Photographing While Traveling

I've written around this before, the idea of making good pictures while traveling. Very hard to do, this thing of making substantive work from first impression. I know firsthand, as I have a lot of experience in making many bad pictures on all kinds of travel. 

Near Trieste, Italy 2012

I learned early on, while driving south from Frankfurt to Avignon in France in the summer of 1977 that to simply make pictures of what you haven't seen before does not a good picture make. I came back to process the film and make prints that fall, only to learn that I had seriously fucked up. The work had absolutely nothing of substance in it that I could see. I learned a serious lesson from the pictures I made during that trip. As a career artist/photographer I have never looked at traveling and making pictures in the same way since. 

Kudzu, Georgia 2014

What's the trick? To photograph using your mind as well as your eyes. Put your heart in there too.To work to be expressive and to say things with your photographs. This doesn't mean being literal but to react with skill and forethought to your surroundings, also to intuit by leaning on experience. While there are numerous disadvantages to aging there are a few good things too. And one of them is that I know stuff. I know if a format, a framing device, a focal length, a setting, a kind of light or the air itself will help or hinder my photograph. Good photography takes huge flexibility. By this I mean adaptability. This is one of the reasons we pursue it with such passion. Imagine the synergy required to make a picture that has real substance, meaning and quality.  Most painters don't make quality from massive quantity but we do. No wonder we make so few good ones.

Skate Park, Healdsburg, CA 2014

One of the things I've learned is to carry the same sensibilities and proclivities with me wherever I go. This means that it is foolish to deny your innate aesthetic just because you're someplace new. Your stock in trade is your stock in trade. Yes, it is good to try different approaches when confronted with new material, but also important to rely on the core values of your practice too.

Saltair, Utah, 2015

I believe some of mine are (in no necessary order): quality, clarity, resolution, interest in comparing things close to things far away, color, tonality, enigma, minimalism, humor (irony and taking out of context), perspective, place, light. Do you know what yours are? Write them down and think about what you've written. Add or correct as necessary. 

Last point. Get out of the rut you're in. Take a chance. Go someplace, see something, photograph something. This is from personal experience. By going someplace I do not mean going on vacation with your partner, bringing your fancy equipment and stopping on the road to take a few. The last blog was called: Garbage In/Garbage Out. Dedicate a trip to make pictures. Work all day every day you're away. This is how you make good work you travel. You will return with good work. Back from Iceland a week and I am very excited to be printing new work made while there. Some of you reading this know who I am talking to. This veteran photographer with old eyes moving, shooting, seeing new places and new circumstances. Simply the best. Go!

Pulaski, Virginia 2013

Hofsos, Iceland 2013

Topics: Traveling

Permalink | Posted August 18, 2017


What? When confronted with the amazing landscape of Iceland I am not going to point a camera at it?

Current thinking is that landscape is over in art photography. That it's all been done.Well, not by me it hasn't and your loss, I believe, if you don't care to look at landscape work. I do look at it and do make landscape photographs but it's not the only thing I care about. Tale a look at the gallery page of my site for examples. And yes, I see a great deal of quite bad landscape photography. Last week I drove through some truly remarkable country, up and over a couple of mountain passes on gravel roads. I'd be a fool not to photograph it.

Take your breath away places. Have to stop places. Game of Thrones kind of places.

Not for iPhones, this. Long lens, tripod, low iso, best aperture and extreme care.

As I begin to work the files now back at home,  go through the various days I was shooting, one thing prevails. Iceland is incredible. I know, it is touristy and overrun with photographers of all kinds,

serious and perhaps not so serious

My approach?  Always seek out a quieter place, someplace off the path traveled  by everyone else

maybe at the top of a mountain pass up in the clouds.

This is "reactive" work in that I am reacting to something in front of me that is spectacular and perhaps moving.  Grand landscapes have done that to people forever, I am sure.

Look at the British, American and Italian romantic landscape painters, for instance. Those lush and over-the-top utopian paintings just slay me. Garden of Eden and paradise on earth paintings that are masterful and consummate.

(Sorry: no attribution. Seen three years ago in Italy. Do not remember the artist.)

I am printing the Iceland landscape pictures now and will place them on the website soon. More to come from Iceland, land of my dreams.

Topics: Color,Iceland,Digital

Permalink | Posted August 15, 2017

Garbage In/Garbage Out

As I wind down a couple of weeks in Iceland, the first week teaching and the second in a rented car on the eastern and southern ring road of the huge island I can't help but reflect on a whole career of road trips in various countries, driving, photo-graphing, each night in different lodgings, day after day.

This, of course, becomes a way of life, life on the road with a camera, always looking, always stopping, always on the hunt for pictures. This then gets me thinking about the tools we use and reflecting on those I've used over my career.

Early on the camera and lenses I used were very specifically designed for making the highest quality photographs possible. Many years of Rollei, Hasselblad, Toyo Field 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 cameras. Almost site specific tools, meaning not good for everything but good for my intended purpose of making art in the outside world of mostly things that didn't move. So, therefore these cameras were seldom used informally or to make snapshots, especially while on the road, photographing using a vehicle as the base of operations.

The Palouse in Washington in 2003 in 8 x 10.

Now, for many, the type of camera we use for this kind of trip is the same we use to take pictures of everything. I use a high quality DSLR camera with a variety of lenses, just as most of  you do. I can pick it up to photograph my grand daughter at a soccer match and also use it on a tripod to photograph the glacier across the fjord in Iceland with a 400mm lens, to walk around the town of Hofn as I did yesterday at 5 am, hand holding a somewhat too heavy but present day tool capable of really amazing quality to make pictures of whatever grabs my attention. These different roles tended to be played in earlier times with different tools.

