Exciting New Project – “Semi-panos”

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:

One Cow, Thirteen Haybales, Iceland
One Cow Thirteen Haybales, Iceland

and

Rock Puddle and Connecticut River Foliage Reflections Panorama

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:

Chinese

and Japanese (Hiroshige):

Hiroshige Woodblock

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:

New Ice and Birch Reflections Semi-Pano
Eight Birch Reflections, Autum, Leaf Splash Circle

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:

Bogged down and moving forward

Framed large prints
A bunch of 30 x 30 inch frames with 19 x 19 prints

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.

Ok, back to the framing room!

Onward From The Fair

Foot Bridge White Mountains
Foot Bridge in White Mountains

Well. It sure has been a long time since an entry. A wild long time. Some big things happening have kept me from posting here, but I’ve just added six new photos to the site on my New Photos Page. These new ones are some of the many pieces I worked up in the frenzy of printing for the fair. Something about the possibility of having an audience to see real prints sends me into a frenzy of creativity, and I always want to make new prints when my focused task should be to make prints I already know are good. The more focused I am on something I’m supposed to do, the more I want to do something else, like work on new photos or old files newly rediscovered. I ended up making a much greater diversity of work than I was able to show in my 10 x 10 booth — wall space and two flip bins. I’ve been working through the backlog of that frenzy ever since. I have a lot of prints to put away, or mount, or frame. They are on shelves in my work space, and I need that space. The one above is not from the pre fair frenzy though, but from the following bit of context:

These days I’m working up about 300 prints for a hotel in North Conway, New Hampshire. There will be about a hundred and fifty 19 x 19″ prints framed in 30 inch frames, and the same number in 11 x 11 frames. I’m doing the framing as well! The photo above is one of the 19 x 19 prints, and I’m quite pleased with it. Most of the images are from older exposures, but this one is from a trip to the White Mountains right after the Sunapee fair, a decompression trip. It is exposed on my

For this project I’ve been upgrading some of my production infrastructure to good effect. I’ve added an Epson P7000 printer in order to be able to make big prints without out-sourcing those bigger than I used to be able to print myself (with a limit of 17 inches for maximum width before). I’ve also added a wall mounted glass cutter, which also can cut board to size (not bevels), so my framing just go a lot quicker and less frustrating, especially as regards cutting glass.

The latter device is an interesting intersection with denial. I don’t fully understand why I didn’t allow myself to get it before. I’ve wasted the cost of the device in broken glass in the past few years, not to mention the time and tears, setting up and then breaking a large sheet of expensive Tru Vue glass. I don’t fully understand, which is the nature of denial, but I guess I always thought I was getting better at cutting glass. This time it would work out. Last time it sort of worked out, right? I had to cut right through that denial nonsense about the glass cutting though. Breaking a lot of expensive glass would destroy me in a job this size.

More soon! I’ll take a break from framing and printing to write some more.

Sunapee Fair in Full Swing

John Lehet's Sunapee booth
My booth, 111 in Tent 1

I was wrong last week: I am not in booth 10, but booth 111!

I’ve been getting good response. I guess my best complement, not meant as such, was when a guy asked me what I do to make my images different from anything he’s ever seen before. Considering I’m showing a broad range of my work and representing all years (you can’t see in this photo, but I have a very big print in the back from a scan of 1981 4 x 5 sheet film and printed on my brand new Epson p7000 huge honking printer.) I’ve been finding that the big prints are getting a lot of the most serious attention.

The best thing, best thing of all has been the kindness of friends and strangers. My friends and family have been supportive in ways that melt me, and my fellow artists and crafts-people have also been kind to a somewhat surprising degree.

Come visit me at the fair!

Coming up! Sunapee Craft Fair!

Trees and Fog After Ice Storm

I’ll be in booth 10 in tent 1 from August 7 through 11. Please come say hi!

The above image is one of many new ones that I’ll have with me as prints, an image I’ve never had hanging before. It’s hard to keep track of all the images I’ve got framed and matted, but I’ve been busy putting stuff together. My problem/virtue is that in the context of preparing for something like this I get very inspired to work on more images. I don’t know why this happens — I guess there is a space for the new visions to pour into. No show, and it seems that space isn’t there.

