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.
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.
As a meditator, I’ve spent a lot of hours sitting on my butt and not-doing. Sometimes that is a very hard thing to do (or not do). The value though is to cultivate another side of our experience: being.
Lately I’ve been gearing up and rather overwhelmed by all that I have to actually do. I have a lot of prints to make, a lot of framing and matting, a couple of shows to conceptualize, which are due to hang all to soon.
So now when I sit to meditate I’ve got that itchy got-to-do-some-things feeling that is the bane of every beginning meditator and sometimes well seasoned ones as well, as I’m discovering.
So of course I’m writing this here because it relates to photography. As a photographer, you’ve got to “do.” If you didn’t have a camera with you, no photographs would happen. You’ve got to use the thing, and maybe you are even hauling lenses around, making a special trip, using a tripod — and then all the other work of sorting, evaluating, maybe printing matting and framing if you want those photos to escape the confines of a monitor and spend some time out in the physical world. Lots of work, lots of doing.
But the thing is, there is also some pure being that seems to be involved. In fact as a young man looking at successful photographs of famous photographers in galleries and art books, what struck me often in the most successful ones was a quality of presence. The photographer fully inhabited some kind of mood, situation, manifestation of light, life, humanity, experience, even maybe something like “transcendence.” Qualities like insight and wisdom, wit, brilliance manifested in those photos, and those don’t come just from doing. They are coming from someplace else.
This is why working with a tripod is sometimes helpful. It slows you down. You stand there with your camera ready, you might work with it quite busily, but there is also some extra time and space in the situation. But the time is not so linear when working with a camera, and fully being is not a linear function like a physical commodity. You can fit a lot of that being into the moment before the shutter trips, while it trips, and just after. That moment stretches out and pulls from eternity, pulls some eternity into our experience.
Maybe, through some balance of being and doing, you can pull some eternity out of wherever it lives and get it to bleed out through what you make in with that balance. Whatever it is you can manifest with that balance, doing and being, can manifest qualities beyond pure commodity and show insight, wit, wisdom, compassion, humanity and bring some non linear value and eternity into a ticking clock commodity world.
First, let me get out of the way that I don’t mean to write about “clarity” as a slider in Photoshop, Lightroom, or other post-processing software. I will digress and write about that a little bit to get it out of the way. Also, to clarify: I did not use this slider or effect on this image. If I ever do use it, it is very sparing.
That post-processing form of “clarity” is a subtle to not-subtle distortion of tonal values. The effect changes the tone not just at the edge, as “sharpening” algorithms do. It changes a whole block of tonality, which may have the effect of changing our perception of the detail of an image. While it is sometimes helpful, I tend to not like it or its over-use very much. The resultant images often look “crunchy” and over-wrought. Here is an interesting example of it, which I often show to students if I’m teaching Lightroom or Photoshop. First, a set of pure tones, unprocessed. We may perceive edge effects just because of the way we are wired, but the tones are solid:
Next, here is the same set of tones with “clarity” applied in Adobe Lightroom:c
You can see above that the sense of edges between the tones is enhanced, but the purity and actual clarity of the tones is distorted in favor of a sort of 3-d effect here. The clarity slider – be careful!
The clarity I think about is our perceptual clarity, how we see, a quality of one’s mind.
In the path of becoming a decent photographer, there are stages in developing clarity of vision.
First off, it’s a challenge to see what the world looks like instead of what one imagines it to be. This is the primary challenge: seeing through our own preconceptions. There is so much to see in any scene in front of our eyes, and instead of doing our best to really look at it, as a baseline, we are content to seeing a bit and then creating our own fantasy image of what we see. We might not really see the shape of a tree, but instead we are satisfied that it has a trunk and then some leaves, as a child will often draw a tree as a brown stick with a green circle on top. Light, shadow, shapes, texture; it’s a lot of work to see what’s really there, and we don’t make the effort unchallenged.
The second stage of gaining some clarity as a photographer is actually seeing what is in the viewfinder, and imagining what that looks like as a flat thing – a photograph. The common example is making a portrait whenthe subject has a tree or pole in the background. In a print it will look like the pole is growing out of the subjects head — or at least it is a distracting break from the shape of a person and a head, to have the sharp vertical in the same place.
After we can not only see the world clearly and visualize it as a photograph, with no extraneous or distracting or unexpected elements, we can start to think about how the viewer’s eye will move through it, as through a painting. Curves, shapes, depth, texture, in and out. A work of art works better when it creates a dance for the eye, moving around the frame.
And as these other aspects are developing, we can develop clarity in the realm of human resonance. How does it feel? Is that feeling profound? Might it be shared among viewers? Can something beyond words be communicated, a sense of presence, of… something?
