally put them up for sale on the site (for 2020 they will be on the new work page) and I’ve also printed some smaller prints of images that went back and forth for this project but ended up not hanging, and put those on the site today.
The Red Jacket Inn in North Conway has my photos hanging in every guest room (at least I think they are all hanging by now.) Each of the hundred and fifty rooms has a small color image, all of them this one:
In the hotel those above are all square in 11 x 11 frames. On my site it is the full crop, a rectangle, but I have square prints as well. It is on Canson Edition Etching Paper.
Then every room has a 19 inch square black and white print in a 30 x 30 frame. Printing and selling them without the constraint of the hotel room design, I’m opting to print some of these as a full crop instead of the square hanging in North Conway. As with the Rose Hips in Snow, above, these can be seen and purchased in North Conway at the North Conway Fine Craft Gallery in much smaller format as matted prints. If you stay at the Red Jacket Inn, you’ll get to live with just one below. Other prints of mine are available at the Gallery as well, framed in maple.
The big black and white prints at the hotel are these:
Then there were a few more I worked up and printed at a large size. I have these available at smaller sizes on the site:
I’ve been rather pent up in creating new work. I’ve been working with a camera quite a bit less in recent months as I’ve been so busy with production, with the business of selling photographs. However, my method of “tickling” interesting images from my catalog is relentless, popping images into my awareness and compelling some attention.
I’ve done panoramas for several years, compelled at first by the prospect of getting more resolution from my early digital cameras, and also to include broad landscapes in places like Iceland. I printed them large, both because I had the resolution and often the sense of space demanded it. It made a canvas with opportunity to create both a sense of big space and also a play with negative space, emptiness. Here are a few of my panoramas that have made great big prints and demonstrating these principles:
But besides my approach to panoramas that is more “traditional” to photography, I have, since I can remember, appreciated panoramas in Oriental art. I think some of that comes through in both of these, the negative space in the top one, the overall composition of the bottom one.
Both Chinese and Japanese art has understood for millenia that a panorama image affords a different kind of visual pattern from a rectangular image. The eye moves differently, and therefore so does the mind, the emotional resonance. It’s easy to find:
and Japanese (Hiroshige):
In the above, Hiroshige example, another important point is introduced: a vertical panorama composition. Very effective in a lot of oriental art.
So, the thing I’ve been working on is that since I’ve had high resolution cameras, I have enough resolution to create a panorama without stitching multiple exposures. I can re-vision images that I made as a rectangular image. And of course in photography all I can capture is the rectangle, even if what I see of interest is a square or a more narrow area of interest or composition, a sub-rectangle. I don’t print these as large. I’m calling them “semi-panos” to designate that they are from one file, whether a medium or high resolution file. I won’t print them as large — some of my panoramas could be quite large, especially with my newer large format printer. But what I’m working on is more intimate, and will be printed smaller.
I’ve already printed a few in the last year:
I don’t have these below for sale on the site, or really fully realized in many cases, but I’m growing a large collection I’ve already cropped and flagged to work on. In process:
Well, all fall I’ve been framing. The Red Jacket Inn in North Conway NH has purchased 304 framed photographs from me. So this has rather constrained my time. Far less camera time and time working up new photos — I just can’t let that be my priority. So that’s where I’ve been, oh loyal blog readers. Framing.
Several things have been interesting about this time! For one thing, I’m getting really good at framing. Just six months or so ago I would rather freak out any time I had to frame a large print. Now, though not without occasional frustration, it’s just something to move through. I’ve gone from completely dreading framing to almost enjoying it, o r even actually enjoying it. (Recently I’ve gotten a newer computer, which makes photography work much more enjoyable — however the new MacOS, Catalina, has broken some of my geekier development aspects. I have spent some time wrestling with coding and maintaining a development environment, moving some functions from using Ruby to using Node, etc, and I have to say that most of the time I’m doing that I would rather be framing!)
I’ve moved a tremendous amount of material, probably close to literally a ton of glass. If I do a job like this again I will have to remember that administration becomes a huge part of it. Counting stuff, moving stuff, keeping track of everything. That part of it becomes non trivial on this scale!
Another interesting thing is much much harder to explain. Usually when I’m working with photography there is an interplay between some kind of visionary call in my mind and spirit, technology (lenses and such), and then whatever in the external world is calling my eye. These three influence each other and either push together or pull on each other. There is a range between full synergy and one aspect becoming completely dominant.
I’m finding in these framing days, with far less time with a camera in my hands, it’s kind of funny that a pressure from the vision is emerging. There is a sort of dreamy background vision of imaginary photographs that want to be born. It’s hard to explain. It’s very abstract, not a sense of a particular object I would like to photograph, usually. It’s sort of a feeling and dance of dark and light and texture and energy. I’m realizing how often it gets lost in the distraction of actually working with images on the sensor and equipment and the duality of object and camera. One manifestation of this vision simmering away is a kind of Rembrandt-like light-within-dark. More like a vague dream than anything I can explain. Light within dark.