I create images mostly as an intuitive process. I react in the moment to a stimulus that attracts me and then work to make a picture that satisfies my response. I know when I’ve been successful when there’s almost a feeling of relief. Then I keep exploring to discover what else about my visual experience needs satisfying. Sometimes during the process, I talk to myself to achieve the result I want (it actually helps calm me down so that I can be analytical about camera settings).
Because I work intuitively (after 40 years of making images), I don’t do any real analysis of the images while in the field. Back in the studio however, I can spend as much time staring at the images as I please, or need. On a screen I can evaluate what about the images, and my intuition, worked. Then I determine what steps are needed in the development of the images to fully realize the emotion I was feeling.
I typically don’t venture out with any preconceived ideas about particular images I want to make. Generally, my motivation to go out is based on situational elements like, it’s cloudy, the leaves are colorful, I have time to explore.
Below is an analysis that I went through in the studio while developing this image.
Bringing this image into Lightroom and doing some basic developing of color, contrast, and shadow/highlights adjustments, I can then evaluate the image overall. After looking at it for a while, I can judge whether the image is balanced. Since we tend to look at images from left-to-right (the same way we read), I begin there. The left side (1) is heavy with trees, so the visual weight there needs to be balanced on the right. The red sumac leaves (2) progress lower left to upper right, drawing the eye in that direction, good. At point (3), the green leaves are brighter and encompass a larger part of the image, which also drives the viewer to the right. Lastly, the distant trees (4), draw the eye to the upper right, good again. Overall, I feel the image is well balanced and pleasing. This process of analysis serves as a kind of feedback loop which enhances my intuition next time in the field.
When I was a kid, there was this popular joke – “What is black and white, and read all over?” Of course the answer is a newspaper. But visually, I also see black and white and “red all over” to be an exciting combination (no joke). Sure “read” and “red” are not the same, just homonyms, but it’s the thought that counts. In film days, there wasn’t an accessible way to create this relationship unless the scene really only had those three colors in them. In the digital darkroom however, creativity is queen.
I made the accompanying image in the fall of 2020. The pandemic was still in full swing; my shows all cancelled. Being outdoors became an even more important component of maintaining my creativity and mental well-being. Being outdoors allows me to be more introspective. And, introspection about all that was happening, it’s ramifications for us personally and for me creatively, was what I needed.
On this overcast, fall day, there was no one else at the local nature reserve near me. There was a feeling of isolation that seemed consistent with the overall isolation we were all experiencing. Yet, I was also experiencing a renewed activity. When I saw this large Maple providing what appeared as an umbrella of protection to a bench, I found it comforting. I found myself thinking that this would be a fine place to sit and look out over the lake, and then look within.
Back in the studio, looking at the image, I reduced the scene to three colors. This change made the scene rather surreal, but also seemingly appropriate to how I felt. Almost two years later, I now look at the image without the same level of trepidation I had then, but I like it just as much.
I am initially offering the print as a 10″x14″ which is matted to 16″x20″ available through my on-line gallery here. It is titled “Risorgimento.”
Close-up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY), is an international competition now in its third year. It has drawn some of the best image makers in the world, and the results have been marvelous. This year’s competition – CUPOTY 03, set a new standard with around 10,000 submissions! The Shortlisted images were announced this past Wednesday. Being Shortlisted is the goal of every image maker entering this prestigious event. A Shortlisted image is one that is recognized to be in the top echelon of the genre. You can see the Shortlisted images on the CUPOTY website – HERE. Throughout several categories you will find stunning imagery with artistic merit as well as craftsmanship.
I was very pleased to be recognized in this year’s competition by having three images make the shortlist; two in the Insects category and one in the Intimate Landscapes category (I have also made the Shortlist in CUPOTY 02, and CUPOTY Color, both last year). I’d like to tell you about each one of this year’s Shortlisted images (I’ll do it in separate posts).
The first image is of a leafhopper on the stem of a plant with Dahlia flowers in the background. It is an image about color and form more than anything else. I didn’t make the image to inform about what a leafhopper looks like. Rather I wanted to use the brilliant colors of the leafhopper as a foundation for an image which is about the impact it had on me. The repetition of color between the insect and its background was exciting. I composed the solid green line of the stem, broken by the colorful form of the leafhopper, against the brilliant Dahlia flower reds because that combination elicited the greatest response in me. Ultimately, my goal is to have an esthetic experience, and this image fulfilled that goal. I am especially interested in esthetic experiences that can take place in everyday settings, in this case the gardens of our farm. Through this imagery I hope that others will find these everyday esthetic experiences in their own spaces.
I used an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with an Olympus 60mm M Zuiko lens at f8 and 1/100th sec. at ISO 800. I use Olympus often for close-up/macro work because its small size allows me to get into niches where a larger camera-lens combination would be awkward. The system is great for this type of work.
I don’t travel much, never have. This has been the case partly because it’s expensive, partly because it requires time, and mostly because I’ve never felt the need or great desire. I’ve always preferred to get to know my surroundings as well as I could, deeply, thoroughly. I always found great satisfaction in achieving familiarity with the area in which I lived. The more I have explored my local area, the greater the esthetic and emotional relationship I have developed with it. As a result, I think my work has been more authentic, more honest, and better.
My work has never been about location. I have always strived to create images that have a universal message, unconstrained by geography. And while many locations have tell-tale signs that give away something about where they were made, I try not to have that information be what is important.
Pennsylvania is a beautiful state, it is where I’ve lived most of my life (a short stint in Delaware being the only exception). It is a state with a good deal of natural area, especially woods. So come fall, I believe Pennsylvania can hold its own for color and splendor against any state.
This image was made near Ricketts Glen State Park, a favorite location of mine. I drove past this stand of Birch and two miles on had to turn around and give it some attention. As soon as I past it my mind began to work out images so that there was no choice. I was working that day with some light gear, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8. This is my choice of format when I really don’t want the tools to get in the way.
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.