Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Personal Growth and Learning

"Don't ever take an art class. It will ruin you."

These words were spoken to me over thirty-five years ago by a gentleman who had just purchased one of my paintings. Obviously, the statement stuck in my head. Why have I remembered this comment after all these years?

I think the first part of the answer is the sheer surprise I experienced at the comment. At the time my greatest desire was to get into one of the established art schools and here was a person who loved my work enough to spend money on it telling me to do exactly the opposite. I recall asking him why he would say that and his response was something along the lines of "they will make you just like everyone else. It will destroy your originality."

Ah! Even then I could see the sense in the statement. I've since followed that dictum and never have attended an art class of any kind, not even one on photography. Another question remains however: how is one to advance as an artist without the guidance of peers (or superiors) in some form? In my case, having a deep, inherent curiousity provides a natural drive to educate myself about those things that interest me - which is pretty much everything. In the case of the arts, I avail myself of all the information that exists on the internet, in our public libraries and magazine publications. There is an enormous amount of information within reach out there if one is willing to commit the time to search it out and then really study it.

Note that I did not refer to this process as 'work'. If the act of applying yourself to study and learning seems like work, it is strong evidence of a lack of passion for what you are doing. For me, this is not work. Rather, it is more like breathing, something I am driven to do. My wife will occasionally chastise me for bringing along some bit of technical reading material when we go on a vacation trip as she says I should take the opportunity to relax. What I've had to explain on more than one occasion over the years is that burying myself in that sort of research is how I relax! Learning really is like breathing to me, especially so when it is a subject in which I have a fervent interest. I can actually get a bit fidgety if I can't get to a bit of research on something that has lit a fire in me.

The technical aspects of photography aside, one of the most important resources available to us is the work of those artists we admire. I can spend literal hours poring over the work of the likes of Stieglitz and Steichen and others. I was browsing through a rather dingy, dusty, unkempt, dark rabbit hole of a bookstore recently and found gold in the form of two out-of-print books - The National Museum of Art Calloway Edition of 1983 'Alfred Stieglitz' and 'A Life in Photography', Edward Steichen's autobiography. Bookstore nirvana! The opportunity to study the work of these masters in such high quality printings at my leisure is invaluable. I do not limit myself to the masters of photography either. I began my art career as a painter, after all. I have a beautiful copy of Andrew Wyeth's autobiography as well and have many hours invested in this one book. It is from Wyeth that I learned something of the importance of what is included in an image and what is left out. Wyeth's work opened the door for me to a whole new consideration of how to approach composition and the contribution texture can make to an image.

I have many ideas from Wyeth's tempera paintings that I want to incorporate into my photography, but this is not easily done. The two mediums have fundamental differences in material and process that I have as yet been unable to bridge successfully. The excitement lies in continuing to try! Another example of a painter that has had a strong influence on me, especially in my early in my studies, is Maxfield Parrish. Parrish's landscape paintings, his main focus in his later years, are a wonder to me. His exceptional mastery of the ancient master's technique of glazing with oil paints (think Rembrandt) represents the high point of the technique and it is brought to its full modern potential in his landscapes. I have one photograph where the Parrish influence is clearly evident, 'Dream Swing'.

(click on image to enlarge)    Dream Swing
It seems to me that the influence of Stieglitz and Steichen on my recent work is fairly obvious. The current Cityscape series of limited edition architectural prints do not seek to copy their work, but to incorporate some of their ideas within modern subjects. Here I am trying to expand on certain aspects of the Photo Secessionists style by minimizing the softening effects of that period and blend it with the sharper, highly detailed and graphic nature of the silver gelatin prints from the '30's. The results are really intriguing and have received very strong positive reactions from viewers. The resulting images are unique in both look and subject, but deeply rooted in the the previous accomplishments of my silent mentors.

(click on image to enlarge)   The Morgan in Winter
For people like me, the process never stops, nor do we want it to. It isn't just some holistic sort of self-improvement thing. Rather, it is a basic function of our character, the desire to understand the world and universe around us. In that process we usually do improve ourselves, if for no other reason than we operate from a greater and more accurate understanding of our environment. The sheer scope of the unknown assures us, happily I might add, that we cannot possibly run out of things to learn! In this way, that delicious, childlike sense of wonder and awe can last a lifetime!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


As my experience and education regarding photography continues to grow, I make a point of learning, at least broadly, the history of this amazing medium. I've always been one to hold to the maxim that if you want to fully understand something, you need to understand its history as much as its current status. This applies to photography as much as any subject. We are fortunate in the case of photography in that it is a very recent technological development and therefore well documented. As with all human endeavors, it is the human element that lies at the center of what photography is and was. This is why I've spent much of the last year studying the early masters of photography as an artistic medium.

A few moments ago, I completed Edward Steichen's incredible autobiography "A Life In Photography". I have been engrossed and moved by this man's story and the parts he played in various aspects of our recent history. I am forced to sit for a while and contemplate his story and why it affects me so.

Part of the matter, and possibly the most superficial although still important, is Steichen's direct participation in such a broad range of historical events. A brief overview:

- He taught himself photography as a young boy when the medium was still barely more than a fledgling technology and was right at the forefront of its development and ultimate acceptance as an art form.

- His relationships as a young man with some of the world's most amazing artists and influential men, in particular Auguste Rodin and Alfred Stieglitz.

- His personal contributions to photography, including aerial photography for the Allies in WWI.

- His development of portraiture as an art form while photographing many of recent histories iconic figures.

- Inventing and re-inventing the concept of fashion photography.

- Creating the first independent photographic unit within the US Navy for the purposes of documenting WWII - he was in his late 60's at the start of the war!

- Serving as the Photographic director of arts in the Museum of Modern Art after the war, assembling some 40 world class photographic exhibitions over 15 years, culminating in the matchless and world renowned 'Family of Man' exhibit, still being shown when he authored his autobiography at the age of 84.

The descriptive title 'Great Man' is one I apply very rarely. I freely apply it to Edward Steichen. Here was a man possessed of an aggressively seeking mind matched with real talent and vision. As recently as two years ago I did not know he had existed. How can it be that people of Steichen's quality are relatively unknown in our society while characters like 'The Situation' and Charlie Sheen fill the headlines during their 15 minutes of fame and are idolized by a sizable chunk of our population, only to be replaced by the next flashy, meaningless splash? As if that weren't bad enough, all this goes on while people of real ability and commitment are rarely known outside of a narrow circle of familiars. It points to something deeply broken within our society.