I’ve also been distracted by getting up to speed on my new Epson P7000. A client wants quite a few large prints, so it was worth getting the behemoth that can handle them. It should be a slight improvement in some ways in my future prints, though I’ll keep my old printer for as long as it runs. I’m finding that some papers and tones on some papers look a bit different on the new ink set, some better possibilities but also sometimes hard to hit the same notes with the same files using manufacturer’s profiles. At least some of the Canson profiles are a little different. Paper handling is certainly a big difference. I’ve got some 24″ wide rolls here and more on the way for my usual paper stock, so I’ll be making some bigger prints.

As usual, time is the big constraint in this life. It’s funny, somehow we feel there is not enough time. But we swim in an infinite ocean of time. It’s like a fish in the ocean saying there isn’t enough water. You know the feeling of not enough. I hope you also know the feeling of infinite space. I’m trying to remember to touch in with it.

Weeds

Jewelweed, Monarda, Dew
Jewelweed, Mondarda, Dew

I’ve been fascinated by weeds for a long time, as a gardener, as a landowner, as a meditator. Weeds pop up with such exuberance, live in spite of all odds with strength and fortitude. We might consider them “bad,” but that is just a matter of perspective. They are often very beautiful in their way, and have virtue whether growing or as compost.

The photo above features the mid summer phase of Jewelweed, also known as “touch me not” because of it’s exploding seed pods. I remember seeing it at my grandmother’s farm as a child; back then it was both beautiful to me and providential, as it grew along the shady creeks I used to like to explore while looking for salamanders and frogs. In the right kind of ground and a bit of shade, it grows like mad. It is extremely beautiful in all phases of its life, with leaves that collect dew in an interesting way, luminous semi-transparent stems, and orange flowers with different phases from bud to seed. I wonder if I would plant it on purpose if it didn’t come up on its own. Of course it is a weed, we must pull most of it, even if we’ll never get it all. And then in the background of this photo the clear red in the background is Monarda, Bee Balm, which we consider a garden plant and not technically a weed. You can buy Bee Balm at the garden center. But it is as weedy as the jewelweed. They both create a beautiful display with only the effort of keeping them somewhat contained and not displacing more fragile forms of life.

As a gardener, of course, I fight weeds, but it is co-existence more than a battle I win. I will never eradicate all weeds. I only have so much time, strength, and stamina to cut and pull them. So there are always weeds in my garden. And as a photographer, sometimes I consider them to be a blessing as well as a curse. They can be beautiful in their way. I have also come to bad places by indulging weeds for too long, letting them slide because they have beauty. My garden now is plagued with years worth of seeds from White Campion and Johnny Jump Ups, plants I considered to be harmless and beautiful. I did not fight them much for some years, so they have put down so many seeds and are really hard to eradicate. I now I consider them a higher priority ongoing problem.

As a long term meditator I also have dealt with the idea of “mind weeds.” I remember reading a passage from Suzuki Roshi a long time ago, long before I really knew what he was talking about. If you work with an awareness practice directly with mind for a while, it is clear though. We want some kind of purity of mind, but what we encounter is instead our actual mind, often more like a monkey’s mind than any ideal one might start out with. The Suzuki Roshi quote comes from a talk in 1965: “We say ‘pulling out the weed’.  We make it nourishment of the plant.  We pull the weed and bury the weed near the plant to make it nourishment of the plant.  So even though you have some difficulty in your practice….even though you have some waves while you are sitting, those weeds itself will help you.  So we should not be bothered by the weeds you have in your mind.  We should be rather grateful to the weeds you have in your mind because eventually will enrich your practice.” A version of this came up later, from Chogyam Trungpa, just as provocative; at the time I first heard it, I also didn’t know exactly what the meaning was behind his pithy words: “No neurosis, no enlightenment.” Really he is saying something a lot like his friend Suzuki Roshi. Our actual life, our actual experience is the path. There is no other path.

The idea in working with mind, as in a garden, as in all of our life — where unwanted circumstances always arise with the vigor of weeds — we take this all as the path itself. There is no other life than this imperfect life, no other garden than this one with weeds.

The Continuing Evolution of Printing and Seeing

Hawaii Wave and Mist
Hawaii Wave, Mist, and Cliff

This is one of the oldest digital images on my site, and I’ve finally developed my eye and abilities to print it in a way that pleases me very much. When I look back at the time after I made this exposure, over a dozen years ago, this digital file serves as a sort of signpost, stationary through moving time and change. It’s the same image, but everything has changed, including how the image manifests on paper.

