Artistic growth. It is not something planned, it happens organically as experience and knowledge are gained. When I first started working with a camera, my primary intent was to record what I saw. It was a rather literal representation that guided my purpose. I’ve been working with a camera for 40 years though and have long understood that photography is not just a literal medium. It is a selective, abstracting, very plastic medium when so desired.
When one looks at the world with artistic vision, with the need to express feeling, and personal values, the medium of expression is of little relevance. I find myself less interested in the typical photographic renderings based on sublime locations and extraordinary events. If an image elicits a response of “luck”, “right-place, right-time”, or “where did you get that?” I wonder if I am creating something personal enough. While, there are certainly times and places which drive me to make images, I hope that those images are more than recordings. I want them to be about something bigger than the content in the frame.
While any selective process has an element of personal meaning to it, I acknowledge that my response to an event or place can be guided by a desire to impress others or for financial gain. As an artist who must live off the work he does, I accept that my motivation is from more than one thing. But also, as an artist, I have to create images consistent with what drove me to be a full time artist. Right now, that work is rather different than when I started, and even different than what I was creating 5 years ago. If I were still creating the same pictures that I was 30-40 years ago (or even five years ago), I would be stating that my life and experiences have led me nowhere new, that I have not grown, or changed in any way. And that would not be true.
Much of my new work is done on the 7 1/2 acres of farmland my artist wife and I own, or in my studio within the farmhouse. Here the aesthetic experiences are simple but no less profound. As in other locations where I have worked for many years, I see more deeply with increased submersion. On or near the farm, I have daily, seasonal, and yearly interaction with nature and it is here that my most authentic work is now done.
I am a big fan of Japanese woodblock prints, especially those relating to nature. The aesthetics of simplicity, muted color, and brilliant use of space (positive and negative), is very pleasing to me. Over the last several years, I have been conscious of my desire to work in a more minimalist style. One way in which I create in that style is with a long telephoto lens. With the narrow perspective and thin depth of field of a long lens I can isolate objects and compress elements within the composition.
This beautiful Weeping Cherry tree is one of my favorite features of our farm property and one which I go to each spring to experience anew. On this overcast April day, I watched a House Finch explore the tree’s bowing branches. The combination of pink flowers and rosy red of the House Finch create a harmonious combination. I composed for a bit of contrasting tonalities in the background and with sufficient negative space on the left to keep the image airy and light.
I like this new piece very much. It represents the direction my work has been heading now for a few years and which I am continuing to build upon. I made the print on a matte paper which maintains the subtlety of tones and softness of the light. It will be introduced this weekend in Timonium, Maryland as I tour with the Sugarloaf Craft Festival.
The finished piece titled House of the Weeping Cherry, is approximately 10×14, double-matted to 16×20 with all acid-free materials, and framed in white with UV-Protective, Reflection-control glass. The Edition is limited to 100 and is part of “The 100” Series, priced at $239.00 framed and $114.00 matted. Both are available at my gallery on-line HERE.
One of the things I really enjoy about living in this part of the country (north-central PA), is having four distinct seasons. So when I received an inquiry from a customer about doing a four-seasons arrangement with trees being prominent, I was very pleased. My client had already selected three pieces from my gallery on-line and wanted me to work up some options specifically for spring. After sending her several thumbnail images, she made her choice. But still a bit uncertain, she needed something else.
It always helps to be able to visualize an art arrangement on a wall, so I sent her a mock -up image of the pieces she selected. Not only did she have a better sense of how the selection would look together, she loved my specific arrangement. As an artist, it is rewarding to me that I can both create works that speak to people, and assist in how they will live with the art they purchase.
My approach to the medium of photography is as an artist. Because of this, I try not to have preconceived notions about how photography “should” be done and think instead only of the imagery I want to create. I do however work within the medium to create images that are best rendered as a photograph, not in a contrived way in order to make it look falsely like another medium.
My approach means that the images I create are conceived to be made primarily in the
field through the use of traditional photographic methods, i.e., camera and lens. For an impressionistic image like the one above (titled Opus 1), I used an old 120mm f1.9 Carl Zeiss Jena film projector lens which had been fitted with an adapter giving it an M42 mount. With that mount, I was able to then add an additional adapter to allow it’s use on a Fuji digital interchangeable lens camera.