And behind it all… the mind. In a way we can develop or “improve” aspects of clarity, but in another sense we are just getting in touch with something that is already there. In a way there is nothing to improve. My Buddhist teacher says that clarity of mind, like awareness and some other intrinsic qualities, just is. It’s there — all we have to do is access it. How do we do that? It’s a practice, and all of the above helps, but meditation may be the most helpful practice. Also helpful to have a teacher who can point out this aspect of mind, any people you can hang out with who have access to their clarity.
This photo looks like I somehow enhanced it to create a painting appearance, especially through the middle of the print and on the left, but that is how the ice looked. I just saw it that way through the lens.
Practice helps us remember what we know, when we are in other situations. This goes for practicing photography, and the same for my meditation practice and dharma studies. It’s hard to practice enough, but it helps if I do. The point isn’t just so one can best inhabit the moment when things are going well, but also when things are going badly.
What is the practice? What helps? Well, keeping what we might call The View. Which is to say an understanding of how reality works. It turns out that photography is a lot like meditation in a lot of ways. Probably meditation is the more important practice, but it’s also interesting to have an action that manifests the same wisdom that we mostly learn through non-action. The active version helps spread the view into life. Then there is mindfulness. Attention. Cultivating, making better and better friends with awareness. Again, this cuts both ways. Sometimes with feet in the fire, it just makes it more intense. But then, strangely, sometimes it helps. It helps to feel the fire. It helps, in photography, to be able to wait until the situation is one to work with.
As a photographer, we are open to experience. Shape, form, light, and other events manifest in various ways, and we make an exposure through a lens. Usually that manifestation is temporary. The exact circumstance and light will not occur again. Our job is to experience and recognize the moment and then keep it together to do what we need to get an exposure to work through the lens. Sometimes nothing much is happening that seems worth photographing, and other times it’s hard to keep up with it. Sometimes, from a photographer’s perspective, the world in front of the lens is lousy, and sometimes fantastic.
Al our life is the same. It comes together in a way that will please us from some perspective; then sometimes the way it comes together is not pleasing, useful, or interesting from our personal perspective. Of course the perspective that finds the world pleasing, or not pleasing, is as temporary as other manifestations. If we are hungry, food is beautiful. If we are overstuffed, it can be repulsive. The world changes, perspective changes, but there is always a relationship between our current perspective, arising and changing, and the outer world, manifesting and changing.
Usually the appearance of new ice on my pond is interesting and pleasing to me as a photographer, plenty of chance for interesting texture, color, abstraction. I know it will be gone soon, melting by noon, or else settling into a more solid and boring form as it becomes an enduring sheet.
I used to try for deep depth of field a lot in this kind of photography, but I am loosening up quite a bit, mostly starting last year. This was exposed through a medium long old Zeiss prime lens with amazing sharpness and also a beautiful quality to the blur when out of focus at a medium aperture.
In working up the show of Post Pond images now hanging at Matt Brown Fine Art in Lyme NH, I of course had to over-work on it. Doing so was worth it. The show looks great!
So, I of course had to look through my catalog to find files I’ve never really printed before, and introduce them. I had taken a stab at the one above, an older exposure, but I think I hit it this time.
One of my favorite Post Pond photos, and one that is well liked when I show it, is this one of Pickerel Weed and Mist:
From the same set of exposures, I also made another print I like quite well, which I printed the same size (about 14 x 20). For such a close proximity in time and space, it has a very different feel, I think because I interpreted the file a bit differently and saw the color balance a bit differently. I like it quite well too:
Another image that I liked quite well but hadn’t ever been satisfied with a print until now was this one:
I like it because autumn is often dreamy and subtle like that. Though I personally am not always happy with punchy, saturated fall color prints, it’s harder to do the subtle thing. I guess as it always is. I haven’t been able to hit this one just right for some years, but I’m very happy now. Hanging in Lyme.
This one too, I am much happier with the current version than what I had done before. I think my eye as a photographer, when making exposures, is getting better, but I know my eye as a printer, working with files and paper, is getting much much better each year.
I’ve been working hard on the upcoming Post Pond show, at Matt Brown Fine Art in Lyme New Hampshire. I’m excited to share the space with Matt’s woodblock prints, other great contemporary artists, and also old woodblock prints. Matt is collecting and dealing Kunisada woodblock prints, among others — those are really something.
Matt asked me to make a show of my time in Lyme and to focus it around Post Pond and its immediate watershed. I spent a lot of camera time around Post Pond, the meadows near it, and the inlet and outlet streams: Trout Brook and Clay Brook.
Poet Jim Schley and I are going to give a talk, roughly around the notion of Time. I touched on that in my last post.
Passing through time is always interesting, and certainly no less as a photographer. All those older images represent both a period of artistic development as well as emotional experience. Also of course a record of the world passing through time, weather and light and atmosphere, as well as physical artifacts like trees that will change. One big dead tree that is prominent in many of my photos of Trout Brook no longer exists. The leaning tree above is a different story. Above, in about 2006, that tree had been leaning for a while. Below, in 2016, it was a bridge across the stream, completely fallen. I don’t know how it survived last winter or spring’s high water. No doubt it is different still. As the Buddhists say, annicca, annicca; impermanence. Everything is impermanent. Especially the state of my mind in the early 2000s when I lived near that spot.
