Friday, December 31, 2010

A Time to Look Back & Ahead

It was 53º in the North Country today. Our January thaw arrived before January did. The beaver pond that I walk past for my daily exercise has standing water and slush over the ice and the river is losing much of its ice. Walking is good for thinking.

I’ve been reading “Occam’s Razor” by Bill Jay. Bill has long been my favorite commentator on the state of photography and our son bought me a copy of his out-of-print book for Christmas, a series of essays. It is classic Bill Jay. He cuts to the chase and tells it like he sees it. The essay I read this morning was “Professors and Professionals” in which he describes the divide between academic art photographers, “a lazy dilettante, playing with inconsequential, irrelevant and largely superficial ideas...” and commercial photographers, “who, because of lack of intelligence, moral scruples or willful ignorance of the medium’s history and aesthetic issues, have compromised with commerce...”. His descriptions go on and explain the problems I have experienced trying to cross that divide.

I started photography at age 13, was largely self taught until high school when I enrolled in NYI’s correspondence course (still available today) followed by the ill-fated Famous Photographers course. After joining the Army I both attended and later taught in the Signal Center & School of still photography at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. Of course all that was based on commercial photography but I had an artistic bent and (perhaps naively) saw no reason that I could not apply my commercial photography skills to ‘personal work’ that could be considered to be art. After all Ansel Adams was doing that.

In art school after getting out of the Army I had my first encounter with the divide that Bill Jay described in his essay. Because I had changed my major I lost some credits and became aware that I needed to make up at least 6 semester hours in order to graduate as planned. The dean of students suggested that I get one of the professors to agree to grant me some credit based on my prior life experience and I thought that my photography background would be just the ticket so I approached the photography professor (there was only one) to ask what I would need to present for him to consider it. I hadn’t taken any photo courses from this fellow since I had already been through three schools and taught in one. He took one look at my work and informed me that I didn’t know as much about photography as his first semester students. Puzzled I asked what I was doing wrong and he said “Your work isn’t esoteric enough”.

Needless to say, since I wasn’t trying to be esoteric, I didn’t get the necessary credits to graduate from him. I did get them but that is another story. As a commercially trained photographer I was trying to clearly communicate with my photographs, not hide my meaning. Some time later I saw some of his photos in a faculty exhibit, blurred images of snowplows plowing snow in a blizzard printed in shades of grey, roughly zones 3-6, no blacks and no whites (Ansel would not have approved). They were in a gallery and were considered “ART” but had one of our students in the Army school where I taught turned in images with technical quality like that for their assignments we’d have flunked him out and sent him to infantry school instead. Therein lies the divide. Neither of us was seeing photography in the other’s terms.

In this weblog I have dealt the question “is it art?” several times, most recently in October, and I still have trouble with that divide. Bill Jay said that for his part he didn’t think that photography was art. He apparently didn’t think it was lesser or lower than art but simply a different animal. The real problem however isn’t how we define art, rather it is the gap that the two mindsets create. I finished my degree in Fine Art (ceramics, not photography) and, as this blog attests, I have continued photography. All this is the long way of saying that my New Year’s resolution is to continue to try to wrestle with the gap. That and lots of making photographs and I wish you all a happy and productive 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Going Round Again

A different twist on the round images I did last year. Those were just cropped round, these are distorted in Photoshop to appear spherical. I got the idea from an email sent to me by Adorama which attributed the idea to Carol Leigh. I couldn't find it on her site but she has a lot of stuff there. I probably just didn't look hard enough because Adorama had all the instructions in their email.

The photo is of a dandelion seedhead that I photographed at Chaumont Barrens in 2009. It was cropped square and set to 8 bit mode (the filter doesn't work with 16 bit images). The trick is to distort the image twice with a 180º rotate in the middle. First you  use the distort>polar coordinates>polar to rectangular filter. Rotate the image 180º and apply the distort>polar coordinates>rectangular to polar filter.

I have mixed feelings about this sort of modification because I have so little control over it. It feels like I should have more of "a hand" in the process than to simply set an automated "accident" in motion. OTOH when I was firing Raku pottery there was always an element of accident and I didn't have any qualms about accepting the results of that process. I guess I have a prejudice against computer accidents vs kiln accidents. I need to work on that. In the end, just as with Raku, sometimes you get something nice and sometimes you just want to break/toss what comes out the other end. The advantage with pixels is that there are no broken shards left over to give evidence to your failures.

You do have a bit of control in your choice of what images are appropriate to use for this treatment and I've played a bit with applying other filters before or midway through the spherizing process described above. Of the ones I've tried "Pinch" seems to help sometimes.

Addendum: I've been playing with this process to see what works best. The one below is definitely one of the best so far.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Oldie but a Goodie

I made this photo back in 2005 and posted it to a website that I had at the time. A woman in Maryland promptly bought a large print of it. It comes up again because another person just commissioned a print after seeing it on a note card at the local gallery where I have some work.  It is an nice image and has special memories for me as it was made during a pleasant walk in a snowstorm. The tree was one of my 'milestones' as it was exactly one mile from my house. Sadly they cut it down the following spring. I can't walk by this spot without thinking of this photo and that snowy walk in 2005. Be sure to click on the image for the larger view. The blowing snow shows up better in the large view and feel free to use it on your desktop but please do not "share" it by sending copies to others or posting it elsewhere without permission from me. If you want others to see it, send them the URL to this page.

Shameless self-promotion: Although I'd be hard put get it to you in time for the holidays I remind my readers that I sell prints. They make a nice treat for yourself any time. An 6X9" print matted to 11x14" is $35, an 8x12" print matted to 12x16" is $60 and a 12x18" matted to 18x24" is $100. Sales tax (if you live in NY) and shipping is extra.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Greeting to All Our Friends

Click on image to see a large version

Friday, December 10, 2010

Amaryllis Closeup

The fourth bloom has opened (see yesterday's post) and there is a second stalk with two more buds. This closeup of one of the blooms was made this afternoon .

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Blooms in Winter

Diane bought an Amaryllis for her windowsill at work and it bloomed this week, three blossoms and a fourth bud. We're having a very wintry patch of weather, first snow and now sub-zero cold. A bit of color on the windowsill is a pleasant reminder that this weather is temporary.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Brisk Walk

I took a brisk walk late this afternoon, brisk in both senses, I walked briskly and it was only 25º F with a significant breeze. When I reached the  beaver pond I found it mostly frozen over and the geese finally gone. There had still been a couple dozen or more there as recently as two days ago. Much of the thin ice cover had little dots of snow on the surface giving it a speckled appearance. I shot several photos of details along the shore and patterns on the ice. Arriving back home after an hour plus of walking I showed the photos to Diane. She declared this one 'blog worthy' and so it is.

Photo made with a Canon G10 on aperture priority, ISO 400, 1/30th sec @ f/4.5.