Posts Tagged ‘fine art photography’

(This is a follow-up to my last post, Film, Huh, Good God, What is it Good For?)

The bricklayer takes bricks and cement and builds a wall.  It’s an expression of function, and the result is useful as structure.

The artist who uses bricks as his medium (if perhaps there is one that does) takes the same building blocks as the bricklayer and creates something out of their imagination.  It could be anything, a tree, a bed, a figure, a structure, but it’s not functional. It’s an expression of themselves.

The sculptor takes a solid rock and chips away at it and reveals a figure inside.   Or an animal or a tree or anything he or she can dream of.  It’s an expression of themselves.

The photographer takes a photo of a man on a street and presents it.  It’s an expression of what he sees, what he puts value on, what he finds interesting. (Or perhaps what he’s seen done before, and he’s happy having made a good emulation.) But it’s not a vision–he didn’t create it, it was in front of him, it resonated with him and so he took the shot. Or it could be a landscape, or an old car.  By photographing it, it does reveal something–we know what this person likes, what captures their eye and attention of their camera.  But we don’t see a vision–a work of art created in the artist’s mind/heart and then realized with the tools of photography.

I use this same analogy with musicians playing open mic night.  If you go up and play three cover songs, I may enjoy the tunes, but I won’t know anything about you.  It’s almost a cheat–I didn’t get to hear something you created, where you put your words to your music.  Yes, you entertained, but it was without anything new, your own art.  You didn’t risk anything.  You played safe.

The artist who uses photography to create art has but one goal–to speak to the viewer with the tools of the medium and create a piece of art that communicates something, that tells us a bit about the artist, not the scene.  The fine art photographer doesn’t present that which is literal, but that which is their interpretation of their world using images.

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“Snout” 12×18″

This was photographed at dusk at a farm off a road near where I live, but this isn’t what it looked like.  It’s what I saw when I pictured it in my mind–a view of just their white snouts poking out of the darkness at the onset of the impending, perhaps foreboding, night.  So, I processed the photograph to reflect that vision.  (It would have really been an art photo if I had brought those cows there, or somewhere else, perhaps the median of an interstate!)  See how  a choice like that changes photography from a finished medium to a starting medium?  You want to photograph a female nude out in a field wearing nothing but a gas mask, that’s your art.  (I’ve seen that photo–galleries and competitions love it.  It’s an expression, you certainly didn’t stumble on that and take a snap.)

The reason I had to make this photo into an interpretation is because I’m not a nature guy.  I’m much more comfortable in an urban environment, so to make this, it’s a bit of my way of saying I’m not about the pretty farm scene. This way, it has an almost dystopian feeling, something out of a David Lynch-ian world, which I much more connect with than the natural world.  It feels somewhat dark and foreboding when you see them the way I do.   There’s something possibly dangerous about them, you wouldn’t want to be standing near them.

That’s how I see nature and animals in natural settings.  That’s my perception of my world, and this photograph perfectly depicts it, saying “Stay out!”  And I do.

Having been a photojournalist for many years of my career, transitioning to telling a bit about myself in a photograph instead of presenting literal truth has been a challenge.  But one that has me excited at the possibilities of what I can create.

My name is Kenneth Wajda.  That’s my literal name. That’s how I sell myself as a commercial photographer. Hire me, here’s my work at KennethWajda.com.

My fine art site is K. Andrzej Wajda, which uses my middle name and pronounces my middle and last name in my native Polish: (Ahn’-dray Vy’-duh).  That’s an abstraction right there.  When I introduce myselfit’s a different perception.  It’s my artist speaking.  (I feel like Sting must have when he first introduced himself–a bit awkward at first.)  And I listen as the person I’m introducing myself responds.  There’s a different perception of me as an artist from the pronunciation of the name, it’s fascinating.

(I’m currently seeking gallery representation, which is why I’m introducing myself to gallery owners, so if you are someone or know someone who would find my work fitting in your/their gallery, please let’s be in contact.)

That’s the thing about art, you can be anyone and make anything you want.   You just have to be willing to reveal a bit about yourself.  When you do, you create something that speaks of you.  You create art.

You reveal yourself.  And once revealed, it’s something that can be judged.  It’s a daring thing to do.

A person who tells you what they hate tells you nothing about themselves.  “I hate this beer.  I hate this city.  I hate this weather.”  So?  But tell us what you like, reveal something about yourself, and now I have the ability to judge your taste.  “You like this beer/city/weather, ha, you know nothing about good beer/cities/weather!”

What do we dare reveal about ourselves with our art?  What speaks of us, not of the scene in front of our lens, but of us?  What do we dare show of our perception?

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“Death” 12×18″

This isn’t a photograph that I would normally take, but seeing this bird lying there, on the side of the road, seemingly asleep though I knew it wasn’t, there was something peaceful about it.  It wasn’t run over by a car and damaged.  It looked quite perfect, and that peacefulness is what I wanted to speak of, create, show.  That’s what makes this quite beautiful in a world where most would say there is nothing attractive about death.