This small blog entry cannot do Steichen or his contributions any real justice, but I highly recommend reading up on him in detail, especially so if you have any degree of interest in photography. I will offer a couple of small examples that may, hopefully, pique your interest enough to get you to educate yourself regarding this great man. To this end, I am going to break from my usual practice of displaying and discussing my own photographic work and display that of another artist.

The first is an example of his early work from 1902 in Paris and representative of his relationship with the great sculptor, Rodin. Steichen met the older and already established great sculptor during one of his visits to Paris as a young man, still interested as much in painting as photography. Over a period of about a year, the two developed a close friendship that ultimately led to Rodin granting permission to Steichen to photograph him and his work. One of the resulting images is also one of the great, masterful portraits even to this day.
(click on image to enlarge)           'La Penseur'
Here, in this stark, simple photograph, Steichen manages to capture the utter essence of one of the world's greatest sculptors, two of his works forming the backdrop of the portrait. One of the things that I really like about this image is that it represents an intersection of talent of two of my most admired and favorite artists. I've pored over this photograph for hours and even had the pleasure of examining the original in the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently. It is one of my absolute favorite works of art.

Portraits were how Steichen made an early living in New York City and also established himself as a photographer of considerable talent. Over the years, he was employed in photographing many of the powerful and celebrated personalities of the time and exhibited a consistent ability to bring out the subject's personality. There are many, many examples of this talent, but one the most interesting to me is Steichen's photograph of the famous actress Greta Garbo, taken in 1928 and seen below. Steichen was forced to rush through the shoot in an environment where the actress' public image was rigidly controlled by managers and  the shoot also interfered with the active, tightly organized filming schedule. He was unhappy with the results as the shoot progressed, but the right moment arrived when the director shouted over that it was time to get back to filming. Steichen had the camera ready and recognized the delicate and brief moment when Greta Garbo's true personality flashed to the surface as she turned and glared at the director.

(click on image to enlarge)                   'Greta Garbo'
Here, preparation and talent combine to deliver on a moment that existed in front of the camera for the briefest of instants and the subject's personality comes right to the forefront.

The last example is another one of Steichen's earlier works, dating to 1901. It is a self portrait, done by Steichen as an experiment. It is also one of my favorites examples of his work. The print is heavily manipulated by Steichen, as much painting as photograph, as he used his considerable creative talents from both mediums and combined them on the master plate to create a subtle yet powerful image.

(click on image to enlarge)                                'Self Portrait'
In order to understand and better work within the photographic medium, it is necessary to understand its history and roots in all its creative variety. Edward Steichen embodies very nearly the entire history of photography in a single package, not only by being present during the early days of the medium making itself known as an art form, not only by participating personally in its history and development, but by actually being one of the creative spirits to make that history, and then guide its progress through nearly a century of growth and development. A unique and great man indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sidewalk Processing

Technology manifests itself in some interesting and often unexpected ways. For example, you can now do photo processing on the go. I don't mean in the sense of having your notebook computer in the field with you, ready to process your latest and greatest DSLR image. I'm talking one handed, in the street right on your phone as you take the shot. Crazy.

In my prior blog post I went on about having fun with some of the new iPhone camera apps. Well, frankly, I underestimated just how much fun these little programs could be, particularly the odd little Hipstamatic app. It's actually gotten to the point where I haven't taken my little Leica out since I bought the Hipstamatic app and started using it. I even find myself using it alongside my big DSLR 'just for kicks' when doing a serious photo shoot. This happened just this past Sunday during a pre-dawn shoot on a fairly inaccessible bit of beach near my home. I was doing long 15 to 30 second exposures of an abandoned and badly deteriorated bulkhead just off the shoreline in the bay. Behind me was a very large expanse of salt marsh. The DSLR was firmly ensconced on my tripod as I worked through a series of exposures on specific parts of the bulkhead. Suddenly I heard a honking of geese behind me and turning, spotted a large flock coming across the marsh in my direction. I took a quick glance at the DSLR, tripod, long telephoto and all and quickly realized there was no way I was breaking the setup down and getting the camera on target in the very few seconds available. So I went for the iPhone mounted on my belt clip and keyed up the Hipstamatic app just as the geese came in range. I panned and caught six frames as they went buy. True to form, the app captured some nice atmospheric images of the flock of geese in flight over the bay.
(click on image to enlarge)         Geese in Flight
One of the drivers here, as mentioned in the earlier post, is the serendipitous nature of the results that the software delivers. Each image is a surprise and my curiousity simply gets the best of me. I'm pretty sure of the image that will come out of the DSLR, after all, that is what having all that control is about. I can never be certain of what the iPhone camera will deliver via the Hipstamatic app. The result is that after I finish my main shots with the pro gear, I find myself pulling out the iPhone to see what it delivers - click, click, click. Oh, cool!
(click on image to enlarge)          Life in Motion - Jamaica Station
As seen in the story above, one of the great advantages of the iPhone camera is that it lives right on my belt clip. It is always right there, a quick reach and snap and I'm taking pictures. I put the app icon right on the main screen for quick access and on a couple of occasions have had the app loaded and ready to go on power-up. I can go from belt clip to shooting in just a few seconds. Even the Leica requires that I remove my pack, pull the camera out and then remove the lens cap, then switch the camera on, all before composing the image and all of which takes considerably longer than the iPhone. The result is that the iPhone gets used more and more because it is so easy and accessible.

The only down side is that the quality of the image files is extremely limited. A so-so camera coupled with heavy jpeg compression will only get you so far. I would love to see, at minimum, RAW capability added to the iPhone to avoid the biggest issue, and maybe a much better camera on future iterations of the iPhone, which excels on so many other fronts.

But I digress.

I have discovered that all the iPhone camera apps save the image files in the Camera Roll directory. Easy enough. I have also discovered that the Camera Genius app can access any jpeg file in the Camera Roll directory. This means I can use the Camera Genius App to edit/process any jpeg taken with any of the other camera apps on the iPhone, including the Hipstamatic. Just to see if it would work, I even emailed myself a large jpeg image and saved it on the iPhone. The Camera Genius even worked in this larger file, although it was no rocket. This opens yet more creative possibilities! If a Hipstamatic image is a bit 'off' for one reason or another, say contrast, I just open it up in Camera Genius and adjust it accordingly.
(click on image to enlarge)           Gotham Perspective
I have found myself walking down the sidewalk, snapping a quick shot with Hipstamatic, checking it out and deciding that "the 'Lomography' preset in Camera Genius is just what the image needs to really be cool, and that standard border treatment is getting pretty old hat - one of the borders from Camera Genius would really spruce this up a bit." I'm doing the processing while walking to work and I've done this on several occasions already. But I've become deeply concerned.

