Vineyards

In November 2014 I flew to Paris, picked up a rental car and drove south to Alba, Italy to visit with my friends John and Donna, who lived there then. Donna was working during the days so John and I went off so he could show me around. We stopped a few times to photograph. One morning we stopped at some wine vineyards, as there was a break in the rain. This is the famous Barbaresco area of vineyards, maintained now for generations and known to produce some of the best wines of Italy.

Over a couple of hours, with my camera on a tripod and with a long lens, I pointed at the rows of vines. The lens compresses space, bringing the farther away in closer and putting the closer subjects on a similar plane. It was gray and flat, with occasional breaks in the clouds letting sunlight in. It was dead calm and looked like it could start to rain again any moment.

I have just finished a very urban set of pictures of a new apartment building in Cambridge called Zinc. In deciding to go through back files I think I was looking for a counter to the dystopian view of a contemporary world gone askew that was Zinc. The vineyard pictures I had made in 2014 in Italy proved to be just the thing: beauty and this ancient landscape of manicured vineyards in these rolling hills.

The head versus the heart. Pictures made with much thought, thinking through the angles, framing, photographing for impact and to drive the point home versus letting the process of photographing unfold, variety within a common theme, and letting the sheer beauty wash over me. No schedule, no time limits. Just working, looking and feeling the place, the smells, the air and being at someplace simply sublime. About as good as it gets.

Almost two years between these two sets of pictures. Without one would there be the other? Probably not.The Zinc pictures just shot and printed this spring (2016) are all about the work made in this crystalline clarity, jarring and cutting like a knife. In comparison there is a flow here, a pattern, one affecting the other that is important to see, to react to. Just as we need to be at our creative best when in front of something we are photographing, just as we need to be tuned and in top form when we are making the prints, we also need to be 100% aware of one body of work affecting another.

Can I say that I was thinking about the Vineyard pictures from Italy while I was making Zinc? No. Can I say that after finishing the work on Zinc, feeling depleted and a little low, I was searching for something uplifting, far away and imbued with color? Yes, I can.

This is probably a first for me. One body of work just finished precipitating the printing of an earlier body of work. Maybe I should pair them. Will think about that.

The full series is now on the gallery page of the site here.

Topics: Foreign,Color,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted April 26, 2016

Zinc Apartments

Just finished in a still somewhat raw space is a high rise apartment building on Water Street in Cambridge. Billed as luxury living, the apartments look out on a wasteland, presumably cleared for future construction, then on to the huge blue MBTA Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility (its former name was Boston Engine Terminal) just north of North Station and Boston Sand and Gravel in Charlestown, a business made famous as scenes from the The Departed and others were filmed there.

I didn't spend much time trying to photograph the building itself but was fascinated by a fence put up to separate the new from the old, to establish the perimeter of the property and to restrict the view out to what was a sort of desert.

I have no idea what the logic of calling these apartments Zinc (Zn) is but at any rate the powers that be decided that the vinyl covering  for the fence would be a great place to have some graphics too.

What was behind the "curtain"?

This MBTA facility, which I was able to photograph by sticking my camera through a gap in a gate.

This new series goes on to look at the fence itself, what's obscured behind it and the printed graphics which depict something quite bizarre.


Boston is in the midst of a building boom, much of it centered on housing. Zinc is typical with a media room, work out facilities, expensive apartments, underground parking and a close-by T station.

The full series is now on the site here.

Technical footnote: many of you know I purchased the Sony A7R Mk II last fall and have been using it along with my Nikon for several months now. This project is the first I've made with some of the photographs coming from the Sony. Although the shooting experience is very different I found the final TIFF files to be practically interchangeable. 

Topics: Color,Digital,New Work,Northeast

Permalink | Posted April 21, 2016

Portland

In this post I am referring to Portland, Maine, just about two hours up the coast from where I live in Massachusetts. Last month I wrote about returning to Portland to make pictures on a twenty year anniversary of pictures I made there in 1996. Appropriately, that essay is called: Twenty Years Ago. The original Portland series is on the site here.

I went back again this week to try to add to the pictures I made last month. Once again, humbled by the difficulty of making good pictures while walking neighborhoods and pointing a camera at houses, streets, cars, alleys, sidewalks and fences, I worked to transcend the ordinariness to speak to larger issues. I walked and photographed. This has been my form of street photography for a long time and it is both all too easy and very very hard to do. I had great light, both on a late afternoon shoot and an early morning one the next morning.

I started here:

just as I did last month:

As I walked along, looking and photographing, I learned that one thing was a priority in terms of interest and emphasis: color. So, while the pictures I made a month ago were originally rendered in black and white, and the originals made in 1996 were made also using black and white, this new series will be in color.

