When making any image, I am consciously and also subconsciously aware of my surroundings and how they make me feel. This means that there are many forces at work which impact the way I make an image. All of the sensations I experience in the moment play a roll in how I represent my world visually. Spring is a rather overwhelming time of year. There is so much life bursting forward! There is so much color and song and new found warmth. It all becomes part of a highly sensual, highly emotive, and highly stimulating event.
This image was made in a garden in Colonial Williamsburg, a location where my wife and I exhibit our art during the spring. We use the trip as a way to connect with our fans in Virginia and to create new works about the joyfulness of the season of regeneration.
All of the sensations I experience in the moment play a roll in how I represent my world visually.
For this image I was using a very odd lens not made for photography. It is actually a movie projector lens which I purchased from a Russian metalsmith in the Bronx who makes adapters for these types of “alternative” lenses. I incorporate the effect this lens allows me to create with my personal esthetic in order to create differently expressive images. I can see, and therefore control, the effect through the viewfinder which allows me to have a new experience while creating. That really is a main point to the art for me – new experiences.
My first foray into the medium of photography was in making close-up images, technically called “macro photography.” Growing up in a city, even in rather suburban-like Northeast Philly, I had access to limited nature. My interest in nature drove my image making anyway. Because of this, I had to find my inspiration in very small areas (square feet instead of square miles). A macro lens allowed me to make images within a field of view of inches. At that level of exploration, everything becomes interesting and new.
Since that time, the content of my images has expanded to include every scale of nature (wildlife, landscape, even the universe!). Now I live on a farm (very un-city like). And, I find myself looking to explore again at the macro level. I find that I can express as much in the space of a few inches as I can in a landscape depicting a few acres.
Images of the macro kind are made with the same thoughts and feelings as any other type of image. I still deal with experiences, metaphors, color, line, shape, texture, light — just in a smaller area.
Above is an example of an image I made a while ago at Longwood Gardens (just outside of Philly). It is a minimalistic piece with strong color. The color content is harmonious more than complementary. The yellow against the red is very powerful. Keeping the brighter yellow as a small part of the image, I feel, keeps the image balanced.
“Just as you say that a body feels warm to the hand, so you might say that it feels red to what you see with” ~ Virgil C. Aldrich.
More than once I have had people cry when looking at one of my images. I have always felt that an emotional response to art work of any kind was a wonderful thing. I’ve had similar response to movies and even while reading, but never to a painting, photograph, or sculpture. I was fascinated to find that art historian James Elkins had actually examined the subject of crying in front of artwork in a book he titled Pictures and Tears (Toutledge, 2001).
In his book, Elkins writes, “Paintings repay the attention they are given”, “the more you look, the more you feel”. I like this notion and suspect that it is true. But how often do we actually spend time looking at one particular picture?
At a show this past summer, a woman came into my booth and then left. A little while later she returned to buy a canvas giclee of mine — Summer Breeze. She told me that when she left my booth thinking about this picture, she began to cry. She had to come back and purchase the piece. She told me that she didn’t know why she responded the way she did.
“Crying is often a mystery, and for that matter so is not crying” writes Elkins. I am still working through the book, I’m finding it fascinating. I don’t expect to find any ultimate answers as to why certain people respond with tears to certain art works. I am humbled however, that I have made pictures which have elicited such a response.
Summer Breeze is available on my gallery online HERE
The snow may be fading, but that leaves fields of golden grasses as backgrounds which I like just as much. One of my favorite birds, the Tufted Titmouse, is always an expressive subject. This one in particular has taken on a posture that suggests strength and confidence. The coloration of the feathers on the bird’s flanks is a wonderful compliment to the background grasses against which I composed this image. I’ve titled the piece “Rusty”. I wanted simplicity, but an image that still felt complete. There is certainly a Japanese influence here as well.
Textures too are richly rendered. The branch with it’s lichen and the bird’s feathers are both contemplative elements making the smoother background even more important to me. The print will be introduced as 6.75 x 9.7 inches and double-matted in Spanish White with ArtCare acid-free board for $54.00 ready to be framed. You can see it and my other work at my web site.
There are many unfortunate terms used to describe the work and tools of photographers. They come from within the medium itself which makes them even more disturbing. I find the vocabulary especially problematic for photographers who work with the medium as an art form. A making of fine photographs requires a number of decisions about how a particular subject or scene is to be rendered in order to communicate what the photographer-artist wants to convey. The image thus created reflects a complex, although sometimes rather quickly considered, set of thoughts. Words like “shot” and “capture” fall well short of describing the process involved in the making of the art photograph.