I'm worried that somewhere on a Manhattan sidewalk there is a sign post with my name on it. I can really see myself so wrapped up in an image that I walk right into a post or, worse, out into Manhattan traffic. This, as they say, could be very bad for one's health. I think I'm in trouble here. Has anyone trademarked the 'Roadkill Photography' name yet?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

­Don't forget to Have Fun!

Occasionally even the dedicated photographer has to be reminded that we are supposed to be having fun. It is all to easy to get sucked up into the supposed 'seriousness' of the process of capturing the best possible photograph that we can forget why we first got involved in the medium. While I do not wish to lessen the importance of those efforts, it is equally important to remember that it is all too easy to start taking yourself too seriously.

I was recently reminded of this when I discovered a photo app for my iPhone. I've perused the Apple App Store often, looking for interesting applications for the iPhone camera. Most fall into the 'serious' category and as I have far more powerful software on my main desktop, I tend to eschew these smaller dedicated programs. One exception is the Camera Genius app. This is a surprisingly capable little program. The feature I like most is the ability to separate and adjust the exposure and focus areas right on the touch screen. Very neat trick that. Just slide the exposure point to the area you want to meter and the focus box to the main point of interest and click. Very nice job designing that, guys. In addition are a series of effects and adjustment presets to add interest to the finished image. Another little detail I like is that the edited image is always saved as a new file and the original remains untouched. Well done. If you only buy one photo app, this one should get a hard look.

The program that really peaked my interest, however, was entirely unexpected. The app is called Hipstamatic. If you are old enough (no comments please!) to remember the really cheap, plastic, crappy Instamatic110 cameras of the 70's, you will relate to this program very quickly. The 110's used a little snap in film cartridge and made the family vacation snapshot all but ubiquitous. They were very inexpensive and very accessible and everyone seemed to have one. Most of those old family photos were very likely taken with one of these cameras or a similar model. We can all revisit these old memories because of them. So, in the end, the job that these cheap little plastic cameras did proves to be priceless.

The makers of the Hipstamatic app claim their little camera program emulates a small, cheap plastic camera marketed unsuccessfully in the early 80's. The original Hipstamatic camera is apparently apocryphal however, and the 'history' presented on the web page just clever marketing. While perhaps a bit disappointing in this respect, it detracts nothing from the functionality of the little camera program. It actually emulates the Instamatic, but it doesn't take much of a leap to imagine certain trademarking complications in using the Instamatic name.
(click on image to enlarge)               'You gonna share those chips or what?'
It really intrigues me that the poor quality of the photos from the Hipstamatic, as can be seen in the photo above, is what makes them so interesting. Bad color processing with terrible clarity and focus somehow combine to occasionally produce an odd and ultimately fun form of art. The iPhone app makes all this accessible to a generation that had never seen or heard of those lousy old cameras. I think this is a very good thing. We sometimes become so involved in the drive for perfection in a photograph, that we can sometimes miss the essence. There is a fun irony in that, by intentionally ruining the high quality capability of the hardware, the essence of the image can be captured instead of the technical detail, seemingly by accident.

Let's repeat that: 'Seemingly by accident'. I suspect that the fun lies right in that aspect of this entire idea. The Hipstamatic takes all the usual photographic choices away from us. It is a simple 'box' (OK, it actually an iPhone but you get the idea) with two buttons, shutter and flash. That's it. Period. Shut up and take the shot. Wow! The 'viewfinder' doesn't even show the whole scene or even center it accurately. This opens up a whole new world to the photographer. With such simplicity being the only option, you are forced to focus strictly on composition and the moment. As even the viewfinder is really badly limited and much guesswork is involved, you just point and shoot and hope for the best. How much fun is that! The resulting image is almost always a surprise – not always good mind you, but always a surprise.
(click on image to enlarge)               'And then she said...'
In one of those curious serendipities of life, the evening after I first purchased and downloaded the Hipstamatic app, I happened to stumble onto the Zeitgeist video production on Sally Mann and her unique photography on Youtube. In one of the opening scenes of this fascinating video, Ms. Mann is preparing one of her collodion glass plates and explains that she hopes that the plate is flawed, but flawed just enough to make the image interesting. This is the space that the Hipstamatic operates in. By intentionally distorting the otherwise decent quality of the iPhone camera, something truly interesting happens. The drift away from recording precisely accurate image detail towards a technically inferior image results in something more likely to engage one's imagination! We become engaged in a captured moment that would otherwise be rather ho-hum. As Mr. Spock would say: 'Fascinating!"
(click on image to enlarge)               'Santa's Summer Job'
My exploration into this world has only just begun. My new journey is literally barely 48 hours old as I write this. As with all new explorations, the vital quality of FUN is fully enjoined as we engage with the new concepts we discover and dance with. The creative sparks fly all around we experiment! I love this part of photography and life. Absolutely love it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking for Humanity

I have long had an idea for a photo series that would study the relationship of man to his natural environment. This concept is an extension of my study of the human mind and consciousness, all related to my efforts and study to understand what it means to be 'human'. The photo project is waiting for me to come to some sort of creative conclusion as to precisely what I want to express and also how to convey that message through the photographic medium. My Street Photography Series is the beginning of this process.

It must go much farther than the restrictive environment of man existing - for better or worse - within the self-constructed cocoon of concrete, glass and steel that urban street photography captures, however. Much of the Western world has developed an unfortunate - and potentially fatal - idea that man exists separately, above and independently from what we consider the 'natural' environment. The urban environment is the perfect construct of this reality. Too many of us consider the natural world - those parts that remain mostly unaffected by man's presence and mechanizations - as an alien thing. A thing to be avoided, at minimum, and preferably subjugated and cleaned up a bit at best. The real truth is that, even buried deep within our most impressive skyscrapers, we never exist completely apart from the external environment. We can temporarily alter parts of it to suit ourselves and our unfortunately misplaced and misdirected egos, but in spite of our best attempts the entropy inherent within the broader system always, inevitably catches up with us. This process is actively manifesting itself all around us even now, although most don't have a deep enough understanding of natural processes to recognize what is happening. Worse, many of those who do have an inkling, but an interest in maintaining the status quo, work to promote obfuscation and/or denial.

One of the purposes of art is to open channels of communication not otherwise available to us. By sidestepping the more accustomed verbal channels of interaction and encouraging the viewer to pause and be exposed to a new perspective, art can sometimes deliver a message that might be otherwise missed or never considered.

