Archive for the ‘fine art photography’ Category

Photography used to be time travel. We took photographs, and then forgot them. That magic roll of film held the memory safe, tucked away in the dark to be revealed and relived at another time.

A trip to the Fotomat was highly anticipated–the roll finished and developed, it offered wonderful surprises, time travel, remembering and reliving moments, the essence of photography.

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In this instant digital world, that magic is missing, the distance between creating the photograph and reliving it is non-existent, perhaps why photography feels less fulfilling than it once did. I make a photo, I show it to you, you’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, it’s all done. Nothing left to do but the chore to get it to you, which I may never do, because who cares, you already saw it.

I made a portrait of a woman yesterday for The Wise Photo Project and I made it on a Hasselblad film camera on black and white film. Someone asked me why shoot film, and I said, “If I don’t shoot film, I have nothing to print in my darkroom. I need a negative to create a print by hand, a one-of-a-kind hand-printed silver portrait.”

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If her family wants to share it, they’ll have to visit her to see the print–that’s the product of these portrait shoots, a photograph. Framed. For real. Not a swipe left or right. Not an email or a scan. A real photograph to place in her house and have for future generations to keep and always know her face.

She’s looking forward to her portrait. She’ll be very happy when she sees the wonderful image of herself. I’m proud of it and that I had the opportunity to make it.

But she’ll have to wait for it.

Therein lies the magic.

And if you want to see it, well, you won’t find it here. You’ll have to stop over and visit her to see her portrait.

Maybe have a coffee and some conversation, too. Another bonus to creating an actual photograph–time spent together.

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And to all my photographer friends: Here’s to Good Light!

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I’ve met more people in my life as a result of my camera than any other way.  Of course, I talk to strangers all the time.  In fact, I don’t think of them as strangers, but just people sharing life with me, and we are all a part of this something, whatever is is, together,  We are in effect friends that haven’t yet met.

Dr Laurie Santos, a Yale professor whose podcast is The Happiness Lab has a podcast episode, Mistakenly Seeking Solitude about just that.  I so relate to it–we need human connection and social interaction.  It’s vital to life.

And the camera is the greatest way to create that introduction.  It’s countless the number of times that a Rolleiflex or 4×5 camera has led me to conversations with people.  Or their portrait.  People are really not as scary as we’ve made them out to be.  Strangers are just strange because we haven’t said hello yet.  Once we do, they’re no longer strangers.

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Dave, from Old Central City, Huntinton WV, isn’t a stranger but a new friend!

It’s a simple thing, to carry a camera (preferably a gorgeous Leica or something that shoots film and looks like a piece of art) and then to approach people to photograph their portrait. I suspect a photographer who did nothing but go out into public and ask to photograph people ‘because they look amazing’, that photographer would make a lot of days.  People would leave the encounter with a smile on their face, and a bit of joy in their heart, for being selected and the honor of being photographed.

There are no strangers.  Let’s go out and meet our neighbors, the ones we know and the ones we will soon know.  And say hello to those who cross our path.  Their interaction with us makes our day better too, adds a bit of joy to our day.

I was reading quotes from famous artists, and one of them said something to the effect: “When I go to the canvas with a preconceived idea, those are usually not as good as the ones where I go with no idea what I will paint, and just paint.”

Effectively, going to the sandbox to play.  Because creativity is play.  Creative activity.  The ability to make something out of nothing.

I’ve been taking that to heart and using it for a photography project.  The idea is I have a model, I have outfits, and I have a camera, but I don’t have a subject in mind to shoot.  I can create anything I want.  And so far, what I’ve created isn’t at all what I would have thought to create.  It’s in the creation that they came to be.

I’m working on the photographs for a book project, so won’t post any here, but there is certainly a way to work, as this old photojournalist has to break his thought process and just get in the sand.  And play.

And play.

Sometimes the first photo doesn’t seem so inspired.  Shoot it anyway.  It may lead to another photo.  And that one may be the inspired one.  The inspiration may come when you stop thinking, stop looking for it.

It’s crazy magical that way, the way it works, the way it manifests.

There’s something to it, when the muse is allowed to play.  Pick up the camera, look through the viewfinder, and shoot something you’ve never shot before.

Create a scene.  Play with light and your subject.  See what you come up with.

I’m using a vintage Mamiya C330S twin-lens reflex medium format film camera, just to add to the process, on a tripod, carefully framing and exposing the negative.

Oh, let the muse play!

 

LA Friends: I have a photograph in the Lucie Foundation Analogue Project with a gallery opening Thursday April 11, 6-9pm at ROW DTLA. It’d be great to see you there.
 
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Unless they can see the difference.

Many people cannot see the difference.

So, many people don’t care what camera you use.

The camera doesn’t define you, or make your work.  You do!

You define your work.  Here’s proof.  This photographer shot 100 different cameras, and yet the work all looks similar.  Because it’s not the camera.  It’s the vision.  It’s the person behind the camera.

Photographers tell us as much about themselves as they do the subject they are showing.  For essentially they are saying, “This is what I photographed, this is what I made.  This is what I like, what I value.”

Look at the photos, ideally on a big monitor and hit full screen at lower right.  It’s such a great display.

When I show my street photographs, they are a reflection of what I see and think are storytelling images.  To you, they may mean something entirely different or nothing at all, based on your life experiences, what you like and what you relate with.

We all get to finish the art for ourselves.

At a talk about a book, someone commented to the author their take on what the book meant to them, and the author corrected them, saying that’s not correct.  The person commenting protested, “Who are you to say what it means just because you wrote it?”

Another good collection of photographs is by Jason Lee, who I recently found out about online.  I knew him as an actor from My Name is Earl, but not as a photographer.  He shoots several types of film, from 35mm up to large Polaroids.

