Topic: Commentary (111 posts) Page 1 of 23

Robert Pirsig 1927-2017

Dead at 88 years old. One of my heroes, as he wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I read in about 1977. Perhaps you read it too. I didn't understand some of it, but the idea of turning a road trip across America on a motorcycle into to an existential pursuit of self and the meaning of life sure did appeal.

Along with Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and a few others, including Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski and On Photography by Susan Sontag, these books formed a foundation of pursuit, enquiry and aesthetic maturation for me and, I am sure, many others from my generation.

Because of this blog and the need to go back into my creative life and its projects, I am able, for the first time, to see my own development taking place in my work. This is now reflected in the talks and presentations I give and in my writing for the introductions to the series works books we are making.

But Pirsig rocked my world. I remember this wonderful description he gave us of assembling his 4 x 5 view camera, placing it on his tripod and trying to capture the grandeur of the expanse of a Kansas field with 360 degrees of open sky and flowing wheat, then packing it up and riding away with no pictures made, understanding the medium's limitations and his struggle to put his feelings into photographs. 

That story from his book certainly was in my mind as I was making this picture in 2009 in the Palouse in SE Washington.

Apologies for this odd sort of eulogy but I offer it in the spirit of the loss we have suffered in his passing. I owe Mr. Pirsig a debt of gratitude for his generosity in sharing his thoughts and experiences and am thankful for the richness of what he wrote. 

Rest well, Robert Pirsig.

Topics: Books,Commentary,eulogy

Permalink | Posted April 26, 2017

The Responsibility

The responsibility of preserving quality. The responsibility of knowing that people are reading and seeing what you are presenting. The responsibility that some know the projects well, have read about their genesis, progress, culmination, maybe even the ensuing criticism. Not something you want to overtake your thoughts and, to be honest, not on my radar when I began the blog several years ago.

Be careful what you wish for, Neal.

This is what I think. Whatever exposure and success the work has had, it resides in some very small room in a very large house. The end game of the process, this public part of the trajectory of work invented, researched, made and then somehow put out there was never seen by me as something much to think of. Because, to be truthful, for much of my career there was little consequence to my work being shown and seen. So is this because the work is large in importance, deserving recognition? I'd like to think so but this isn't for me to determine. Or is it because my work has been swept along in the increasing ubiquity and importance of photography in general? Probably a little of both.

This is what I know. These days meeting another photographer it's not uncommon to hear them say "oh, I know your work, I read your blog". This freaks me out, for I've poured my heart into the blog, explaining, questioning and wrestling with my work's issues, only to find a complete stranger is coming along with me every step of the way, as though we are partners in these projects. But here is the disconnect, most aren't referencing the work from shows or looking at prints. The blog and perhaps the series on the gallery page are it, all they know of it. While I appreciate their role, it is essentially passive, an audience choosing to read my piece, clicking to something else if I am not holding their attention. It is telling that when I offered to show the actual prints to anyone interested a few months ago, one person took me up on my offer. One person! It has not escaped me that we consume this kind of content on the same type of screen as we do our 337 channels of TV, switching channels after a second or so, searching searching but seldom  fulfilled.

This is what I feel. I have worked hard throughout my career making photographs. It has been my all consuming passion. It still is. But so much has changed around that constant. Traditional models no longer pertain. For instance, photography is no longer a print-based medium. For artists, print-based photographs play a key role for the sheer fact that they are then used as a commodity, something salable, collectable, marketable, purchasable. But most of photography will never be seen in print form.

I will stop here as I've thrown out quite enough. I am now in Baltimore on the last leg of this one week road trip.  This is a driving trip and the car becomes home when you're in it hour after hour, every day. I like cars. What you drive can predispose your reaction to your surroundings on a trip like this, your decision to stop or not stop to photograph, your mood and your outlook on life, even. I am driving a 2016 Audi TTS and it is wonderful; small, reactive, fast and very comfortable. I bought it for its sports car handling and because I like to do track days. I never dreamed it would be a wonderful road trip car. But it is. I've learned that it is simply one of the best cars I've ever owned. 

Postscript: I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago and am only posting it now. I just signed up for a track day in the TTS at Pocono Raceway in PA in early May. I have done many track days on many tracks but never Pocono and never in a car like the Audi. Zoom Zoom.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted April 20, 2017

I Love Art

I have a confession: I Love Art.