Of course, there's some back story to this change. In 1996 I was only a black and white photographer. I did not even consider color in those days. It wouldn't be for another 6 years that color would begin to work its way into my process. And now, I am primarily a colorist photographer, meaning much of my work is about color. For instance:

Great Salt Lake, Utah 09.2016 

So here I am, referencing work made 20 years ago, returning to the scene to make pictures there again when I came across this:

Here is the first in the Portland Series from 1996 and intended as a wake up call to the fact this was first time I made series work in bright sunlight and the first series I'd made at all in 12 years. Here's the original: Portland, Maine 1996 

And here is the same building this past week. With one tree larger and one tree gone, still bookended by a vehicle left and right, still looking like it's posing with a smile on its face, waiting to be photographed, perpetually sunny in disposition even though there may be doom and gloom around the corner. Made my day, of course, coming across this after so long.

Let me posit something for minute. Imagine using a thing you did long ago becoming the reference for what you do now. Imagine using that precedent you established, not someone else, but you, out on your own, making something that forms the basis for a thing you make now. You could be a potter,  an architect, a musician, a writer, doesn't matter. How would that thing you did back then influence what you are making now? And conversely, how does what you are making now affect the thing you made in the past? Is the older piece seen now through a different lens, informed by this newer interpretation? Of course, here we are looking at these two projects, one made and one in the making, from an internal perspective, that would be me, the artist making the pictures. What about the external? Someone coming to these two bodies of work from the outside, as you are. Would you choose to reflect back on yourself twenty years ago, asked to go there by looking at these pictures? Can I do that, light a path to that way of thinking, reflecting on you, the you you were then? I hope so.

In my current Creative Practice class at the Griffin Museum we are doing just that. Talking about and discussing ways to imbue pictures with meaning, to make our work resonate and vibrate with import, with things to say or question going beyond the boundaries of a photographic document as a depiction. My class is experienced and accomplished people working within the broad definition of photography who have a real history of creative expression.

Back to the pictures and to color.

I can't help but be reminded of photographer Harry Callahan's statement that we always make the same picture. That early work isn't less or inferior and newer work isn't more or better, that it is all part of the work we make. That means, of course, that we own it all, flaws and all, as much as we might like to dismiss what we think of as lesser work, or work made through a series of bad decisions, perhaps shown and published, even though we wish it hadn't been. This is true for us all.

Who would have thought that going back to Portland twenty years later could have  brought so much to the surface? Not me. My idea behind going back to photograph 20 years later really came about because I was curious about what it would look like, what changes there would be to the neighborhood. Little did I know.

Portland, Maine. Great town, btw. Much more alive and culturally active now than 20 years ago. If you go and like BBQ, check out Salvage

Topics: Color,Digital,Northeast,New Work

Permalink | Posted April 18, 2016

Amazing

I just got back from a couple of days on the island of Martha's Vineyard.  The afternoon I arrived went rapidly downhill to an evening that had fierce rain, flash floods and tree-branch-breaking winds. By the next morning the rain had ceased but the wind was still up.  At 8 or so I drove up island to the Chilmark town beach called Squibnocket where all hell was breaking loose.

The waves were pounding into shore in rapid succession.

To photograph this was way out of my comfort zone. I don't usually shoot stuff that  moves. What did I do? Answer: the best I could.

If you've been to Squibnocket, the waves were washing right across the parking lot. 

Of course, I loved all of it.

After that I drove to Vincent's Beach, farther down the south side of the island.

Where the waves had created sea foam, like whip cream. 

While walking in I came across another photographer walking out, camera on a tripod just like me. In an odd sort of way it was like coming across myself. He pointed to his wet pants and said to be careful the waves were coming right up the beach. I thanked him, walked down the beach a ways, plunked my tripod down in the sand, looked through the long lens on my camera and started shooting. Guess  what happened next?

Before I knew what hit me I was knee deep in a wave washing ashore. So much for "watching out."

This is what it looked like that morning at Vincent's:

This beach where the summer people slather on sun block, kids build sand castles, lawyers and stockbrokers waddle out with their Sunday New York Times to soak up the rays and body surf the waves. This high-end beach looking now very different and really deadly. 

Topics: Martha's Vineyard,Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted April 10, 2016

Calculation

For the purposes of this essay this is the process of making art by calculating its effect.   Political art would fit this definition. Making art for the purpose of selling it would also.

Most assume that art is made out of passion, out of a need to be expressive, or an emotional reaction to things. For many it is emotion made visual. But for some art is intellectual and thought through, made for intended effect. 

Does your art come from a place of need? Felt rather than thought? Does something stop you in your tracks and require that you photograph it even before you've thought it through? Or do you plot and plan, follow through in your mind all the steps to make a finished photograph, from what it is of through to how it is perceived on a gallery wall?