At the time I opened the shutter, seasick on a boat, to let some Hawaiian misty light onto that relatively crude DSLR sensor, I was a different photographer and a very different printer. I probably see everything differently from that time — my vision has developed overall along with my mind and life and practices. But my printing has developed quite a lot; I hesitate to say it has changed the most of all in my photography of all the ways I see.

When I was new at digital printing I got a high-ish end Epson pro grade printer and some fine art paper. I was looking for sharpness. I did not yet have good control of color, of how to get the color in my mind and on the screen to show up on the paper. Besides the technical details of evolving a color managed workflow, I think it had to do with fear. I was wasting expensive paper and ink, and rarely getting it right, so I lacked courage to just assert my vision. It’s a little hard to explain, but if you look at Van Gogh’s brush strokes up close in a museum, they are very brave. I had some courage before that in the darkroom, but probably not as much as I have now. Early ink-jet printing I had very little courage.

Early in my photography I had an epiphany about the malleability of photography as a medium. I was in college, working a very little bit in the college pottery in stolen moments and the darkroom in other stolen moments, and also as extra curricular reading trying to understand a book about the Zone System for black and white photography. Maybe the book wasn’t so good. Partly, as a Dartmouth student, it was hard to find bandwidth in stolen moments like that. Then one night I had a dream where the negative was conflated with the pottery clay — it was malleable like that, could be bent and worked. It was like I could smush the tones around with my fingers. Darkroom photography is far less tangibly squishy than digital photography is — you have to work methodically for any departures from defaults. I think that dream changed everything. Sometimes that happens in my photography — I’l have a dream about something strange that is in the realm of photography, and then I see differently. I still have a back-burner project I’m working on based on a dream with yellows and form and texture a few years ago.

A couple of years later from that struggle with the zone system I did a workshop with Ansel Adam’s then-assistant, John Sexton, where we got to learn Ansel’s technique and see prints of his develop from straight print all the way through final print as he changed paper, chemistry, dodging, and burning. So I worked that way in the darkroom after that more than I had before, the Zone System very clear — with more courage in my brush strokes as it were.

So anyway, over a decade later, I’m revisiting this print above with amazing results. I actually had a print I had made over a decade ago of this image in my tiny office, flopping around clipped to a 16 x 20 mat board, in the way. It wasn’t on the wall, one of those things I just really should put away — it was in the way. But I think I kept it out, maybe, so it could work on me, provoke my dissatisfaction so I could evolve. I was not completely satisfied with it. I liked it, but… but… but…

I guess in some way I had been pulling back the string of a bow. Tension. I was developing my technique and vision. So a couple of weeks ago I just let the arrow fly from that bow and re-imagined the way this gets printed. I don’t know if I kept the old file or remember exactly what I changed in the color and tones, but I know in the printing I moved from a semi-gloss paper, probably the baryta paper I often favor for some prints, to an etching paper surface. Something about the way this Canson Etching paper takes these colors and renders these tones and details. Wow.

Direct Experience, Not Conceptual

Flowering Trees, Tulips, and White Hat
Flowering Trees, Tulips, and White Hat, 2019

I’ve just made some spectacular prints of this new photo on Canson Aquarelle Watercolor paper. The 15 x 20 print is especially drop-dead gorgeous, but they all are good. Purchase here.

One commonality between my practice of photography and practice/experience of Buddhist meditation is a practice and aspiration to experience directly and non-conceptually. This applies to perceptions, emotional experience, logical process, physical sensation. It’s a trick that will take a lifetime. I won’t go into the Buddhist philosophy and practice behind this, assuming you are on the site for photography. And there are better Buddhist teachers than me.

So in photography, a conceptual approach might be fine. Many photographers have succeeded with a conceptual basis for their approach. In my opinion, quite often these often fail. There are photos in major modern photography galleries of, say, a tree with cheese doodles stuck around the trunk with toothpicks. Then in the blurb it will say the artist is exploring the post-industrial relationship to nature, or something like that. It doesn’t work for me, but then they are in those galleries and I am not, and probably won’t be.

I find though that as I work in any situation different levels of conceptual approach, in one way or another, will creep in. I think ideally working with a camera might be like a master jazz musician improvising on an instrument, that kind of transparency, being able to instantly hit the notes without thinking about it. The musician might think, “what if I went into that dark key right here?” — and that is a kind of conceptualizing that works in the service of the playing. I will think, “What if I tried that old Olympus 90 at a wide aperture?” — and I know what kind of a “key” I will be playing in then. You’ve got to think, think on your feet. Just don’t over-think and make it a formula or purely a concept.