A blog about how art invigorates, inspires, teaches and can share the very best of humanity.

I am just back from a short road trip with stops overnight in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Lots of driving, some serious rain. I went the other day to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Glass entrance to new a wing, white walls, a city-funded policy of free admission, classes of kids with docents explaining and showing; old art, new art, ancient art, book art, video art, 3D art and, strangely, very little photo art but nevertheless, wonderful, transcendent really.

Hit it right and you can be empowered in the presence of art.  So very much vitality springing off the museum walls, thoughts, passions, ideas, travails and triumphs, history and freshness. Imagine Trump wanting to defund the arts. Clueless. What an asshole. 

Want inspiration? Go look at art. Just the thought that my work is somewhere in this mix, this cauldron of creative expression throughout the ages makes me feel proud, if perhaps humbled too.  You too if you make art, what an esteemed thing to do. 

Back to Baltimore and its museum. Excellent representation of a broad array of art, well displayed and not too teacherly. I took pictures, sorry about no indentifications,

although this one of the columns is by Anne Truitt.

Your day got you down? Are the skies dawning gray and life is hard? Lost your positive outlook, lost that Joie de vivre? Go look at some art.

In yellow, Any Warhol's Last Supper silkscreens.

This last one, these school kids getting being taught about some art making process by the male docent while in the presence of this looming and glowing vibrant red Mark Rothko on the left.  How great is that?

Baltimore Museum of Art... worth going. Looking at art made my day. It will make yours too.

Topics: Commentary,museums

Permalink | Posted April 9, 2017

Three Amigos 1

Last month we had our first of 3 Three Amigos parties this winter at my studio in Allston, MA. If you've read this blog for awhile you might remember we are: Fred Sway, John Rizzo and me. We had two Three Amigos exhibitions a few years ago; one in Harvard, MA and another the following year at the New England School of Photography Gallery in Boston. 

Our recent evening was to gather friends and family for a winter supper of chili and cornbread with a glass of wine to look at work we'd hung that displayed each of our photographs and then to highlight the work of one of us. This one featured Fred Sway's work.

These above are recent works  from a show Fred had at the Brookline (MA) Library in the fall of 2016.

After an hour or so of talking and socializing we quieted the group of about 25 and Fred showed some work from another series at the big table in the center of the studio.

Fred is retired now but very active photographically. He comes from a background of doing his gradate work with Aaron Siskind at the Institute of Design in Chicago, was a teacher for many years and was the director at the New England School of Photography in the mid 70's and 80's. From there he was head of Boston University's Photo Services until he retired in 2008.

We had guests from all over. Many were friends or family that weren't in the photo community. Didn't matter. Some of the best questions Fred got were from people who didn't know photography that well. Fred enjoyed himself and the guests did too.

This was a wonderful evening and a great way to share work with people in a personal and informal way. People really enjoyed their time with each other, looking at Fred's pictures, having something good to eat (and drink) and getting a break from the stress of our new president's first weeks in office.

Finally, I think this is a perfect way to look at art. Personal, easy, informal and amongst friends and colleagues. Our Three Amigos party might serve as a model for you in your community. Hope so.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 20, 2017

PRINTING


This one's going out to those of you that print your own photographs. There may be information in here that might help you if you send your files out to be printed by someone else, but principally this post will be for photographers that make their own inkjet prints.

It seems few make their own prints anymore, that printing has been relegated to a non-creative process, to a "technician" to translate the original files into a two dimensional representation on a piece of paper. But if you're an artist doesn't this seem a little bit skewed? It does to me.

As a career teacher I get that people struggle a great deal with making good prints. It can be very challenging. In darkroom days it often took students a whole semester to learn how to make a good print. But it doesn't have to be such agony. Let's start with the tools you are working with.

A reasonably capable computer is good, one that can handle your multiple files and that either has enough internal storage or enough external storage in RAIDS or  hard drives not to get bogged down. I am an advocate of keeping up to date, within reason, on Operating Systems and updated firmware as to fall behind means you might get locked out of some applications. Knowing Photoshop and your file management system, usually Lightroom these days, is also a prerequisite.Take a class if necessary to become skilled in these.

