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.
“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 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.
Three’s Company, an imageI made on a snowy winter’s day in Bucks County, PA, has become one of my “signature” pieces. A “signature” piece is one that is characteristic of who one is as an artist. It represents one’s style, and the attributes of what the artist is drawn to visually. A “signature” piece is one that is recognizably attributed to a particular creative.
Three’s Company has appeared in newspapers and magazines, as well as on show postcards, but it has been it’s exhibition in gallery and art festival venues that has made it known. Introduced as a Limited art print totaling 500 across all edition sizes, it quickly became one of my best selling works. One size in particular, the 16×20 matted version, has been very popular and is now almost sold out. I have updated my gallery on-line to reflect that only 6 pieces of the original 200 allocated to the 16×20 mat size are left. All six pieces are already framed and ready to ship, any remaining pieces will travel with me during my 2018 show tour (visit 2018 Tour). Other print options in the overall edition size for this image will continue to be available.
A “signature” style is something every artist should strive for. The collection of attributes which define who an artist is as a creator of works is what allows collectors to see the authenticity in the artwork. The image Three’s Company speaks to my style in several ways. It expresses my feelings for, and interest in, nature. It also exemplifies my minimalist aesthetic and my appreciation for the everyday beauty of the world. My imagery is not of exotic lands or dramatic subjects, in fact most of it is created within a small radius of miles from my studio and home. I live an aesthetic life and express that in my work.
I’m looking forward to this weekend. I will be exhibiting with the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.
There will be new work! I have been creating images with a couple unique themes. I am excited about both new bodies of work. The first set of imagery is being done with a variety of antique lenses and plays with light and color as reflected off of the flowers that grow in meadows near my studio. The second set of imagery is being done with macro lenses and deals with light refraction off of water drops on plant leaves and petals. In future posts I will be speaking about these new bodies of work in more detail.
The image below is part of the first new body of work and was made with an antique Meyer Optik Gorlitz 135mm f3.5 lens (Exakta mount) that I purchased on eBay from an overseas seller. The lens, when used correctly, can render background elements with a very soft, etherial feeling. The out-of-focus highlights expand into spherical shapes that I find very pleasing. I used the lens on a Fuji XT-10 camera body with an adaptor that allows it to be used on the camera. Exposure is done in manual mode as is focusing, but the Fuji has a wonderful electronic viewfinder which allows me to precisely select the area I want to be sharp.
A big part of the visual impact of an image is the focal point. The focal point is the specific location that the viewer is lead to by the photographer. That point may be achieved through selective focus, light contrast, color, or some compositional device. Sometimes, the focal “point” may be a focal plane, a slice of the image that is somehow accentuated and made therefore, most important.
I like the visual impact of altering the plane-of-focus in an image beyond the normal parallel and instead creating a plane that is rather diagonal. It imparts a bit of an altered state feeling. It can also impart a bit of a dreaminess. This dreamy state is partially due to the defusing of an area of the image that is usually part of the normal depth of field. I like too, that the result is a simplification of the scene so that the specific slice I want to draw attention to is the only area in focus.
To achieve my desired result, I use a Lensbaby adapter which allows me to use Nikon lenses on Micro-Four-Thirds cameras. In the image below I used a Nikon 28mm manual focus lens (quite old) on a Panasonic G2 camera and set the plane of focus off to the side and down. It was a spring evening after a rain and the woods were vibrant green and smelled wonderful.
One of my goals when selecting new photographic tools is to be able to do things that my current tools don’t allow or make too difficult. Last year I purchased a Nikon Coolpix P900 because I felt that its crazy 83x optical zoom lens which ranges from an equivalent 24-2000mm would allow me to compose almost any image I wanted. It also was said to have a pretty good image stabilization function which I knew would be necessary with 2000mm!
No camera can fill every niche, and the more any one camera claims to allow me to do, the lower the image quality tends to be. So I went into this purchase expecting the limitations of such a camera. Having worked with it just a bit now, I have confirmed my suspicions regarding its limitations but also what I hoped it to be – a go to camera when an image idea comes to me and there is no time or access to setting up “better” gear.