A friend of mine, Shane Steinkamp, has spent a good portion of his life trying to come to terms with this not always subtle reality. Among my broad group of friends, he is one who can speak clearly and at length to the general concepts touched upon in the paragraphs above. He has also been experimenting with photography and video as a way to convey some of what he has learned. He is, unsurprisingly, a naturist who eschews the artificial shell represented by clothing and prefers to shed that shell whenever a practical opportunity to do so presents itself. During a recent canoe trip with friends, he took a series of photographs which mark a new level of success for himself in the photographic medium, but also served to help clarify where I want to go with at least a part of my project. Of the photographs he posted for us to see, two were standouts in-so-far as what he was trying to accomplish. The two photographs posted below were taken by Shane and then processed by me.

I immediately saw the potential in these two images and decided to see if I could help them along a bit to better communicate what I saw in them and what I thought would better reflect Shane's intent. The first image is of Shane balanced on a fallen tree in a remote section of the Mississippi's Black Creek. I am really attracted to the dynamic of this shot. The composition is spot on, with the shattered trunk anchoring and dominating the lower right and the flat diagonal of the fallen tree leading to and literally - as well as visually - supporting the obvious focus of interest, Shane himself. A case could be made that the figures presence is too small within the frame, but for this image to work as intended it requires the broad angle of view of that long, fallen tree trunk and the resulting void around the image only enhances the sense of place. The pose speaks directly to raw exposure and joy in this scene. The original is in color, but the photograph, to my eye, is far stronger in black and white as the conversion both removes the distracting element of color and forces the focus onto the parts of the image that are most relevant.

(click on image to enlarge)            Release

The next image is actually my favorite of the pair and speaks more directly, if more subtly, to what we are trying to convey with these photographs. Shane set up for a long exposure and then positioned himself in Black Creek for the shot. The result was this photograph:

(click on image to enlarge)          Water Spirits

As with 'Release', the composition is excellent. The presence of the main subject is again a bit small within the frame, but the sense of place is critical and, accordingly, requires an enhanced place in the subject's background to effectively convey the moment. One of the most important aspects of this image is the tension in the subject which is communicated to the viewer within the subtleness of body language. This is not the quiet, immobile, zen-like moment it appears to be at first glance. Note the curve in the subjects back and the expression on his face. His eyes are closed, but he is not relaxed. He is forced to lean into the slow but steady current as the water flows by, implacable and unrelenting.

These are parts of the message we need to deliver. The photograph 'Water Spirit' speaks directly to the metaphorical description of mankind's increasingly precarious position. It requires attention and careful balance to maintain ourselves in an ever moving and changing environment. Failure to achieve this balance will ultimately result in our being swept away with nary a trace.

Monday, July 11, 2011


"Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation." - Harlan Ellison

The panoply of writers that I admire comprise a rather eclectic group, ranging in subject from philosophy through science and nature through psychology and even speculative science fiction to hit a few high points. Mr. Ellison holds a special place in my heart as the writer who possesses a searing ability to not only convey the dark side of human nature, but to dwell in and caress it in a way unique to himself. The above quote is from his short story "On The Downhill Side", published in the collection "Deathbird Stories".

I read this story recently, part of a long overdue revisit to Mr. Ellison's work. As much as I admire the writing and the story itself, the quoted sentence above stands on its own in a way that grabbed me and wouldn't let go.

"between onyx and miscalculation."

On the surface of it, the conjunction of the words has no meaning. Yet, something deep inside is blasted by the phrase. A connection was made and I keep going back to the sentence and re-reading it, trying to identify the reason it hit. I actually highlighted it in my Kindle reader so it would be easier to find.

Here lies the reason that fixed print media, whether word or image, will never go away. Other media cannot be studied, examined, visited and revisited the same way: in quiet, leisurely privacy and contemplation. Yes, you can watch the same bit of video or listen to the same bit of music over and over again, but you are held captive to the pace of the media. At the very least, having to hit rewind and replay to cycle back through moving dynamic media certainly breaks the contemplative reverie.

The printed word and image, whether paper or digital, has that more important, timeless quality of allowing the viewer to set the pace of the meeting. I can slowly roll the words over in my mind at will, caressing them along with the implied, imagined meanings. Photography and other printed arts are the same in that they have the static quality that allows leisurely, focused contemplation. One of the elements which I try to bring into my photographic prints is the ability to not only survive this type of close, thoughtful examination, but to actively encourage it. It is necessary that the viewer be able to project themselves into the image, to make that direct connection to it. This quality, if properly achieved, is a fundamental characteristic of successful art, including photography.

The image below is very simple. There are very few visual elements within it, minimalism being something I really prefer if the subject allows: a bit of dune, the walkway winding away and fading in the fog. That's it. Yet, these simple elements draw the viewer directly into the image. Where is it? Where does it lead? Where am I going...
(click on image to enlarge)         Destination Unknown
Imagination is a critical part of this process. We are all metaphorical creatures in the sense that we cannot think or communicate without the use of metaphor, although most of us do so without realizing it. Yet, who of us has not gazed into the eyes of another with whom we have an emotional connection and not been transported?

"Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation."

It is in the familiarity of the emotion and the vagueness inherent in metaphorical communication that we find our room for personal interpretation. Our individual connection is found somewhere in that opening. The sentence makes no literal sense and yet we connect to the individual components in a way that bridges the irrationality of it. In the end, we do understand its meaning, but at a visceral, emotional level, not a literal one.

Photography can work on this way, but it is much more difficult than with most other visual arts. The photographer must take a bit of reality and distill the scene or image within the camera in such a way that the literal distractions are minimized, allowing the potential for the metaphorical connection to come to the surface. The ability of the viewer to study the image in their own space and time, to contemplate the emotion inherent in the elements of the photographers work, is often a necessary component of the process. This is where the value of the physical print comes into its own. Hung on the wall, the viewer can revisit it at there own pace and leisure.
(click on image to enlarge)                Invitation
The nature of photography, based in the reality of physical objects and light, requires the photographer see the metaphorical potential of a subject in real time. When we are in this groove, we are moving through an imaginary reality, examining the material reality for these metaphorical constructs even as we move through them. The image above was taken right from the sidewalk, looking into the unlit restaurant. The carefully prepared table right up against the window sill and the rest of the space in dark shadow, except for the window at the far end of the room. I felt the space as I walked by and connected with it instantly. There was a curious energy and potential in this most mundane of scenes that could be brought out if the camera was used with sensitivity and care for the metaphor that it silently communicated.

Do these images work on this level? Only the viewer can say, as we are all different with varying likes, interests, sensitivities and degrees of ability to communicate in this mode. I've seen people make the connection with these two prints, enough so that several have been sold already, so I know that some do make that metaphorical leap of imagination with them.

