Once Was Here

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Like many photographers I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head. I collect interesting sounding phrases and meditate on them. I try to get at the meanings of the words individually and then as a whole phrase. If I find it interesting enough it becomes a sort of model for my image making. And I work on several idea models at one time. There are a few idea models actively working away on my perception at this very moment! It gets hairy some times ;)…

There are a couple of idea models that I have been toying with for awhile. One is, “Private Compass”. Basically photographs that explicate the way I see the world. Another idea phrase currently active is, “Once Was Here”. I am not quite sure if I made this up or heard it somewhere, but it evokes both geography and history; nostalgia and evidence. The underlying structure is that Zen concept of looking at an object and seeing not only it, but it’s history; how it came to be, all the processes and beings and circumstances that caused it into being. I feel this conceptually most when I walk through City Parks and think of what the region would have looked like before people or before cities and also what will it be like after people, after abandonment. At these moments everyday critters become magical, little black birds are spirits and messengers from  the incorporeal realm much like they were to my Native American ancestors.

It is so easy now to make a technically good photograph. Have you seen those Apple ads touting, “Made with an iPhone 6”? A phone can make an image good enough to print full bleed in a major magazine. This is truly the age of the PhD photographer (Push here Dummy). Now more than ever the imagination, the mind behind the camera becomes of utmost importance. But hasn’t it always been this way? There is an Elliott Erwitt quote that goes something like this; “You do not take a picture with a camera, you take a picture with your mind”. So while this is not exactly a radical and new concept I think it has become  essential to anyone wanting to be creative with a camera today.

“Photography is a craft. Anyone can learn a craft with normal intelligence and application. To take it beyond the craft is something else. That’s when magic comes in. And I don’t know that there’s any explanation for that.” – Elliott Erwitt

Once Was Here

Incomplete Information

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If you listen to Cosmologists, the age of the Universe is 13.8 billion years old and if you listen to Einstein, who was not necessarily a cosmologist, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. One can then fairly conclude that the oldest light that can reach us here on Earth is 13.8 billion years old. We can never know about anything that is older.

The Universe is also expanding as discovered by Edwin Hubble.  At some point there will be or has been information that has gone passed the point of observability and has been lost to us. What if this has already happened? Then we are working with incomplete information. We will never truly know everything about the Universe because data has been lost. Our understanding of the Universe and reality will forever be incomplete.

Add to this the concept of Dark Energy where what we can actually see is only about 4% of the Universe. The rest of the matter that makes up the Universe is stuff that not only can we not see, we can’t really interact with it. As far as our understanding, we are living in a 4% Universe.

How does someone represent this visually? How can this concept be represented in a photograph or a painting? That is what I am grappling with currently in my photography.

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Incomplete Information

Letter To A Fellow Artist

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When the photograph is the mirror of the man, and the man is the mirror of the world, then the Spirit might take over.
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Self-discovery through a camera? I am scared to look for fear of discovering how shallow my Self is!

Just this morning I sent off a package containing two book on the American photographer, Minor White to a friend and fellow artist. Minor White’s photographs changed the course of my life. Back in 1989, there was a retrospective of his work at The Museum of Modern Art and the images just blew me away. And the idea that someone no longer on this earth (White died in 1976) could somehow reach out and touch me so deeply with his images simply altered the reality I had created for myself.

My friend had mentioned how he needed to find out more about Minor White after meeting a former student of Minor White working atThe National Gallery of Art as a photographer. Never one to miss an opportunity to spread the ideas of this great man, I offered to send my friend some duplicate copies of books I had in my library. He graciously and enthusiastically accepted.

In the package I included a letter that summed up White’s philosophy and I thought I would share it on this blog.

Hey ______:

Enclosed are the books I promised. I hope you get something out of them, not only as a photographer but as an artist in general. Below are a few quotes from Minor White’s writings that sum up what he was all about, artistically

On becoming a photographer:

I asked if I could be a photographer, and [Alfred] Stieglitz said: ”Well, have you ever been in love?” and I said: “Yes,” and he said: “Then you can be a photographer

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One should photograph objects, not only for what they are but for what else they are.

The camera is first a means of self-discovery and a means of self-growth. The artist has one thing to say—himself.

To see through, not merely with, the eye, to perceive with the inner eye, and by an act of choice to capture the essence of that perception. This is the very core of the creative process.