One of those “in the moment” ideas came to me during a recent evening and the Nikon P900 was the tool I selected to try to make the image I was visualizing. The moon was slowly coming over a ridge lined with trees. I wanted to compose a frame filling image of the moon with the silhouetted trees in front in a very flat, two-dimensional way. I ran inside for the camera and started composing. At 800 ISO I was able to get sufficient shutter speed to hand hold 2000mm I thought. But for extra security I found a post to lean on and stabilized myself further.
I took the meter reading off the moon to maximize my shutter speed and because I wanted the sky to go black. The image became a round, golden ball with some crater detail and bare winter trees silhouetted. Its the image I visualized in my head.
Prints in two sizes are available on my website – Here
After being asked “what camera I use” I am most often asked “do you manipulate your images?” I don’t mind answering either question, but neither is straightforward. I use and have used a broad variety of gear, so my answer to “what camera” never pleases anyone. The harder question concerns “manipulation.” At a couple recent shows, a show judge and a customer asked me if I manipulated my images. The problem I have is that I do not believe most people know what they mean when they ask about manipulation. I have also discovered that those who do have a sense of what manipulation means to them, have differing ideas.
As a result, I always ask the questioner what they mean by “manipulation”. Some will answer honestly that they don’t know, in which case I just explain what I do in some detail. However, the show judge I mentioned above told me his definition of manipulation involved putting things into the image that were not in the original scene. That is not a practice I engage in. In the case of the customer who asked me about manipulation, I asked him “how I would measure manipulation?” His answer was that I would measure it “in hours.” I told him that I have a very straightforward workflow process and “hours” are never involved. However, I may stare at an image for days before I decide on how it should ultimately be developed to match the feeling I had while in the field.
Ironically, both the adding of elements to a photograph that were not in the original scene, and the working of a print for hours have been around since the beginning of photography. These practices were common and often discussed in their time as well. To my way of thinking, all of photography is fundamentally a manipulation. Working with a three-dimensional subject in which light is bouncing off in every direction and converting it into a two-dimensional print in which no light is emanating is a pretty big manipulation. Take away color as in black and white prints, add perspective, contrast, exposure, focus, and the myriad other creative decisions artistic photographers make in the creation of even rather “straight” images, and the answer to the “manipulation” question is never a yes or no reply.
My “formal” education in photography started in High School where I took my first class in black & white image making. It was a basic course but stoked the flames. In college, I continued my exploration of black & white photography while majoring in Psycho-Biology. In all, I had 4 semesters of photography in college which allowed me to both learn and experiment with the medium.
After my undergraduate career, I moved to color slide film. With nature as my primary theme, I learned to deal with the added complexity color can bring to an image and the unforgiving attributes of slide film. But, color excited me, most editors wanted color (specifically slide film), and I understood the importance of color both biologically and emotionally.
Within the last couple years however, I have found myself gravitating back to black & white work for certain scenes or feelings where color either detracts or is unimportant to the image. These images have a somewhat different mood than even my more monochromatic color images. I have now dedicated one of my printers to just black & white work and am finding myself thinking in both color and B&W more often.
The image below is a good example of where I feel B&W is especially effective. It allows for the image to be mostly about texture and geometry. There is no color aspect to draw you to one part of the image over the other. The bird is for me the visual center and being the only animal in the image, the visual subject. In a color image, I think it would be lost (at least in this image).
I’m really appreciating being able to get back to making photographs. Earlier this week I saw fog again when I awoke and took off, straight to my favorite lake! There were Canada Geese in large numbers and a distant Bald Eagle perched on the opposite shore high in a tree.
Even when working at a location I’ve been to a thousand times, I need to take time to absorb what I’m seeing and feeling. What moved me to start the process was the mist rising off the water against a winter woodland and a large stone in the foreground.
In the field, I used a Canon 5D Mark II camera and a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II lens on a Gitzo tripod with a Really Right Stuff head. I like to work with the mirror locked up and a 2 second self-timer. This image was made in color and converted to black & white. I developed the image further using levels, curves, shadows/highlights, and some sharpening. When all was finished I applied sepia toning to emphasize the mood.