Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

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.