The garbage in versus garbage out thing kicks in with how easy it is to not invest in what we are photographing, to not work with the camera to make intentional pictures with purpose and forethought, to blow off pictures, to take the attitude of,  "maybe something will work out" or making many pictures towards getting one that could be great. I worked with the 8 x 10 view camera for 25 years on trips like the one I am on now. That camera was completely about "economy of scale" in that the film you'd loaded the night before was what you were shooting today. For me, twenty sheets was my limit, traveling with ten film holders. Imagine limiting yourself to twenty pictures today!

Near Highlands, Georgia 1997 in 8 x 10

I too work around things, just as you do. I try different approaches, angles, camera settings. I am looking hard, thinking hard and working with intention to make the best picture I can from what is in front of me. But how can one make a good picture, make art from something if he/she is just not invested? I know, happens all the time. Of course, great photographs are made as "accidents", just not by me. I have to give it my all to make good work. I know this entails follow through as well. Back at home, I work the file, now using Lightroom, to tailor the image to my original intent. My theory is that if I worked hard to make it, I need to give an equal investment into making the final print. I know if I don't, it's just garbage.

Look, we all make too many pictures. Making one print from, say, 20 tries at something isn't uncommon. But to photograph from a sense of investment and respect for what the present day camera can do, to sculpt the shot RAW file into something masterful takes commitment, time and experience using the best tools we can afford.

Next up, I hope. Back home and reflections on the pictures I made while sliding by some of the most glorious and stupendous landscape I have ever seen. I know, it has now become a cliche', the landscape of Iceland. But OMG,  it is wonderful. With only 330,000 as a population, when they say overcrowded it means something very different from stalled traffic on the Mass Pike out of Boston at 5 pm on a weekday.

Permalink | Posted August 8, 2017

Class Over

We have just finished a week of class in northern Iceland at the Baer Art Center in Hofsos. We had many field trips, refined our skills in Lightroom, went on a boat trip up the fjord, cooked wonderful meals of great fresh salmon and lamb, laughed and photographed all hours of the endless daylight into the nights.

Students finished with many RTP (Ready to Print files) to take back with them to print on their own or to hand over to a service bureau back in Reykjavik for I urged them to make prints, just as I urge you to.

The highlight of the week was when we piled onto an excursion boat to slide up the coast past Baer to the "Cape" where the cliff face opens up to reveal a near vertical rock wall of several hundred feet.  I'd photographed this in 2013 when I was here as a resident but this time the conditions were even better, calm seas with flat gray light.

Making pictures like these:

astounding, miraculous and somehow deeply moving, as though from a different planet.

A simply incredible rock wall several hundred feet tall.

This from the boat where we stayed at the Baer Art Center, very near the Cape. The studios are on the left.

I am on the road now for a few days, driving Iceland's Ring Road to the east with Mercedes, the workshop's most wonderful assistant (thank you, Mercedes!), and putting her on a plane later this morning to return home. I fly out later this week. I am planning on spending a few days along the South Coast. Last week had been mostly free from tourists. We'll see how I do as I enter back into Iceland's main stream. 

Topics: New Work,Iceland,Digital,Foreign

Permalink | Posted August 6, 2017

Step Back

If you read the blog regularly you know that I am now in northern Iceland teaching a one week workshop at the Baer Art Center outside of Hofsos.

Class started today.

Latest chaos: Priebus fired, earlier in the week Spicer resigning, a new Communications Director, transgenders out of the military, repealed Obama health care on and then off, McCain and cancer, on and on. 

Little or no Trump-created mayhem here, simply this:

taken this morning about 1 am. Or this:

which is quite literally the view out my bedroom window. No McConnell, no Kelly Anne Conway, none of them. In a different country, not so far from the Arctic Circle and so far from all that.

Do we realize how immersive this has been, this constant barrage of craziness we've been subjected to? It is a real pleasure to be able to step back from all the DC-based chaos. 

I am here because I applied for and was awarded an artist in residency in 2013. I was then asked back to teach for a week. 

We will talk about simplification, essentials, foundations, trust, boundaries and limits, goals and aspirations, form versus content, relevance, insecurities, barriers, accessibility, one's creative practice and a whole bunch of other things. We will break it down and build it back up, work to understand ourselves better through our work, to grapple with layers like peeling an onion, to go deeper, to confront time.

What I have in class is 9 seriously accomplished Icelandic women who are highly involved in the arts and culture of this country. Some are career photographers and  their work frequently exhibited. This, of course, sets the bar high on me as their teacher. Bring it on.

The trick, of course, it to speak from one's base of knowledge and experience. To address the issues at hand, the concerns and the obstacles confronted in one's own career towards an understanding of what obstructs and hinders others'. What do you want to achieve and can you address paths to get there? Here in Iceland can I help with that or is this a struggle they must solve on their own? One approach is to spend some time writing it down, your artist philosophy, if you will. Brief, maybe a paragraph. A life immersed in Creative Practice is to assume your own innate creative capabilities, the foundation of your aesthetic lives across a broad array of life's mundane activities, chores, jobs, family, relationships and so on. And as you well know, what are your inputs, your inspirations? Is it music, other visual arts, what you read or discuss. Here with this around us, is it where we are physically for the week?

We will see as the week's time together has just started.

Looking forward and stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Foreign

Permalink | Posted July 30, 2017