Let's close with an architectural image:
(click on image to enlarge)    The Shining Light of Reason
The title is a rather broad hint at my intent with this one. Take some time and contemplate it. Does it connect with you? If so, why and how? The static nature of the image allows you to come back and reconsider it or even rekindle the emotion it might ignite within you. This is the gift of photography to the world of the arts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Slices of Life

I had the great pleasure, and very interesting experience, of meeting Thomas Leuthard last Friday evening. Thomas is the creator of the 85mm Street Photography web site and a rather fascinating collection of candid photographs of passerby that he has produced over the last few years. I highly recommend visiting his web page to study his work both for the quality of his photographs and his instructive commentary on the practice of street photography.

I've been dabbling in street photography for a few months now and it is an exciting area to work in. Most of my photographs are the result of a contemplative, almost zen like process. I see a scene and process it mentally, considering angles, elements, quality of light and subject until I settle on the - hopefully - ideal image. This process can take a few minutes or repeated visits over a period of months to a particular place until the image I have in mind is produced. Street photography is exactly the opposite, which is one of the aspects of it that draws my interest. A photographic opportunity typically presents itself for a brief few seconds and if you aren't intimately familiar with your camera operation and can't compose the image almost automatically you will likely miss the shot.

The 85mm web site is an excellent resource if you are interested in street photography. Thomas provides not only a collection of terrific images, but a solid how-to commentary on equipment and technique. I was primarily interested in the latter, as my inherent respect for other peoples privacy was holding me back from progressing in this area. The chance to participate in a personal, live demonstration of Mr. Leuthard in action on the NYC streets was not to be missed. Per the invitation, we met at the 'pointy end' of the Flatiron Building at 5:00 pm. The group numbered six, and and after introductions all around, we went through a short discussion of the various cameras that were brought along and the advantages/disadvantages of each setup. Thomas, like myself, had already started shooting on the way to the meet and had a couple of interesting captures. He continued to shoot even as we were getting acquainted on the corner of Broadway and 23rd.

Once the introductions and camera discussion was completed, we started walking east on 23rd looking for opportunities. The trick to successful street photography is to capture your subject while they are completely unaware that you exist. This is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do with a wide prime lens. The range to your subject is typically about 8 feet and often much less. As several of our group quickly found out, New Yorkers are inherently very alert and difficult to sneak up on! Learning how not to draw attention to yourself is critical and no small trick when your camera is a bit of a monster, as my Canon 5DMkII is, especially with the 24-105mm general purpose lens on it. It can be done, however. There are a number of appearance and behavioral practices which help. Avoiding bright colored clothing, no fast moves, no direct eye contact with the subject, etc. One that worked very well for me was to pretend I was shooting another, more distant subject. I would switch to manual focus and preset to the focal plane of the real subject, all the while pretending to be interested in something else entirely. Once it was clear that the subject's guard was down, I would pan them into the frame and activate the shutter.

One of the things to consider with street photography is your intent. Thomas Leuthard, for example, is mostly about the person. He goes for some close up detail, usually a portrait but there are interesting variations such as using feet or hands as the primary subject. My photography tends to be about places and and objects. Accordingly, when I started shooting with Thomas, I quickly found myself shooting in such a way as to incorporate the person into their immediate surroundings - man in his element, as it were. To me, for my style of photograph, this context is absolutely critical. Leuthard's images might be summarized as 'this is me at this moment'. Mine might be summarized as 'this is me in this place at this moment'. My goal is to tell the broader story of not only the person, but the person's immediate environment and how the two components of person and place interact.
(click on image to enlarge)   "Cool Splash"
I was actually setting up to shot another subject when I spotted this man cooling himself in the fountain behind my subject. I had about 20 seconds to get into position, setup and shoot. I caught three frames before he turned and walked away. I love the moment I was very lucky to capture here. It is a very human moment in a public place that very few people even noticed as it happened. This is an excellent example of the power of street photography - the ability to capture a completely natural, unscripted moment in a person's life and to record the human beauty of it. This is the defining characteristic of street photography: humanity. Capturing little slices of unscripted life as it happens. An intimate, real moment captured in time.
(click on image to enlarge) "Distant Relations"
Here, I spotted what appeared to be a mother/daughter team interacting, unaware they were being observed. I took two frames from a kneeling perspective and turned away before they saw me. There is an interesting, complex dynamic conveyed in the body language in this tableau, while the mother is completely absorbed in her cell phone, that inspired the image title.
(click on image to enlarge)  "An Offer of Piano Instruction"
This guy held my attention for a long time, sitting on the sidewalk near the entrance of a subway entrance. He was very alert and I had difficulty getting an unguarded shot. I finally moved behind a column about 10 feet away and tried to set up a shot from there. He then got up to walk away, hesitating for just a moment. That moment was all I needed to the unguarded exposure. The bright sun, deep shadows and, finally, the little random piano instruction advert pulled all together.

I will be doing more work like this. It was an exciting, intriguing and perhaps a bit risky process. The results can be fascinating, however, and it is the only way to capture such natural photographic imagery if you want to incorporate the unaffected human element into your photography. I can't wait to see what develops!

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Little Cat Feet

Up and out with the camera gear hours before dawn this morning. We have had thick fog every morning for the last several days and today I have a chance to get out in it. First stop, the Bay Shore train station. The fog was thick and gave that haunting, blurred, atmospheric light reminiscent of the old black and white movie scenes. I shot a few different angles and then moved on to St. Patrick’s Church, the big Roman Catholic church in the middle of town.

This massive pile of brick is an unmistakable and imposing presence. I suspect most people don't realize just how massive the structure is, as the sight lines are broken up enough that you have to actually stop and look from the odd angle to appreciate the real bulk of the thing. I have wanted to shoot this building for some time now, but could never settle on the right way to capture its real presence. I suspected the fog would offer some opportunities and this was my main target for the early morning shoot. I wasn't disappointed. The fog picked up the glow of the well lit Main Street, giving just the right amount of background light in the thick mist. A twenty second exposure did the trick. There are only a few angles that give a clear view of the church to get a good feel for it, and I walked around shot a few other perspectives while I was set up, but it was the three-quarter view from the rear that gave the best overall angle, just as I expected.

(click on image to enlarge)
The next stop was my favorite easy beach walk - the walk to the Fire Island Lighthouse from the parking field at Robert Moses State Park. I had wanted to get some updated images of the lighthouse itself, but the fog was far too dense. Instead, I went searching for interesting details in the dark, but gradually lightening mist. It was a marvelous morning. Cool and damp in that predawn way that you have to personally experience to appreciate. There is no way to effectively describe it as the physical presence of the low-lying cloud plays so much a part.