As an artist, I am not “capturing” an image. The image does not exist out in the world only to be found and collected by the photographer. Images do not exist in any form in nature. Images are the unique creations of an individual artist and brought into being through their imagination and craftsmanship. I believe that what Jerrold Levinson (American Philosopher) wrote concerning the making of musical works applies to photographic works as well – that “they do not exist prior to the composer’s compositional activity, but are brought into existence by that activity“.
I’m currently reading two books on aesthetics which I find fascinating. I’m still at the beginnings of both books but already they have me contemplating the “why” of art more deeply. As an artist I create from a relish for nature, a relish for beauty, a relish for life. It is a consciousness raising experience and one that lifts my humanity. I respond to natural beauty through aesthetic experience and translate that into my own interpretation, striving to create something beautiful in itself. When I respond to a field of grass aesthetically, I’m not trying to recreate that field. What I am doing is trying to relate my unique aesthetic experience of that field to a viewer so that they may feel about it the way I did.
If I am successful with my creation then I have affected some response in the viewer which raises their consciousness and relish for life as well.
I’ve been looking back at images I made in the last few years. It’s an annual practice that I enjoy at the beginning of each new year and is an important part of deciding which images will be introduced as new prints.
In moving some things around, also an annual process, I came across a box of slides from 1991. Yeah, I can’t believe how long ago that was now either. This image however was not representative of my style then. It is more abstract than my work was then. It is a much more subjective image. In the last several years however, my work has become increasingly subjective — more about form, texture, color, and minimalist. In some ways I feel my work has become more about mood and more expressive.
It’s not that I haven’t created expressive imagery before, it’s just that I’m making and exhibiting more of it now. I find it very exciting and freeing. I’m creating work that is both authentic and in the moment. I’m expressing my personal aesthetic without concern to ultimate use and really enjoying it.
Wikipedia defines chiaroscuro as Italian for light-dark, in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.
Painters who employed this technique included Caravaggio (1573-1656) and Rembrandt (1606-1669). In modern photographic portraiture, “Rembrandt Lighting” is still a common device to add drama.
In nature photography, I can employ the concept of chiaroscuro by being very attuned to areas of light and shadow and emphasizing that contrast by exposing for the highlights alone and letting the darks go black. In the image below I was dealing with backlighting and a translucent subject which gives additional drama to the piece. Having such large areas of negative space (black areas) requires me to be especially sensitive to composition and balance in the image.
Photography as an art form is like any other two-dimensional visual medium. Many of the attributes of a successful painting need to be considered in photography. I strive to make images that are dramatic or peaceful, complex or minimalist, colorful or monochromatic. Understanding the impact of visual experiences on the psyche and how to employ visual tools, are all part of the process and fun of being an artist.
I am in the final printing stage of work that I will be exhibiting at my annual two-person show with Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville, NJ. This year I have teamed up with the amazing Gail Bracegirdle whose work I have admired for years. The name of our show is Observations and touches on the question of whether artists really see the world differently.
The show will be up starting June 4 with a reception on June 6 from 5-8 pm. This show is more about my visual approach than any particular subject matter, so it seems extremely personal to me.
Among the images I made in Maine this past trip (August), there is one in particular which I think speaks to a sense of quiet. At least that is how it strikes me. It is the type of image I am making more and more, one with only a few elements where the mood is more important than the objects in the piece.
What this image consists of are really just two partial birch trees, a small sail boat, water, and a horizon line. There is some structure to the sky, but mostly it is white. This is an image I saw in my head first. From the position in which I was originally, I saw the sailing boat moving slowly and I visualized the two trees acting as framing devices. I was using a Panasonic lens which covered equivalent focal lengths of 28-280mm so I could have framed this image in many ways. I chose a focal length of around 90mm which isolated the trees but still kept the boat small enough to not overwhelm the image. Keeping the boat low in the frame emphasizes the trees and sky, which adds to a feeling of calm. The water is also calm. The boat is framed to be moving toward the edge of the image which keeps it from being thought about too much as the story. The tonalities and colors are soft and cool. I also opening up (lightened) the shadows to lower the contrast.
I think it is an image you can get a bit lost in……….