As a film projector lens, it has no focusing mechanism, no aperture control, and no way to communicate with the camera. The M42 adapter on the lens has a built in helicoid which allows me to “focus” it buy turning the lens and causing it to be closer to or further away from the camera sensor. With no aperture, the lens is only usable at it’s f1.9 rating. This large aperture means lots of light gets in and depth of field is very thin. But for me that’s the whole point of using this big, hazy, scratched, and fungus growing, chunk of glass.
The lens is a beast and unruly on a camera, but I feel the rendering matches my aesthetic very well. As I continue to develop a view of the world which is more impressionistic, I find myself wanting to use this lens more and more. For the image above, I had been struggling with modern traditional lenses to isolate flowers in this meadow and simplify the background. The fall off of focus with this projector lens is very sudden and creates a unique type of bokeh that I have not achieved with any other lens.
Many people think that Opus 1 is a painting. I inform viewers that it is in fact a photograph, but one done in a painterly style. By painterly I do not mean the use of artificial brush strokes, but rather an emphasis on color and form instead of linear definition.
One of the most rewarding aspects about doing art festivals and fairs is the interaction I get to have with the buyers of my work. These interactions both provide me the satisfaction I seek as an artist and idea’s for how to progress with my art. Sometimes I get requests to print a particular image in a size, or in a way which I hadn’t initially intended.
I listen carefully to these requests and if I think the image will work in the form requested and I believe that the customer will be happy with the result, I will comply. Recently, I have received requests for several images which I offer as prints to be done on canvas in sizes ranging from 15×15 to 20×30. I hadn’t intended to have these works represented on canvas, nor in the sizes which were requested. But I listen carefully to requests and have come to trust that clients often see a presentation of an image that will be wonderful. Usually I can visualize their request and recognize that their ideas are great. Other times I need to see the finished piece before I am fully convinced.
If a request would take a work in a different direction than I intended, or require an alteration to the piece which I do not feel is consistent with my vision, I will just decline the offer. This occurrence is rare however. Mostly, the requests I receive are for a different substrate for the print (e.g., canvas instead of photographic paper), or a different size (e.g., 20×30 instead of 11×14). If I introduce a piece in which I intend only one representation, then I also have to decline special requests. Often however, I will introduce a new piece with flexibility regarding it’s edition composition and so can accommodate special requests. In these cases, I get to listen. And almost always, I like what I hear.
As an example, I recently introduced a new image which I titled Opus I. I printed this impressionistic and somewhat experimental piece as a 9.75″ x 13.75″ on a matte surface paper, matted to 16×20. I am now fulfilling requests made by two customers, one for a 16×24 canvas, the other a 20×30 canvas. Having just finished wrapping these pieces to ship, I can say with certainty that these two requests were well considered. The result was beyond my expectations. These two customers recognized that a larger presentation would bring forth the qualities of this image that pleased me most.
Opus I was made with a lens I am using for a series of botanicals. The lens is actually meant to be used on a projector, not a camera, but was adapted to work with a modern digital camera. I have been wanting to do more impressionistic works and this odd, heavy piece of glass has become one of my tools.
Once in a while a visitor will enter my booth at a show and ask me if my prints are originals. The question is a good one. I’m surprised I don’t get asked about it more. I make images with the goal of making high-end, archival, pigment-based inkjet prints (also called giclees). These types of prints are purchased from the best galleries and collected by the most prestigious art museums.
An original giclee print is one which is either made by the artist or under their direct supervision/authorization. Giclees are made either to be unique (edition of one), part of a “limited edition” (limited to a specified number), or as an “open edition” (limited only by when the artist decides to no longer release prints). Regardless of the edition size, all prints made by, or with an artist’s authorization, are considered to be originals. I prefer that an artist’s original prints be signed, numbered and have accompanying certificates of authenticity. This provides the collector with the desired provenance to assure that they are purchasing original artwork and not a reproduction or fake.
When a collector purchases my prints, they are most likely dealing directly with me through my gallery on-line, or in person at a show. The certificate of authenticity which provides title, medium, dimensions, and my signature guarantees that a print is an original and may be purchased with confidence. I also recommend that buyers keep the receipts of a purchase with the artwork in case of future resale or donation of a piece.