And yet, here are some photographs. A reflection of my mind when I lived there, a record of the phenomena in front of my camera, a print that exists and resonates in this moment — and, really, nothing at all. Illusion. But illusion fun to play with. All life is a dance with illusion, so let us dance onward.
Oh, and a news flash: I will be a featured artist at the rest area in Hartford on Route 5 in Vermont. Starting tomorrow, July 1, through the month. Those photos will not be Post Pond.
I have new work from Vermont I’m quite excited about, and also I’ve hardly sorted through photos from the Ireland trip, just recently over. But I’ve been focused on working a show of work made in Lyme New Hampshire, which opens on July 12 at Matt Brown’s Gallery in Lyme.
The photo above is relatively recent, made with a modern Zeiss lens and the full frame camera. Maybe more like what I would do now. I’m including a big print of this, Foot Bridge Over Trout Brook in the show as bit of new work done in Lyme.
Though the show will mostly be of work just around Post Pond, I’m also including this old one, just brought live and printed large. It was exposed on 4 x 5 film back in my view camera days, in 1983, when I was a skinny kid with a pony tail. This was exposed at a pond called Pout Pond near where I lived in ’83, schlepped my view camera up there. I haven’t been there since ’84 or so, so I don’t know if it is still wild and undeveloped.
Then I’m also working up several images, often reworking them. This is one I tried a different file of once, but I never quite was happy with it. Worked it up now, and it’s nice:
On July 12 at 5PM there will be a gallery talk. I will be joined by my friend, poet and writer Jim Schley, and Matt Brown will join in as well. We are going to be talking about time.
I’ve talked about time some. Anyone who knows me knows I have an unconventional sense of time. Time is interesting in photography for a few reasons. Any time I make an exposure, the subject of my attention is instantly destroyed immediately after. Sometimes the actual subject doesn’t last long, but certainly the light, the feeling, the moment will never come again. Have I “captured” that moment? No way! I create a new experience, which will perhaps live on in a series of new moments.
Time is also interesting, I think in that it is a bifurcated experience. We experience Newtonian time, a ball drops to the floor in the time we expect, a car accelerates on the highway according to its capabilities, and we experience that in accord with the real time, often enough. But also, we live in what I’m taking to calling “literary time.” In a novel time is never “real” but subject to the character or narrator’s looking back, looking ahead, paying attention to details as the moments unfold in the story. The reason we can click into this so well when we read a novel is that we experience this way anyway. Anyone who has ever meditated much knows that time shifts and warps with our mindstream. An hour can be a very long time, or fly by. Nothing to do with the clock, when we are with our experience. All very interesting.
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.
I’ve been posting these color flowers and shallow depth of field images, but they’re not the only thing I’ve been doing. It’s just that they’re the ones that get stuck in my head, and I get excited to print them. I had a summer a few years ago when I was looking at Ukiyo-e (“floating world,” the genre of Japanese prints that includes Hokusai and others). Those images filled my mind and influenced my compositions. In this period I seem to be finding some of my inspiration from my quirky old vintages lenses themselves, the way they draw with light, and maybe especially the way colors mingle and mix beyond the plane of focus.
Last week I talked about re-doing images, and this was in fact a re-do. As regular readers know, I’m not just photographing casually. I tend to work on ideas and places iteratively. I work crazy hard on my photography. Often I get to know a situation better by working on it, while other times I find it hard to make up for the serendipity of new discoveries. The mix of hard work and grace is somewhat mysterious, here, as in meditation, as in all of life.
But I do learn as I go, learn how situations resonate as a photograph, how they will print, how each of my quirky old lenses work at different apertures and in different light. I learn both how to work with situations, to have patience when it’s not working, and to accept the grace of what is simply given.
When I first tried to make this image I was using an ancient film lens on an adapter, and the adapter was (the only time I’ve seen this) interfering with the lens’ ability to change aperture. It was stuck wide open, at f1.4. That would have been great, if that particular lens were any good wide open like that. It wasn’t.
I had a bit of time between meetings, so I went back to this greenhouse. The light was nicer than the first time I was there, by a lot.
I happened to have a different ancient film-era lens, that does have some good qualities wide open, at f2 (though this exposure was stopped down one stop, to f2.8; I prefer the little bit more detail in the background to the f2 exposure). All these old lenses have their own quirks, and this one is sort of the opposite to that other lens, which gives an extremely impressionistic rendering at wide apertures. This one is dreamy, while still sharp, mixing colors together in a nice, soft way while keeping the structure of the image somewhat together.
So this is a case where the re-do worked out better than the first attempt.