The essence of the practice of Equivalence:

The secret, the catch, and power lies in being able to use the forms and shapes of objects in front of the camera for their expressive-evocative qualities… the ability to see the visual world as the plastic material for the photographer’s expressive purposes.

..innocence of eye has a quality of its own. It means to see as a child sees, with freshness and acknowledgment of the wonder; it also means to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child—with freshness and an even deeper sense of wonder

On the practice of sequence:

A sequence of photographs is like a cinema of stills. The time and space between photographs is filled by the beholder, first of all from himself, then from what he can read in the implications of design, the suggestions springing from treatment, and any symbolism that might grow from within the subject itself.

On viewing photographs (and all art I say):

What you find will be your own. The experience cannot be compared to addition because that implies one right answer and many wrong ones. Instead the experience should be compared to an equation one factor of which is the viewer’s depth of mind. When so treated there are as many right answers as persons who contemplate the picture; and only one wrong answer – no experience.

I will add one additional quote  which I think puts things in perspective:

I have discovered camera is both a way of life and not enough to live by.

11. White, Ivy, Portland 1964
When gifts are given to me through my camera, I accept them graciously.

Cheers!

Letter To A Fellow Artist

In Washington D.C.

I just returned from a conference in Washington DC. While I was there I went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw they had a show dealing with varying depictions of celebrities. Some of what was quite interesting, especially the video portrait of Esperanza Spalding. To my surprise as I walk into a small side room I see this:

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Two Boricuas and a Mexicana. To my delight one is a Supreme Court Judge and the other two, while actors, are also activists in immigration issues. Pretty good.

In Washington D.C.

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Walking around New York City on Saturday I stumbled on a Bernie Sanders Rally in Union Square. Sanders was supposedly at The Vatican this weekend so I was not expecting him to show up. The crowd seemed to be really pumped up and there were some strange sights that day; juxtapositions, oppositions, and near collisions!

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Bern It Down
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Bernie Supporter
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Anti-Hilary Protester

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Aliens For Bernie
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Effigy Sanders
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Anti-Abortion Protesters.What would Bernie, err , Jesus say?

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Bernie The Next FDR, if I remember my history blacks were shut out of FDR’s programs not to mention hispanics.
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There is a lot to unpack here.
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In The Age Of Tumblr

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Just before this past Easter, Google announced that they would give away for free their Google Nik Collection. The Nik Collection was for a very long time a highly respected set of photo editing plugins for Photoshop. To a lot of – not that old – photographers it meant the end of a beloved set of plugins. Surely this was the end of any updates to the software suite. I suspect that this was Google’s way of unburdening itself of this product with no fuss or muss.

Google’s actions also foreshadow a trend that will encompass all of photography. As this article in the New Yorker discusses, Desktop based photo editing applications are being phased out in favor of mobile apps. In hindsight this point should have become obvious when Adobe started introducing mobile versions of their Lightroom and Photoshop products a couple of years ago. There has been a bit of hand wringing over this especially among older, err, more experienced photographers.

I personally have no problem with this state of affairs. There are the selfie makers and then there are photographers. The difference between them is not how technically good their photographs are but rather how much thought went into them. I write tons of e-mails, blog posts and texts but I would not consider myself a Writer (capital W). Rather, I am a writer (small w). I do not pull my hair out searching for that perfect phrase or sentence. My writing is more utilitarian just like the selfie photographers (selfieographers?) aim is more about communicating a message or making note of some thing or event albeit with a little flourish. And so I don’t think the definition of Photographer (Big P)is changing, rather I think a new class of picture takers, photographer (with a little P)  has come into prominence with the new technologies. They are prominent and voracious and technology companies like Adobe and Google see a market in catering to them.

While the target audience for the mobile photo editing apps is most likely this new group of selfieographers, Artists and Photographers will always take advantage of whatever technology is available in their slice of time. While for now I concentrate on making exhibition prints of the photographs I take and make (and don’t park them somewhere in the Cloud) I can see a time where I could make a portfolio of image made with an iPhone and some mobile photo editing apps. There is already an app for calibrating the color of ipads (made by X-Rite) geared towards professionals (i.e. those who make a living off photography). Of course I would try to have some sort of overarching idea that I would try to embody in the images and then try to extend the practice of iPhone photography somehow, either in the presentation of the images (25 iPhones mounted on a gallery wall?) or possibly in how the iPhone is used in creating the images. Regardless, just like the writer sweating over choosing just the right word to put in a sentence, I will always question the what and why of my photography practice.

In The Age Of Tumblr