All of my paper-based giclee prints are made in my studio by me using archival pigment-based inks on a high end Epson Professional printer. I am personally responsible for quality control and authorization to release any print to the public. I also do all of the print mounting, matting and framing which is done to conservation standards with acid-free materials and UV-Protective glass. Importantly, I also make sure that the presentation choices I make as far as mounting and matting are reversible so that owners may re-mount and mat a print if need be.
What an image is about is not the same as what an image is of. The content of an image, that is, the objects in the image, and what that image means, are not the same. In the image I made titled Three’s Company, the content consists of three cardinals (two males and one female), on a miniature crab apple tree during a heavy winter snow. What the image is about is much more however.
Cardinals are a beloved bird which for many people have a strong spiritual connotation. Cardinals are associated with the spirits of loved ones who have passed. Some of this belief revolves around the behavior of male cardinals being attracted to their own reflection and so appearing to tap on windows. But cardinals are also associated with many sports teams, are the state bird of six states, and generally represent all that comes with the metaphor of “birdness”.
In some ways Three’s Company is about cardinals, their behavior of mating for life, their pleasing song. These characteristics of cardinals though can make this image about relationships, commitment, and joyfulness. But this image is also about the beauty of the colors of red and white when brought together, the sublime feelings of a heavy winter snow storm, the struggle for survival all wildlife faces during the winter. The arrangement of the birds into a triangular form is relevant as well. Triangles are one of the most dynamic shapes in art, creating strong visual movement within the image. And of course the romantic triangle is a strong emotional theme. All of these meanings contribute to the overall feeling of the image. So while Three’s Company is a picture of cardinals in a snow storm, the connection this image makes with my audience goes well beyond it’s content.
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
At a recent art festival in Virginia, I met Judy. She entered my booth and was drawn to a canvas giclee that I had made of an image of grasses. The image is part of a series I began last summer using antique lenses adapted to new cameras. It is a very etherial series and one that speaks to my aesthetic. Judy was also drawn to a framed print from the same series which hung on my display walls. It was a picture of a meadow of daisies (titled appropriately — Daisy Meadow) rendered softly against late-day light and also made with one of my antique lenses. Daisy Meadow was the piece she wanted and she wanted it as a large canvas.
I took her order and as soon as I returned to my studio, began working on the new canvas image. I hadn’t had this piece done on canvas before but thought it would work well. In fact, I think this new series I’m doing lends itself exceptionally well to larger canvas giclees. Still, I was very pleased when she wrote to me after receiving her artwork. She told me, “it is absolutely the most beautiful picture!!!! I love it!.” In a follow up email, Judy speaks to the piece having “so much depth.” The picture is “soft and inviting,” she added.
I always listen to the people who purchase my work, they are my best source of feedback. From them I get insight into my work and even the business of selling art. It is the interaction with collectors that makes being a full time artist most fulfilling.
Daisy Meadow can be purchased as an art print or canvas giclee directly from my on-line gallery – here
I had a very enjoyable weekend in New York City exploring Chelsea galleries and visiting MOMA for the first time. A very action packed few days, I put over 20 miles on my sneakers walking from Chelsea to MOMA, and from Chelsea through Soho to Little Italy. My partner, fiber artist Linda Doucette, and I took in a variety of gallery exhibits in Chelsea and a couple of floors of the MOMA. I experienced my first Rothko in person, and this impressive Barnett Newman painting above. Abstract Expressionism is still a genre that I am working to fully appreciate, this trip certainly aided in that goal. A much more extended visit is needed I know.
It’s important for artists to get away from the studio and see what’s happening in the art world outside one’s normal sphere. The Chelsea gallery spaces were as impressive as the artwork. Big, white-walled venues where individual works were displayed in stark light, by themselves, not competing for anyone’s attention.
MOMA was packed on the Saturday we visited and that actually made me feel good. The diversity of the demographic of the visitors made me feel good too; lots of young people were among the throngs.
It was an inspiring few days and had me anxious to get back to my studio to start working on new prints and consider the making of new images.