Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Found Objects

One of the most interesting things about being a photographer is the change that takes place in how one views the world. Instead of the usual mental state where one simply cruises through the day with a narrow, more-or-less self centered focus, everything suddenly becomes full of interest and potential.

One of the fun aspects of this heightened awareness is what is sometimes referred to as ‘found objects’. These tend to be those little, insignificant things that one would normally never really notice. However, within the mind of the creative and sensitive observer, these objects become endowed with presence and meaning. It is actually quite fun to capture these little things and to try and convey the presence or connection that I see in them. Whether the resulting images ascend to the point of being ‘art’ is not the point for me. It is, simply put, FUN! A whole new world of potential is opened up for exploration!

The primary requirement is that these objects are seen and then photographed untouched and ‘as found’. It is the fact that these objects are captured in situ that makes them interesting. The scenes are not constructed artificially or with intention - it is vital that they evolve naturally, as that is the aspect about them that speaks the loudest. The scene is a ‘found object’, it has come into existence through natural processes and chance. It is the job of the photographer to capture the object in such a way as to convey the story or statement that exists within it.

Sometimes, the interest lies within the object itself. Sometimes the interest is generated by the object and its relationship to its immediate environment that poses a question:
(click on image to enlarge)   Boots
Occasionally, it is the relationship of the object to some other point of interest in the immediate vicinity:
(click on image to enlarge)    Water, Water Everywhere
Then again, there are those little finds that lend themselves to an entirely different interpretation if one applies a little imagination:

(click on image to enlarge)   Memories of a Green World
These photographs are all part of a growing series I call ‘Sidewalk Stories’. All of them are found in and on New York City sidewalks. New York City is, almost literally, a continuous sidewalk network from the Whitehall ferry terminal on the southern tip to the edge of the Harlem River on the north end, with some 13.4 miles in-between. The potential for finds here is staggering! How many found objects wait to be discovered...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Organic Films

One finds inspiration and vision in the most unexpected places.

Following by wife's insistence that I take a break from my seemingly never ending backlog of work, I accepted her suggestion that we take our new pup for a walk in a local park. Getting outside into the fresh air and sunshine is never a bad idea, so I happily acquiesced and off we went.

Naturally, I packed a small camera, 'just in case'.

The walk was pleasant and we casually made our way to the shore of the Great South Bay. Gardinor Park has one of the very few remaining undeveloped stretches of beach on the northern shore of Great Cove. As we strolled along the shoreline I noticed that one of the recent storms had washed up great sheets of sea lettuce, which now lay stretched and bleaching in the sun. My first thought was that I'd never seen that much sea lettuce before and that it was a bit of an odd, if messy sight. On the first pass, I paid it little attention, focused as I was on Nancy and the pup. On the return pass, Nancy struck up a conversation with another dog owner and I wandered over to the shoreline to see if there was anything interesting about.

That was when I noticed , really noticed, the sea lettuce. It was stretched in thin layers over a fairly broad expanse of the beach. As it bleached and dried in the sun, it had taken on a fantastic texture which could be seen if one got right down close to it. Out came the Leica and off I went, looking for the most interesting bits and snapping away.

It was fantastic. The normally nondescript sea lettuce had taken on an entirely new presence in its decaying transformation. Visually, it had actually become MORE organic in appearance as it decayed. I processed the images in high contrast monochrome to bring out the incredible details in full.

(click on image to enlarge)
I recall the fascination many years ago when I had first seen images produced by an electron microscope. A whole new world of astounding, living textures had been exposed to me. I immediately recognized that same experience in the textures of the fading sea lettuce, the thin algae form having taken on a new structure as it compressed, folded and stretched into semi-transparency as it dried out.

(click on image to enlarge)
The end effect is at once fascinating and a bit creepy, in a deeply thought provoking way. The textures project this inescapable organic presence. Studying the final 12 images in the series, I can't help but be forced to recognize the fragility of life within these thin, semitransparent structures. The connection to our physical and, ultimately, our inner selves is direct, speaking to the soft, albeit tough, reality of skin, muscle and sinew. The emotional message is more subtle, of course, addressing the stretched, thinness of self as we age and, eventually fade. These films are dying or, more likely, already dead, their cogent mortality immediate and stretched out, ready for study by the sensitive witness. The images conjure thoughts of human faces - old, dark, leathery. Sun cooked by years of exposure to the raw, burnishing elements and time's unforgiving hand, the ancient fisherman's sun drenched soul exposed.