Really thick fog such as this brings on an odd and unique quiet. On the boardwalk, well into the densest part of the swale, I could hear the ever-present Atlantic surf pounding on the nearby shoreline, but even the dunes were out of sight in the gray mist. The omnipresent roar was punctuated by the mating calls of several redwing blackbirds, invisible in the tall grass and dense thickets of pine and scrub. If I stood still and listened, even with this serenely evocative background medley, the muffled silence was still deep enough to hear the drops of condensed fog drip from branches and pat-pat-pat onto the sandy ground. As I wandered the walkways alone within my own thoughts, I wondered at the mystery of the walkways disappearing around blind curves into the gray cloud. A barely discernible rustle revealed a doe with a yearling fawn browsing in the scrub for breakfast. Moving ever so slowly and quietly, I setup for several freehand shots as the pair moved quietly and slowly about their morning business, less than ten feet away from my crouching position at one point. The pair moved unhurriedly, gradually deeper into the tall grass and finally out of sight. The redwings continued their calls uninterrupted – adding such serene beauty on this solitary moment. For the first time in recent memory, I felt myself slowing down.

(click on image to enlarge)
The sun had risen by now, but this was evidenced only in a very gradual brightening of the thick mist. The fog was full of light, making exposures tricky, especially in the subtle variations according to angle and soft shadow of each shot. I found a groove and made it work, tending to underexpose rather than blow out the increasing glow of the sky. I finally made it to the lighthouse, but as I anticipated, the fog was far too dense. I was within a hundred and fifty feet or so before the base of the column was visible at all and even then it was just a vague hint of a vertical shadow. The fog shrouded pathways and other details would remain my main subjects for this morning. I continued on to the beach to see what surprises might be there, but the dense cloud hid almost everything, getting even thicker as I approached the primary dune line and the Atlantic itself.
This made for perfect conditions to shoot the walkways. I love the implied mystery of these scenes and how they invite the imagination to open up and wonder. What is about the fog that calls to me in this way? I am not much of a fan of poetry, with the notable exception of haiku, but Carl Sandburg's short poem 'Fog' has stuck with me for most of my life. He captured the essence of fog’s quiet mystery with such simple precision I cannot walk out into a misty day without the words popping into my head:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


To some degree, we all lead insular lives. We have our daily routine, our family, our circle of friends and, finally, our workmates. A radiating circle with distinct and finite edges that we rarely venture out of. This is generally the norm and makes for a comfortable, secure and relatively predictable life. Most people consider surprises and the unpredictable a bad thing. Yet, what we think of as security is at best pleasant illusion.

This is one of the primary traits where my wife Nancy and I were polar opposites when we first met. She was a planner. Invite her to an event and the day planner came out of her purse to verify availability and to record the commitment. I, on the other hand, knew that if the event was beyond the next 24 hour window, I was likely to be free. When Nancy planned a trip, on Tuesday she would be scheduled for this, on Thursday for that. I introduced her to the pleasures of serendipity and chance when I planned a return trip to the Scottish Highlands for our tenth wedding anniversary and second honeymoon, the first being spent in Edinburgh. My planning consisted entirely of purchasing round trip airfare to and from Glasgow and a rental car to be waiting at the Glasgow airport. In between the flights was a two week window wide open to possibilities. The general idea was simply to drive north and west towards the coast and see what might happen. We didn't even know where we were to stay the first night.

Each day was a surprise. We had no idea where we might be sleeping, where we were going or what we would eat. Nancy still describes that trip as the best two weeks of her life. There is an old truism that in order to truly experience the highs of life, one must also experience the lows. This trip illustrated that concept in a very real way - the most dramatic being near the end of our stay. We were driving south as we started to close the circle on our return from the Isle of Skye, where we had discovered a delightful bed and breakfast overlooking the Portree harbor. One of the surprises was the lack of civilization in the stretch south from the Skye Bridge. We had taken the ferry to Skye from Mallaig and had not been in this particular part of the Highlands previously. The countryside was spectacular in its rugged, Highland beauty, but by the time we arrived back in Fort William late in the day, there were no vacancies to be found. We continued south for hours, finally into the night as we approached Oban. At this point, we had already resolved that we were likely to spend the night sleeping in the car and were looking for a place to have dinner. In Oban, quite by chance, we discovered hidden on an obscure single track a bed and breakfast on a hill overlooking the old city. They had a single vacancy.

It turned out that the proprietor was a retired Queens chef who owned and ran this small but exquisite gem. The room had a window view of the city below and, much to our delight, served dinner as well as breakfast, but only to his guests. Nancy and I then proceeded to enjoy two of the finest meals of our lives.

If we had planned our trip in advance in the normal fashion, we would of had a very different experience. When planning trips, people tend towards the known. There is certainly sound logic to this, of course - surprises are not always good. The price of this security is a certain isolation from the potential of getting a real flavor of the people and places you visit. A Marriot is a Marriot is a Marriot, regardless of the state or country it happens to be in. The very intent of these hotels is to provide a consistent, predictable, known environment for their guests. In the process, they remove all but the most highly distilled local flavor. This is why Nancy and I never stay at a major chain hotel if there are other options. The experiences we want are to be had in the local bed and breakfast, and the small diner or pub where the locals congregate - like that wonderful off-the-track pub near Loch Fyne just north of Argyle Forest that served a wondrous steak pie and local beer. We spent that night in Minard Castle, the only guests in the newly renovated castle that wasn't yet in the tourist listings.

This has not been a one way relationship, however. Nancy's gift to me is her natural gregariousness. She has a way about her that makes her incredibly approachable and outgoing. I can't count the number of times that I've found her somewhere catching up with an old friend only to learn that she had known the person for all of 10 minutes. It amazes me and I can't help but be in awe of it in some ways. The good news is that I have picked up on some of this and am far more open to approaching total strangers than before we met. Obviously, these two traits make for a happy combination when traveling, opening doors to people and experiences that most will miss.

I have found that both can also be applied to photography, specifically photography of strangers in public places. I have great respect for peoples privacy and act accordingly. Unfortunately, this otherwise virtuous trait can be a negative when working on images such as those in my Street Scenes series. Most are candid shots of people and places and these require a strong dose of unobtrusive practices. The idea is to get the image without the subject realizing I am even there in order to capture unaffected human behavior. I want the natural moment to shine through.

(click on image to enlarge)
There is another type of image, however, and these require at least the knowledge on the part of the subject that I am there, if not actual, active participation in the process on their part. An actual interaction must take place between the photographer and the subject. Here is where we depart from the known and comfortable. The photographer must be willing to reach out to a total stranger with an invitation to join in the creative process. This is not the sort of thing that intrudes into the daily routine very often - but serendipity and chance open the door to wonderful creative opportunity if we are willing to step outside of our own shell.