Let's look at a couple of scenarios. We'll broaden our lens here to the larger world of making art.

Number one

Lynette is a painter. She makes her paintings in groups of work; a certain color palette here, a drawing style or technique there, smaller or larger, on canvas or paper and so on. Last year she had a show of newer canvasses at a local gallery that did very well. Not only did the show sell out but the local paper published a glowing review.  The show was held in high esteem by artists in her community that she respects. Everything about this work felt right to her. It came from a deep place inside as she was wrestling with demons from her upbringing, her parents splitting up when she was little, a road trip she took with her dad, and her brother's death, killed in an auto accident when he was sixteen.The gallery owner told Lynette at the end of the show the he'd like to see new work and that he was very pleased with the show. 

With all that behind her she starts to work on a new group of paintings, a new body of work.  She is thinking of making a series that will be different but even more successful than the last show. She can see the praise and sales now in her mind's eye. These new ones are going to be bigger with stronger colors and more gestural, less figurative, more assertive. She doesn't hesitate but plunges right into making these new paintings.

Cut to the end of the story. She powers through the making of this body of work in a kind of creative frenzy and rushes to show these new paintings to the same gallery as before. The gallery owner seems a little shell shocked by this new work but agrees to show them in a one person exhibition the next summer. She's exhausted but pleased. The show comes and there is no praise about this new work. The same reviewer for the local paper as before writes that the paintings are overblown, scattered and in disarray, made without cohesion or a common thread.  She sells nothing. Lynette is crushed. The show comes and goes and her friends are noticeably less engaged with her about her art. She is very unhappy and doubts herself, her abilities and her choice to be an artist. She stops painting for quite a while, lacks motivation and doesn't like anything she paints.

The question is: what was she thinking? Was her experience with the show that sold well a strong influence that predisposed her to calculate what she needed to do to make paintings that would be even more successful than the last show?  Was that experience so fulfilling she sought to make it happened again? Can an artist do that? Pull the trigger on work of high quality on demand?

Number two 

John is a sculptor. He lives out in the country down a long dirt driveway and has a studio in an old barn on his property. He teaches for income. He welds, fabricates and incorporates glass into his sculptures. He seldom shows but when he does it is usually because someone's sought him out, maybe a former student turned curator or gallery owner, maybe someone who's seen his work and wants to see more. He doesn't change his work much although he might take a course in a new welding process or apprentice at a local body shop to learn how to mold sheet metal.  He has a show at the museum in the city nearby and a local gallery agrees to handle sales should there be any. The show sells out and there is a bidding war for some of the pieces. The museum buys a couple of things that are at his studio for their permanent collection. There is a good deal of buzz about this new artist the museum curator "discovered". The New York Times writes a piece on him in the Sunday magazine. He's now getting calls from all over the world about his work. While he seldom picks up he can't ignore the Guggenheim Museum or Dia Beacon.  He tries to work every day, just as he always has. He has become very successful. He hires an assistant not to create more publicity but to buffer him from those that are after him. John continues to make new work, one piece at a time. He struggles to maintain an equilibrium in all the noise of curators seeking him out, the publishing of a new book about his work, his teaching responsibilities, paying bills, ordering materials, maintaining important friendships and relationships and the occasional press interview with the private part of him that is the well of where his art comes from, this inside core of his very being. He does manage to protect that part him mainly by saying no more than yes, by sticking with discipline to his schedule, by staying true to his initial ideals and by working very hard. His work grows in its depth, in its beauty and in its refinement. He understands that it is the work, the making of the art that brings meaning to his life, not the approbation or adulation from others and certainly not the sales.

In the first example, Lynette veered off track with her first show's success. Think of the rock band wildly successful from their first album's sales going back into the recording studio to make the second album and having nothing to give, little to say and a tendency for their music to sound not as good. 

My advice to photographers would be to tread lightly in the realm of making work by calculation. It is inevitable that you will find yourself thinking about what effect the work you make will have on people. But I think that is really a "fringe thing", not a core reason for making pictures. 

In the "John" example he is a centered person in that he understands he needs to make these sculptural pieces of metal and glass. The external success feels good, sure, but it doesn't change who he is or what he does. Instead he seeks to preserve a process worked out over years and to buffer himself from the newer parts that are his fame. With Lynette she made the initial work out of a true passion for her craft and vocation, but the subsequent work was not true to her as it was forced and it ultimately failed. These two examples are perhaps oversimplifications, but you get my point.

Where does your art come from?


This is part of a series of looks at states of mind or the causes and effects in the life of artists. The series started with 

Doubt

then went on to

Failure

Next up? Success.

You may subscribe. Highly recommended.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 6, 2016