 

From the work I see, I’d suggest he’s a romantic, into nostalgia, and maybe a bit of a historian.  He likes things that are incongruous.  The work certainly has a theme.  Many of the images share a similar look–do you agree?

I see a big difference in the look of film versus the look of digital.  And I get lulled at times to just use the Nikon DSLR and a 20mm–I feel I can do anything with that, it’s quick and easy.  It’s always ready to make an image.

Except it can’t make film images.

And what I make–that also defines me.  And you.

This spring, I will be shooting more film than I have been this winter.  Both 120 and 4×5. Because that’s what I like.  That’s something about me.  And you’ll be able to notice that about me in the work.

Or maybe you won’t.  But I will.  And some will.   Regardless, it all comes down to the story I’m telling–what is it I did with that film medium.  Photography is a vehicle to take someone somewhere.

We have to take them somewhere interesting, while revealing a bit about ourselves.

I have a secret.  I’m going to share it with just you.  Okay?

If you want to get inspired to make photographs (or to write, or to paint, etc.) there’s one trick that you must know.  One little trick that is so mind-blowingly amazing, it’ll change your creative life.

Once you know it, you’ll have the key to inspiration forever.  It’s something you cannot forget.  It’s simply unforgettable.  But it is truly the key.

So, this is the secret.  It’s a very elusive thing, something that most people don’t know, so don’t share it, unless you want to let them in on it like I’m doing for you.

Just you.

This is it.  Are you ready?  D’you have something to write with?  You might want to write this down.

It’s so simple, that must be the reason that so many creatives miss it.  It’s sooooo simple.

Here it is.  The secret.  Two words.  I’ll print them lightly, so as if to whisper them.  It is a secret after all, the secret you were seeking.

[Show up.]

That’s it.  Have a good day.  Now go to it.

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Wait, let me expound on that.  Give you a little about what I mean.

I was listening to an interview with Bob Dylan, and he was asked how he wrote some of his early famous songs, and he said he didn’t know, they just came to him.

They just came to him. 

But he had to be there.  Ready for them to come.  He showed up and was ready to receive the song and create it.  He was sitting at his typewriter and had his guitar or piano and he was in the process of working to write songs.  That was his sandbox and he was sitting in it, sand up to his knees.

Related imageThe photograph above is me working at my typewriter.  I write as well as make photographs and some writing I do on a typewriter, in this case, a very lovely Olivetti Lettera 32, which by the way Dylan also wrote with.  So, I wanted to make a photograph of me at the typewriter because I wanted to experiment with some new strobe lights and portable lighting setups.

To do it, I had to show up.

I had to assemble the lights.  Set up the light stands.  Power the lights.  I had to place them and set the exposure.  Get the camera on the tripod.  Once I had them all set up, the playground was there.  The sandbox was ready for me.  All I had to do was anything I wanted.  Now it was time to play.  So, I made several photographs.

Here’s a silly one–I was channeling my best Cindy Sherman, a very famous artist known for casting herself in her portraits.  But again, it’s me at my place, working away, feeling like having a laugh.  I was thinking about how I often crack myself up.  (Do you ever do that?)  Once the lights were set, it was a chance to play.

That never would have happened if I didn’t get the lights out, the camera set.  You see?

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To make these photographs, I had to set up the lights and their remote triggers–it’s all wireless these days.  I like the look.  The lighting.  That was a fun shoot, and it got me to see how much I could do with my own space, it gave me the chance to work with smaller lighting fixtures, and it was a creative outlet.  I usually use large AC-powered soft-boxes and this was a new tool, these small battery-powered strobes, in my lighting arsenal.

Plus, there are these photographs to show for it.  Fun photographs, well-lit, the look I was going for, and I got to play.

So, I can rephrase the secret: If you want to be inspired, go play.  Take your tools.  For a writer it can be a laptop, a typewriter or a pen and paper and go sit outside at a park under a tree, or a coffeeshop or a pub, wherever you can go to stay in the playground.  For a photographer, set up the lights where you are or grab the camera and go.

Whatever it takes.  The muse will deliver the inspiration when you have the game set up, but often not before.  She’s funny that way–she doesn’t always come around before we show up.  But once we’re there, get ready to write your own Blowin’ in the Wind.

We. Just. Have. To. Show. Up!

I get a lot more street photographs when I go to town and walk the pavement than when I sit at home thinking about what to shoot.  To shoot street, you have to go to the street.  A couple hours at a time.  Wear comfortable shoes.

There’s no such thing as “thinking about it”.  There’s nothing happening when we say we’re not quite ready, we’re still pondering the idea.  That does nothing.  We haven’t arrived to play.

So, there’s the secret.  Wanna write a song?  Grab a notebook and pencil and your instrument and start.  Show up, see what comes from it.

The inspiration comes after you arrive.  Not before.  You can go with no ideas, and they’ll come then.  When you’re ready.

Really.  Go with no ideas.  Go uninspired.  It’s fine.  Just go.

Wanna make photographs?  What do you need to get started?  Lighting?  Go pull out the stands and start setting them up.  As you are doing that, the ideas will come.  At first, try anything.  That something will lead to another thing.  That’s the muse at work!

Large format?  Go load the film holders and put them in your camera bag and warm up the car–you’re going shooting.  Go out and look for a subject.  Maybe the weather looks like it’s not perfect, so what, go anyway–maybe you’ll find it’s exactly right where you go, when you get there.  But you’ve gotta show up.

Now you know, that’s all you have to do.  So simple.  Just two words.  The muse is waiting to work with you.  The creativity happens when we’re in the playground.  Not before.  Not when we’re “thinking” about it, while feeling un-creative.  She arrives when we are ready to be creative.

She waits until we’re up to our knees in sand!  So, go.

Show up!  The muse is waiting.