So in the case of the photo above, I had gotten to some extent into the conceptual weeds. I was working with this composition: the branch of the flowering tree in the foreground with a shallow depth of field, the tulips and large background flowering tree beyond the focal plane. Trouble is that people kept coming into the composition, sometimes looking good with umbrellas, sometimes with that clunky tourist vibe. I was usually waiting for them to pass out of whatever frame I had. I had come to be pretty boxed in by the concept of what I thought I wanted to be working with. But then this woman popped into my viewfinder — the orange shirt echoing the tulips, looking up, the round hat perfect. I wish I had been able to work more quickly and fluidly with her there. I did what I did, and I was glad to have made this and a few other exposures of that situation.

A Tale of Two Exhibits

Railroad Track and Old Switch Hardware

Ah, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It has been a busy rough stretch framing up about 37 prints now hanging between two shows: one at the EverSource corporate headquarters in Manchester, NH and one at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH.

One of my personal goals for these shows was simply to frame up some good work to have as inventory for the Lake Sunnapee crafts fair next August, so I made them completely different. The Eversource show is something of a “best of” show, some older work that I know is solid. The Dartmouth-Hitchcock show was a chance to stretch out. In fact, since I had a show of similar size there in 2015, I am hanging all new work that hadn’t hung there last time (including the image above).

Hanging a show is hard and exhausting, partly just the work of doing all the framing and matting, but then also at least I personally go through a kind of creative thrash. I’ve got a blank slate, and I can fill it with anything. That makes me start printing up new pieces like crazy. I have a lot of new work, a lot of stuff I didn’t even squeeze into this vast space I was given. I probably squeezed prints tighter, not giving them enough space to breath, because I wanted to hang so much. There are a lot of images waiting in the wings and still getting worked up. So that’s kind of an interesting process, and strangely different from my process when I’m not hanging a show.

Usually, if I’m not hanging a show, I’m excited about making exposures, but then I have a hard time printing up new work. The Photo of the Week is usually meant to put some pressure on myself to come up with something new, and it’s often hard. All of the huge backlog of work I’m excited about suddenly looks not good enough, when it’s time to pull one out for the Photo of the Week. And part of that has to do with the way I pair writing with the images. I will admit that over 70% of the time, I would guess, the photos I post on this blog happen because I’ve got something in my mind to write about, and there may be an image tied to the writing or one that fits somehow.

Hanging all the framed pieces on the empty walls is different: pure visual, no writing. I think that works actually better to grease my creative gears, even if writing may be part of my process as well. After all these years, it’s a mystery.

I’m thinking I will post a web page showing at least the Dartmouth Hitchcock show soon-ish, after I finish my taxes.

Anyway, check out one of these two shows if you can. They both hang for the next couple of months.

New Show, Manchester NH

Tentative layout

This is just a short post/announcement, not my usual ramblings.

Yesterday I drove to Manchester NH to the EverSource corporate headquarters to deliver some photos. Ten photos, and actually none of it is newer work. In the first week of April I’ll hang a larger show at Dartmouth Hitchcock hospital in the same gallery I had a show a few years ago. I’m not hanging any of the same work (in the huge space), so this EverSource show had the pieces selected by default, sort of — work that wasn’t in the Hitchcock show. It’s something of a Greatest Hits Oldies show I guess.

This show happened through an invitation from the League of New Hampshire Crafts, who works with EverSource.

The interesting thing about hanging it was that it was professionally hung by Frank Graham, who does this for a living. I’ve never met a professional art-hanger before, so that was interesting. He’s a great guy, full of interesting stories, and also an old time darkroom/view camera user, as I was. Like me, he even used infrared sheet film a lot back in the old days, as well as a polaroid back that produced negatives as well as positives. Lots to talk about! And interesting that he gave the pieces so much space in this big room and nice space.

Anything not sold in this show (I don’t expect to sell very much in this corporate space) will be wall inventory for my booth at the Sunapee Fair, where I’ll have a booth in tent #1 from August 7 – 10. I’m also going to give an artist talk at EverSource, as yet unscheduled. So stay tuned for that.

Part of the large curved wall…