By the very nature of the required interaction, these images tend to be far more intimate, as the relationship between the photographer and the subject is unavoidably more close, both locked in a subtle dance. For the process to even begin, I must speak to my potential subject and broach the topic of my intent. Photography of this nature is still quite new to me, but has so far proven to be a pleasant experience. I find that my subjects tend to be fascinated by the process and are generally perfectly willing, even eager, to participate. the result is what is proving to be the beginning of a series of images with enormous potential. I will provide one example, an interaction which took place quite unexpectedly on the commute home recently.

I had just settled in for the train ride home when this guy sits in the seat facing me. I've never seen him before. Tattooed, a little dusty, definitely rough around the edges. Stocky build, but not real big - but real solid. Not a bit of fancy or soft about him. Big strong, workingman arms. These arms radiated life, emanating strength even in their relaxed repose. These were the arms of a man who relied on strength and muscle to get through his day. I had to take a photograph. I introduced myself and explained my interest. He was a really nice guy. He assumed the relaxed pose that had initially caught my attention and I quickly set up for the shot. He was completely natural - no tenseness in him at all. I exposed three frames - one was a keeper. I gave him a card and invited him to my show opening a couple of days later. Hopefully I will see him again so he can see the result of our meeting.

(click on image to enlarge)
By exercising the willingness to expose myself and an artistic impulse to a stranger, art was created in a space where the otherwise natural social impulse is to maintain the protective shell of personal space. So much is lost in this self imposed closure. I can't help but think that humanity as a whole suffers from this internal and artificial isolation when the chance meeting of strangers is not fully acted upon. The result is that we remain strangers in a crowded room.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New York City Graphics

One of the things that continues to really fascinate me about photography is how it requires me to constantly re-evaluate how I perceive the world around me.

The play of light is everywhere and ever changing from moment to moment. Most of us move through our days entirely unaware of this often delicate, sometimes (literally) glaringly brash symphony taking place around us. Light does not often call attention to itself the way sound and sensation do. It takes intent and awareness on our part to look beyond the details of our normal realm of perception.

So it has been with the new series of photographic images I started experimenting with for my New York City Graphic collection. As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I began with a new understanding of Arthur Stiegletz's approach of evaluating the overall light and shadow effects of the New York buildings around him. The architectural revolution that led to the creation of the modern high-rise building had only just begun at the end of the period where Stiegletz was actively photographing these scenes. As a result, we can see his images of such creations as the newly erected GE Buildings (both of them) standing in clear air, well above the surrounding, smaller structures of the day. Once distinct, solitary towers, these iconic structures are now lost in a crowd of modern glass, concrete and steel.

This opens up opportunities and challenges for the modern photographer that Stiegletz never had. I realized this immediately once I changed the way I looked at these massive structures which I walk among everyday going to and from work. When we see something so frequently, we become desensitized to the presence and impact of these objects. This applies even to massive skyscrapers. Most New Yorkers only perceive the first floor/sidewalk level of their surroundings. One of the surest signs of a tourist in the city is the simple fact that the person has stopped in the middle of a busy sidewalk and is actually looking UP! This behavior is actually considered a bit gauche by native New York City residents and even 'bad form'. Yet most of the truly interesting architecture exists well above street level.

It isn't the architectural detail that is pulling at me right now, however. The change in perspective has opened a new world of visual acuity. Lately, I seem to have just enough attention at street level to avoid tripping over pedestrians or getting flattened by a bus, but sometimes just barely. My attention is now constantly among the high glass towers as I seek out the potential for graphic patterns on a truly massive scale, literally hundreds of feet up. I have made several excursions into New York City with this specific purpose in mind, walking miles and miles of mid-town sidewalks seeking out sight lines and glass panels. There is the promise of potential around every corner. The results have been truly exciting, with dozens of images the result. Even still, I have barely scratched the surface of the available potential here.

Here are several examples of some of the photographs that are a direct result of this exercise. The first image, 'Cubism', is an unabashed exercise in pure graphics. There are none of the typical architectural details that would normally pull in a viewer's attention. Instead, what we have is a very structured visual of clearly defined light and shadow, all expressed in sharp, straight lines. The overall feel is one of firm and massive, if slightly confused, stability as the repeating pattern of stacked cubes seems to find no real pattern or rhythm.

(click on image to enlarge)

Next is 'The Monoliths'. As with the previous photograph, this image was shot in hard midday light to emphasize the sharp, hard lines delineating light and shadow. A massive stability also reigns in this photograph, but the character is driven by the unavoidable clarity of the repeating vertical lines marching towards the horizon, accentuated by the deep, unsettling shadows.

(click on image to enlarge)

Our last example, as yet untitled, takes a slightly different turn. The modern, steel and glass structures are ideal subjects for this exercise due to their inherently clean, direct and often unbroken lines. Older structures, while almost certainly more attractive in their architectural detailing, don't quite work as well in this exercise as the very details that make them attractive tend to break up the clean lines I am looking for. That said, I found the contrast between the two styles intriguing in this image. In the foreground is 101 Park, a very distinctive angular slab of a structure. Behind it, mostly hidden, is the spire of one of New York City's most recognizable classic structures, the Chrysler Building. Even with the modern building's presence mostly obscuring the older classic, there is no hiding the distinctive identity, or the uniqueness, of the latter.

(click on image to enlarge)

The project is ongoing and I will likely continue it indefinitely as I continue to search out new sight lines and the massive glass panels rising high into the sky.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Learning, Stiegletz and Photography as Art

I am frequently asked about my training as a photographer. Where did I go to school? Under whom did I study? Most are surprised to learn that I am completely self-taught. I have never taken a photography course, or for that matter, even an art course – not counting that required one we all took in 8th Grade.

The fact is, there are many resources available to the individual who has an intense desire to learn and I take full advantage of them. I started with books, then moved on to video tutorials on the web and the many quality blogs maintained by some very good photographers who are willing to share their hard earned knowledge. I pay this generosity forward by freely sharing what I’ve learned with anyone who has a sincere interest. I am reminded of a very polite young man I met recently at the C2 Gallery reception of the Annual Long Island Artist Invitational who had several questions about my compositional methods and processing techniques. After a brief discussion, he flattered me with the compliment that he learned more from me in ten minutes than anyone else he had ever discussed photography with. But, as the saying goes, I stand on the shoulders of giants.

No artist can proceed completely from a blank page. We are at some point inspired by another’s work that moves us deeply enough to want to try our hand at it. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, was initially moved by the works of Maxfield Parrish and Andrew Wyeth. I still keep Wyeth’s book on my desk for frequent reference. For photographic inspiration, I peruse the various and numerous publications for ideas and techniques, but I’ve taken a different route in searching for the real core of the photographic medium. I’ve gone back to the beginning, studying the works of those who put photography on the map as an art form.