Your choice of printer probably means less than you think. Of course, maximum print size is the primary issue. How big do you need to print? Several of my  friends don't print large, usually.  For that special situation when they need something larger, they go to a lab or a friend who has a big printer. For most that makes sense as big prints are a pain; hard to handle, difficult to look at unless tacked up or framed, expensive and difficult to store. Don't get me started as I make many large prints. On the other hand a 5 or 6 foot print can be simply breathtaking if the quality is high.Whatever printer you are using should not have clogged nozzles, not have a terminal disease, and be clean and not destroying the paper you run through it. It does not have to be the newest one out there as long as it is healthy. Finally, the paper you choose is a topic for a whole workshop, let alone a short blog but suffice it to say that almost any paper is capable of making an excellent print. Also, you do get what you pay for with papers. If demand is high for a breakdown of papers I can go into this in a new post. Let me know.

Your workflow needs to be fluid and known. Work out a logical system for your- self. It is important that you be somewhat systematic. Can you get back to the file at a later time? Is your filing system understandable and organized? I make RTP files that sit in the project's folder. RTP means Ready to Print and this means the files in that folder are color corrected, sized, sharpened, cleaned if necessary and  ready to be sent to the printer.

Monitors and calibration. The quality (and size) of your display is another  important part of the equipment you use to make prints. I used Eizo's for years but have two different ones that I use now. My primary monitor is a Sharp PN-K321 which is 32 inches and very good. When on the road I usually bring a  Apple Thunderbolt large display that I use with a Mac laptop computer. This is a  reasonably good display and a lot cheaper as well. There is a great deal written about calibration and I am a believer, particularly when setting up a new monitor. Flat panel displays drift far less than older monitors but still they do age. 

Also, be aware of the light in the room where you work. It  shouldn't be too light or too dark. Also be careful to provide a viewing light to evaluate your prints. This should be close to daylight, not too warm(yellow) or too cold (blue).

Finally, to one of my main points: Closed Loop System(CLS). What's this?

A CLS of your own is self contained and holds few variables. CLS is your system taken as a whole, familiar and predictable, because you don't impose something new to it, at least not very often. Take your RTP file to someone else to print and you are now in an Open Loop System (OLS), meaning you are interjecting unknowns into your final results. CLS uses components that are yours, that you've debugged, calibrated and worked with over time. This makes problem solving easier and often results in superior prints. However, CLS means you are responsible for it all, including stocking the inks and papers needed. I went into this a little in my blog on Bob Korn Imaging (here). Part of Bob's expertise is his knowing how to get a great print from your file. Send your file off to someplace you don't know and can't speak with and who knows what will happen to your photograph. Clearly I am not a big fan of distant large printing companies with anonymous operators.  Buy local here if you don't make your own. 

ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles. Important? Yes. Don't know what these are? These are used to key your printer to the  kind of paper you are using. This isn't hard. Do the research and use them as they will affect your prints.

What else? Be patient. Great printing takes time to learn. Define your work as if you were a student, learning from your mistakes. You need to teach your eye/brain combination just what a really good print looks like. Look at lots of prints, judge them critically. Common mistakes: weird and overworked files that are oversaturated for impact and over sharpened because people think more is better. Take a class, a weekend workshop or a day long immersion into printing. But make sure the person teaching it knows what they are doing. Don't follow a false prophet. Be prepared to blow some materials in your pursuit for perfection. Do good printers make the best print the first time?  Hardly. For me, I am always trying to do that, for my first print to be magnificent. But it seldom happens. Same was true in the darkroom. No differents now that I make my prints with a computer and an inkjet printer. 

Look, good printing is a skill. It takes real ability to make a good print from such a wide array of hardware and software, a massive amount and yes's or no's or on's or off's in this digital world that it is a wonder we can get the results we do. So, it is a science. But it also is an art, needing great sympathy and empathy for the original intent to come to fruition, a sensitive person that interprets and uses the tools that are available to mold, meld and make a print that is evocative and expressive. Who knows that better than the person clicking the shutter in the first place? Committed to your work? Then show that commitment by getting serious about your prints. Even if you don't make prints yourself, knowing printing informs you as to what is needed from the person you choose to make your prints. 

Making beautiful prints of your imagery? Lost art? Doesn't have to be. 

Topics: Printing theory,Printing,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 15, 2017