This is my journey. Photography paves the way. Thank you for joining me for a few moments.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Promise of Days in Sunshine

I've spent much time recently experimenting with images of people. This probably wouldn't strike most as being unusual unless you consider the nature of my early photography work, which was almost entirely devoid of human presence. Recalling that my day job requires, if anything, a rather intense involvement with a broad range of people, from UN representatives to cleaning staff, in both good moods and bad, in matters personal and professional. My weekends were generally spent in a concerted effort to get AWAY from people! My early photography, with it's emphasis on nature and landscapes was a direct result of this.

I've noticed a change in myself recently. While my high stress day job has not changed a bit, my recent iPhone experiments in New York City and elsewhere have opened up an unexpected door to a rather different perspective. At least part of this progressive change can be traced back to Sean Kernan's suggestion to me to study Robert Frank's book 'The Americans'. The process had already begun in the form of my street photography, but Mr. Kernan's suggestion and Robert Frank's work have catalyzed the formation of the process in my mind and photography goals.

The result can be seen in my growing series of City images, taken with both the iPhone and my Leica. The subject matter has shifted from the 'traditional' form of street photography towards a specifically broader perspective: that of the relationship of people within the spaces they inhabit and to each other. I have tried to capture a specific dynamic in the urban images, where nature has been severely constrained to a bare trace of an existence in what, a little over a century ago, was once a mostly natural woodland. What greenery now remains is entirely man made, in the sense that every tree has been intentionally planted and maintained by man in a specific, purposely restricted space. I find an inevitable stress in the natural relationship results which broadcasts itself into the dynamics of human interrelationships in these densely populated spaces.

(click image to enlarge)               No Connection
The word 'alienation' is certainly an overused descriptor, but that element is profoundly present and captured in these photographs. Lone isolated trees and lone isolated people at the center of one of the most densely populated urban centers of the world.

(click image to enlarge)                   The Confrontation
A very subtle change has taken place during the process of taking these photographs, however, and one that was entirely unexpected. The importance of the personal relationships has started to come to the fore. The New York City work does not lend itself easily to this due to the rather specific direction of the project. Instead, it has presented itself at family gatherings, especially in the presence of the very young and old members of the family as they act out the natural dynamics that comprise all families. Here is the stuff of our lives and an enormously fertile field of potential. The difficulty lies in taking these daily, commonplace events and bringing forth the soul that lies deep within the heart of the relationships in play, the stuff of memories recorded in the albums of family snapshots.

(click image to enlarge)            The Promise of Days in Sunshine
This is pretty nearly the exact opposite space from where my photography started. Funny how that works...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Barriers come in many forms. There are the common physical barriers, some inconvenient like that fence that blocked your favorite shortcut as a kid, others serving practical purposes, such as the various forms of traffic control which block your short cuts as an adult! Still others are beneficial, such as barrier islands that form protected waters where marshlands and estuaries can exist, flush with wildlife.

The barrier foremost in my mind lately is that of the 'day job'. Now, calling my day job a barrier requires a certain context because, lets face it, without it a lot of necessary and/or desired things would not be possible. There is that pesky mortgage, the kid's college tuition, all the bills associated with living in the Long Island version of suburbia, the nice vacations, etc., etc. All that is understood and accepted, if reluctantly, in spite of the running joke that 'my day job is really cutting into my play time!'. On top of that is the disruption caused by a do-it-yourself kitchen renovation. Disrupted habits and routines are not always a bad thing, but when layered on top of an existing stress, well...

The barrier caused by the day job that seems to crop up too often recently is its tendency, through stress and mental exhaustion, to deplete the energy needed for creativity. Too often lately, I've caught myself late in the evening staring into the 24" high res lcd panel, filled with some image file I am trying to finesse to fit the potential I see in it and my focus drifts and my eyes slowly close - only to snap awake when I catch myself. The result is the writing starts to fall off and the image processing backlog doesn't get any smaller. It even gets noticeably harder to fire up that creative spark needed to enter that mental space that allows me, even drives me to create.

This is NOT good, especially for someone who's need to create is one of the prime motivators in life. The frustration can become palpable.

So, what is one to do? Not much but ride it out, unfortunately. The day job is not always this stressful and, as the saying goes, this too shall pass. The kitchen project, little by little, is getting done and in a few more weeks we should have a functional, and even attractive, kitchen again. In the meantime, I've learned how to install an Italian tile floor, the definition of the word 'slake' as applied to mortar, how easy it is to blow a hand powered tile cutter to smithereens and the advantages of spending a bit more money for a proper stone cutter table saw (highly recommended). The RAW photo files will still be on the computer and waiting.