In America, it is impossible to do this without running full into the body of work assembled by Arthur Stiegletz. More than any other individual, Arthur Stiegletz moved photography away from its representational roots towards the more ethereal world as an artistic medium. I did not immediately grasp how he did this. My initial studies of his work did not give me an overt sense of why they should be considered art, although the images were often stunning. As my education has progressed, this has become abundantly clear, however. Part of the matter is that my initial considerations of Stiegetz’ photography made some erroneous assumptions:

What I initially thought were limitations of the early technology turned out to be the results of intentional choices on the part of Mr. Stiegletz to achieve an artistic end. This was driven home with unwavering certainty when I had the rare pleasure of seeing 39 of Stiegletz’ actual prints at a recent showing in New York City. Along with the prints, the curators also provided various commentaries on Stiegletz’ methods. The real center, however, was the inclusion of several of his original un-enlarged prints, run right from the original plates. What became immediately apparent is that the impressionistic ‘softness’ of the final prints was not at all a limitation of the medium, but a desired effect. The images on the original plates were razor sharp! This observation was timely, as I am currently reading the ‘The Key Set’, the massive publication of all Stiegletz’ 1,682 favored prints, as assembled after his death by his wife, Georgia O’Keefe. Here we learn of the use by Stiegletz, not so much of photographic detail, but rather broader considerations of light and form within the frame. Stiegletz was sharply aware of the current movements within the arts and how they might be applied to photography. Much of this approach is reflected in his New York city images.

So where does this lead me, the student? The primary effect was to cause me to reconsider how I examine and consider the photographic potential of my subjects. Photography, by its very nature, tends towards literal representation – but we must find a way past this if we are to produce photographic art. What I have learned is to see beyond the superficial detailed representation to the broader forms and relationship of light and dark within those forms. The direct result is a recent series of photographs taken in midtown Manhattan which have opened an entirely new visual world for me. The realization of the power within this approach hit upon me quite suddenly and unexpectedly while doing a series of shots of one of my favorite skyscrapers – the original GE Building on the corner of 51st and Lexington.

I had long wanted to get a properly atmospheric image of this amazing architectural masterpiece and this particular day had just the right conditions: mostly clear with thin passing clouds, and a low, midwinter afternoon sun combining for dramatic shadows and strong contrast. Playing to the stark difference between the deep, broad shadows and contrasting sunlight, I wanted to bring out the uniquely modern gothic character of the structure. The resulting mood is carried by the massive, shadowed presence in the frames, but the definition is carried by the highly contrasting lighted details.

(Click on image to enlarge)
Pleased with the result, I wondered if the effect could be carried even farther with modern, glass-sided buildings with their virtual elimination of ornamentation. I walked through midtown looking for potential subjects. The first was this study of the Citicorp building, viewed from across the street from the Seagrams Building on Park Avenue. The result is quite dramatic! The resulting photograph takes on a poster-like graphic directness.

(Click on image to enlarge)
I continued the exercise as I walked through mid-town and finally took the concept another step farther by searching out more interesting shapes, particularly ones with a strong geometric presence. The result was this shot:

(Click on image to enlarge)
Almost cubist in its impact, the pure geometrical shapes highlighted by the extreme light and dark details drive this image to an unexpected place – visually more graphic than representational in effect,. This is especially ironic in that both of the latter two images have very minimal processing – just fine-tuned contrast and sharpness. As photographs, they ARE representational, but the careful composition and use of light changes that aspect utterly for the viewer.

I like the results of this experiment enough that I may start a new dedicated series.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Just passing through...

Man alive, where did the time go!?! It seems the the Holiday Season hit like a frieght train and left us swirling and bouncing in its passing wake. So much to do packed into so little time. I figured I better get a post up before the whole month of January blew by. Looks like I will just make it.

Aside from the mad rush of the Holidays, we get mixed in the additional logistics of my son Paull's graduation from college, picking up his sister to bring her home, setting up the Holiday display at the BJ Spoke Gallery, etc., etc. As the end of January sneaks up on me, we've had the reception at the C2 Gallery in Patchogue, as I was awarded one of the eleven artist slots for the Annual Artist Invitational. It was one of the best show receptions I've had the pleasure of attending. Some serious talent was present and on display. Planning is well under way for the grand opening of the new, expanded Gallery in March. I will be one of three artists, all photographers, whose work will be presented. It should be an interesting presentation of the various possibilities within the photographic medium. Meanwhile, today we hung eighteen prints in the new gallery space in the Bay Shore/Brightwaters public Library. People were lining up to look over the work even as we were hanging it. The reception has already been a good one!

One of January's highlights for me was the rare opportunity to see original prints of Alfred Stiegletz's photography. Thirty-nine original prints of his work centering on the city of New York were on display at the South Street Seaport Museum. I will post a more detailed report later, but it was an inspiring and educational day. I have been studying Stiegletz's work for some time now, and to see the original work itself was a revelation. My favorite gift was from my ever encouraging wife, Nancy, who bought me a copy of 'The Key Set', the massive tome of Stiegletz's work. This will keep me busy for a long time to come, as the depth of the research is outstanding.

My research into Stiegletz's techniques have been having an influence on my work for many months now. He was one of the first and foremost proponents of photography as an art form and not a mere recording medium. This shows deeply in his work. I have been trying to sort out how to capture some of the feel of his work, as the technology is so much different today - as should be expected of course. This relates in large part to my earlier post regarding the 'impressionistic' quality inherent in images when the resolution is reduced. Of course, the process of acheiving an properly artistic image is far more complex than just reducing the resolution of the image. That is just one part of a many layered process to acheive what the photographer has in mind. I only recently acheived something of what I was trying for in this learning process.

The camera used was my trusty and heavily used Canon G9, set to RAW image capture. The moment, a snowy morning walking to work in New York City. The place, Herald Square. As usual, I was scanning for interesting light, form and contrast as I walked to work. I had taken a few shots, testing the light, when I noticed it, the line of small round bistro style tables so common on Broadway now. A row had been pushed aside to allow pedestrians a clear walking path and the light snow had settled on their smooth, round tops, making a natural broken line pulling your eye towards the backdrop of the Square, and farther along past the iron fencing and arched gate, Broadway fading in the distance. The final element needed were the pedestrians, so I waited a bit watching and prepared for the right moment.
(click on image to enlarge)
Here was the modern vision of Stiegletz's New York as seen in his early work, just at the turn end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Taken at street level, capturing in the every day moments of the city and in doing so, capturing something of the life and spirit of the great city.