This says something about me, too.  I am the optimist, yet I can make this photo.  It’s like saying even at the worst of times, I can find something positive.  I can give its last resting place a place of lasting honor.

I think the positiveness in this photograph is why I’ve included it in my gallery.  (That and ‘weird’ sells the artist, doesn’t it?  My work is a step away from the daily snapshooters.)

Art.  The perception that art is something specific is a part of being an artist, and also a cloud–how much are we able to really create anything original versus making what we’ve seen or been taught to see as art?  I know for me, I carry a camera all the time, but only make photographs when something connects to me, draws me, makes me want to photograph.

I think it comes down to truth.  If it’s our truth, then it’s our art.  And that’s the one thing that as artists we all strive to create and reveal.  Not the one we want people to perceive of us, but our real truth.

If we dare.

I traveled this month, a road trip from Colorado to California, and if you know me, I pack a variety of cameras.  I don’t go anywhere without at least one Leica.  And I brought a Rolleiflex for some portraits, and at the last minute put a 4×5 camera and some film and a changing bag into the car.

Plus the Nikon DSLR and three lenses, because I knew I would be picking up some freelance shoots in Los Angeles.

So, film, what is it good for?  On this trip, absolutely nothing / listen to me!

Because I was shooting street photos in Vegas and LA, and all along the way through Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Nikon with a 50mm or 20mm is perfect for that.  Quick and nimble.  Grab shots.  Instantly ready and can keep on shooting.

I came back home and put all the film back in the fridge.  Hopefully it enjoyed its trip.  But I thought about why I didn’t shoot any.  And it comes down to purpose.  I shoot film to MAKE photos.  To create a photo story on film or a portrait.  Film is for those family members and stories I want to make that are the most important to me.

For me, digital is best for grabbing shots–not making them, but TAKING them.  They are in front of me as a documentary photographer.  I’m not one to wait at one location for planets to align–elements to form a perfect composition in front of a mural, for example–that’s not my style of street photography.  I don’t stand still at all–I walk and watch and shoot when something grabs my attention.  When I see a story.  Then I grab a shot.

So, I guess you can tell what happened–I didn’t make any photographs.  I took images of the scenes before me.  Good documentary photos, but not made, taken.

That’s what digital excels at.

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A funny photo, a good street photo, but a documentary photograph taken, not made.  I was at the right place at the right time.  And had the reflexes to grab the shot.  But I didn’t create it.  Hence the use of digital medium, not film. (Nikon F610 50mm f1.2)

Film is for, I realize, creating something.  I don’t just pull out the 4×5 and see what catches my fancy.  Not at all.  I have to go out and create something.  That’s what that beautiful large negative is for.  Purposeful photography.  And photographs made on film take planning.  I can’t just show up in a town I don’t know and see something I can make a photograph of.

So, I end up taking photos of the scenes before me.

I’ve been working on some fine art images the last few months, and I realize the difference between a nature photo by an artist Sally Mann and one by a nature photographer John Fielder is that one is made, and one is taken.  To me, there is a world of a difference.

The artist must make something out of the materials at hand.  It’s about vision.  And how they turn their creation into their finished piece.  It may not be literal.  It may not be fully realistic.  Artists are visionaries.  What they show tells us about them.

The nature photographer captures the magic in the natural world, and depicts it in all its full wondrous splendor, colors saturated for maximum impact (and sales).  Technically perfect, bursting with color, nature taking all the credit for the display, the photographer taking all the credit for capturing it.  But it’s not fine art.  It’s commercial art.  What they show is a wonderful display piece in a family room that tells us about nature.

Most people would rather hang a Fielder.  I can appreciate that.  But there’s no denying the mastery of Mann’s artistry.  There’s currently a landscape exhibit at the Denver Art Museum through September 16th featuring a couple of her hand-printed images that are quite beautiful and the exhibit is well worth seeing.

For me, film is Mann.  Digital is Fielder.  One is for making art.  The other for creating a salable product. Mann’s may hang in galleries and museums, and private galleries of those who collect her work, but ultimately, Fielder has the image that most people would like over their mantle in their mountain home.  (If you want one, they’re available at his online gallery.)

It’s just that I don’t have a mountain home.  If I did, and I could afford it, I’d choose Mann’s.  (She’s also made a wonderful body of work photographing her family with a large format camera, and all her work inspires!  I don’t think digital could’ve made those photographs.)

Guess that’s why I bring film with me.  I never know what I may find to make.  And there is an amazing sense of accomplishment when the opportunity arises.   When the picture lends itself to film.  Film photography takes a plan.  I need to make better plans, because next time, I’m sure I will take the film cameras again.

There’s such a joy to making a Rolleiflex portrait.  Or one on 4×5.

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My Father, on film with my Rolleiflex, out to breakfast with me on my last road trip home.

Film, what is it good for, absolutely something–photographs I make!  But I have to have a goal and a plan to make them, otherwise, the film and film cameras are just along for the ride.