One of the things I like about living in north-central Pennsylvania is our four distinct seasons. And while I don’t particularly like the coldest weather we get here, I do like the visuals of leafless trees and the landscape covered in snow. This type of scene elicits a mood within me that tends to be rather sentimental, nostalgic, or cozy. The cold air outdoors can be countered by a fresh cup of Pike Place coffee or hot chocolate (a bit of peppermint Schnapps helps too). Maybe a favorite blanket, a fireplace, a comfortable chair come to mind as well.
So it’s not really the landscape itself which has a mood, it’s our response to a scene which is projected onto the landscape that elicits our feelings. When I am creating images outside in the winter I am working mostly by gut instinct. A combination of conscious and subconscious responses to the visual environment effected by the feeling of cold, the sounds around me, maybe the smell of a distant fire. I cannot, of course, put all of these sensations into my image, but they impact the creative process.
When the images are brought into my studio and viewed on a computer screen away from the conditions in which they were made, I can evaluate them at a different level. Without all of the sensory stimuli which were associated with the making of the images in the field, I can look at them with fresh eyes. Elements like contrast, tonality, texture, composition, visual impact, and even just how much I like the image, can be evaluated more consciously. My goal in this part of the process is to be authentic to my visual experience in the field and my aesthetic response to that image in the studio.
The image below was made a short walk from my studio. I was drawn to the texture of the trees and to the way they surrounded the small red building. The evergreen trees provide a visual color balance to the red and a color harmony with the blues in the shadowy parts of the woods. Strong diagonal lines throughout the image lead from the the upper left to the lower right and so to the red building as well. Most of this analysis takes place in the studio and not in the field, at least not consciously. But I am sure that the studio analysis of the image impacts my subconscious responses going forward when I am working in the moment.
“The enjoyment of beauty is a kind of escape from, a going out from, the urgencies of place and time.” ~ Virgil C. Aldrich (American Philosopher, 1903-1998)
There was a point early in my career where I realized that the process of creation was no longer an option. The act of creating had became an escape from the everyday stresses of life. If I didn’t get into the field at least once a week, I went into a low level depression (withdrawal?). Being out in nature was a big part of what drove the creative process. The science is clear about the benefits of being in areas of woods, around water bodies; even just looking at pictures of nature lowers stress levels.
I have come to realize as well that beauty itself drives my creative process and can serve as an escape. One of the benefits of working in the arts is the ability to create things of beauty. I can create my own escape when I need it. In my farmhouse studio space I can explore subjects in detail at my own pace and experience a world of beauty all to myself. For me art is all about experiences.
The image above was the result of an exploration of a silk moth which I found on our farm earlier this spring. Discovering its intricate wing scale design was a joyful experience. It felt like I was looking at a mosaic of tiles when I viewed a section of wing close-up. For the period of time in which I created images I thought of nothing other than the wonderfulness of the color and pattern. With its rhythm of scales though, it was the curve of the wing that I was drawn to most.
Curves introduce a feeling of tension. While sensual in form, curves imply resistance. Straight is less tense while driving; a curved road requires more expenditure of energy to maneuver. A river that flows through an oxbow is constantly fighting the curves. Straightness implies a fight with gravity which is lost, or even a struggle with death no longer fought. Leo Stein (American art collector/critic, 1872 – 1947) remarked, “Tension in line can be observed if one will follow the outline of a vase and notice the force it takes to bend the line of a contour.” Curves to me speak to a life force, something I think art can convey uniquely.
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.
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.
For many in America, the Bald Eagle is the symbol of freedom and strength. These magnificent birds represent both qualities well. They are also however symbols of what happens when Americans stand up to the greed and short-sightedness that causes great environmental harm. Once Endangered, these birds have made a great comeback. They represent a resolute attitude by those who understand that we live on a planet where our actions have consequences. When I see these majestic birds in my own backyard, it gives me hope and a sense of determination to fight so that this experience may be had by our children.
This image is available as archival 7×10″ and 10×14″ Limited Edition prints from my gallery on-line.
I sometimes feel transported back in time by the simplicity of the rural landscape around me. I can imagine that it is the middle of the Nineteenth Century with no wires, no automobiles, no cell towers. On a wintry day with snow on the ground, the landscape becomes even more stark. Working with the most modern of photographic tools, I still felt compelled to create a monochromatic piece suggestive of old glass-plate days and wonky lenses.