(click on image to enlarge)                     A World of Wounds
In the midst of this morass, I have found one creative outlet which has paid some surprising dividends: the iPhone camera. I've discovered that the few minutes spent walking between Penn Station and my office can be a goldmine. In this mile and a half of walking and observing, before the pressures, interruptions and obligations of the day start to encroach upon the psyche, the creative spirit can still manifest itself. The result is a collection of little images that speak to a unique world that exists in the early moments of each weekday in New York City. As I take my varied daily route through Murray Hill, I am primed for the small discoveries. The resulting collection is growing, such that I have committed one of my web site galleries to iPhoneography. I have posted a few examples with this blog entry as usual, but be sure to stop by the iPhoneography Gallery to see the rest of a continuously expanding collection of images. One photograph, 'An Intersection of Metals', was even selected for the juried photography show currently being exhibited in the Kiernan Gallery's 'iSpy: Camera Phone Photography Show' in Lexington, Virginia.

(click on image to enlarge)              An Intersection of Metals
It seems the late night creativity has taken a little bit of a hit as of late, but creativity finds a way. This time, it came out through a little camera phone and a series of unexpected but intriguing photographs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Days of Future Past

"I love deadlines. I like the 'whooshing' noise they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams

Wait a minute, was that December that just blew by?!?!

Here we are finally coming out of the far side of the careening rush of the holiday season. Like many people,  I frequently find myself wondering how we continue to lose ourselves in the maddening crush of the season rather than take the other direction and just slow down a bit and reflect on our personal take on the Solstice and/or whatever spiritual take we might have on it. One of the victims of this year's running about has been my photography. There is just too little free time to get out to personal shoots or even process images. I've certainly let my blog updates take a bit of a back seat to more pressing matters. Still, even with all the rushing about, it is a natural time to find a moment to look back over the passing year and consider the ground covered, lessons (hopefully) learned and also to consider the rapidly approaching future.

The news isn't all bad, happily enough. It looks like we had a banner year for Holiday season sales which has contributed in some part to the running about - but that's a good thing and hopefully a sign that the economy is starting to warm up again. We will have both kids home for Christmas, which is a very good thing! I've made some new friends over at the Islip Arts Council and won an award for my Maple Red print at the recently concluded Seatuck Environmental Association Photography Show, which is sponsored by the Council. The reception was very well attended and my prints received a lot of attention, particularly from Council members. I am looking forward to doing a lot more work with this group. As this post does not discuss some photographic concept in my usual manner, I will share the three images that were accepted into the Seatuck show, starting with the award winner, "Maple Red":
(click on image to enlarge)         Maple Red
On the bad news side, another gallery has closed. Studio East Gallery, owned and operated by my friend Terry Falquero closed their doors after a three  year run. We had the reception for the current mixed media show a few weeks ago and it was a bittersweet event, knowing it was the last show for this quirky little gallery. I will miss our monthly show receptions and friendly, interesting discussions with the other artists. I may actually have to consider joining one of the local art groups at some point. 

It is already time to start considering next summer's show schedule. We want to show in the Westhampton Spring show, for instance, which will be a new one for us. We are considering a return to Sag Harbor as well, as they seem to have wised up and allowed tent setups on the park grass instead of the roadway. I want to find a show venue in the Stony Brook area as well, which is an odd void in our show network. I think we will still limit ourselves to showing on Long Island for the coming year. The logistics of traveling out of state are just too much for what amounts to a weekend event for us, at least for the immediate future. Next on the promotional front is the ongoing search for open artist calls for shows and publications. I've two submissions in the works as this is being written, so hopefully they will come to fruition.
(Click image to enlarge)                Inner Light
One of the year's outstanding moments was my portfolio review with Sean Kernan. This, in fact, may have been the most important moment of the year for my development as a photographer. We had a really interesting, if all too brief, discussion about my work which ended with Mr. Kernan's entirely unexpected statement that "Anything that I could show or teach you, you are already doing. You are on your own. Let's see what you can do!" 

I really did not see that train coming, as the saying goes.

(Click image to enlarge)               Windswept II
Bearing in mind that I have never taken a photography class, or even an art class for that matter, excepting the usual 8th grade thing we all take, Mr. Kernan's pronouncment came as a surprisingly profound shock. It is one thing to study on your own, comforted by the fact that you always have the option to reach out to those teachers and resources to get a helping hand or hints of direction. It is quite another to inadvertently discover you've passed an important benchmark without even realizing it. I'm still sorting this out in my own head and it will be interesting to see how this newfound realization affects my work.

So, here is to hoping all of you have an interesting and happily challenging new year. Get out there and let's see what you can do!