Topic: Northwest (23 posts) Page 1 of 5

Wheat 2016 Finish

This is the third and last installment of blogs about a trip I took to photograph wheat fields in SE Washington in October/November 2016.

In the last post about the aerial pictures I made I wrote that we were in the air for about an  hour. As important as that one hour was for me and other aerial photographic excursions have been over many years, I spend the other nine or so days while out here by driving, stopping, hauling some camera out of the rental car, often setting it on a tripod, making a few exposures, reversing the same process and driving off, looking for the next picture to make, hour after hour and day after day. Most of my time I am on dirt roads, access roads that are there for the farmers to get their equipment to the fields. These can be treacherous, muddy and slippery after it rains and so dusty in the late summer at harvest time everything you own is covered in a fine powder. I used to have nightmares about this when working in 8 x 10.

To break this down to fundamentals, there are two basic kinds kinds of pictures you can make here, photographs with horizons and ones without. I make both in about equal amounts. In the 18 or so times I've been here to photograph I don't think I have ever felt as though I've run out of material to photograph, as each season brings a different landscape. Drive, shoot, drive, shoot, etc. This is a very limited way to make pictures and needs a very disciplined approach, I know. But I find it fulfilling and rewarding as the pictures I have made now over many years seem to speak to me at some core level.

The principle is extreme simplicity with elegance. This is very controlled photography that must be carried out with a maximum of attention to detail.  There also are some really awful photographs made here: cliche'd, over wrought, and super saturated. Many photo t rips and workshops are offered here. I don't know whatever happened to restraint, refinement and discrimination. Try a Google Images search for the Palouse to see what I mean. Like this:

The prevailing thought seems to be that if the colors are good somewhat realistically rendered then they will be better with the color sliders cranked to maximum. Same with sharpness. Hate that. Free country, I know, and others may do as they wish but for me more is not necessarily better. 

The color palette is determined by the season and the kind of light, meaning mostly the time of day. Mid days are usually not so good, blue and bleached looking. However, cloudy days mean good pictures can be made all day. My general advice is: get up before dawn, work until mid to late morning, eat, take a break midday and then get back to work by about 3 until the daylight is gone.

Tech: Most of my photography out here is with long lenses. Even with a long lens I find I can hand hold at times. Currently, I use two telephoto zoom lenses with the Nikon D810 camera; the Nikon f2.8 70-200mm in second generation version and also the variable f stop Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. The 70-200mm is slightly better but can vignette at long length and the 80-400mm is amazing considering its reach. With both you need to be aware of the clarity of the air. Also at longer lengths a tripod isn't always a guarantee, especially in wind. It is often windy here. This written from personal experience. 

As I write this today, I just got home last night. Don't ask me about flying on commercial airplanes as it is not good out there. That being said, my flights to and from Spokane, WA( the closest real  city) were uneventful and on time. I do advise getting approved for the TSA Pre Check as it does speed things up in security.

In the next week or so, as I begin to work the files, I will post both ground-based and aerial wheat field pictures on the site.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northwest,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 4, 2016


Reserve flight out to Spokane from Boston: check

Reserve rental car: check

Reserve cottage in Moscow, Idaho: check

Ship gyro stabilizer out ahead of time: check

Get camera sensor cleaned: check

Pack: check

Fly and arrive

Shoot for several days with it raining on and off waiting for good weather: check

Reserve plane from Doug Gadwa, pilot I fly with: check

Day of aerials fly with door off in back seated next to large opening, camera in hand, preset to the right shutter speed (fast), gyro spinning at 21000 rpm to stabilize the camera, harnessed in but able to lean out and point straight down (Jesus! scary), shoot 516 frames in one hour: check

All that for one hour's shooting? Seems crazy, doesn't it? This is a "discretionary " trip, meaning I am not on assignment, no one's paying me to come out here, not on any grant. Most won't even know I've gone. 

Ah, but then this happens:

Which, for me, makes it all worthwhile. 

BTW: looking at these on your brand new super iPhone 7 will only lead you to surmise that the photographs are nice but not "special." That will be the wrong conclusion. Check this out below. You can see real prints soon, the weekend after the elections. After what we've all been through you may need something aesthetically pleasing to sooth your soul. 

Coming up:

Open Studios in Allston at 119 Braintree Street, Allston November 12 and 13 from 12-6 both days. I will be there and the studio will be open. As I get home this Thursday I will make prints of some of these for that weekend. Hope you can come.

Topics: Color,Wheat,New Work,Digital,Northwest

Permalink | Posted October 31, 2016

Out in Wheat

As I write this I am in Moscow, Idaho on a project to photograph wheat fields. Although I call this wheat fields much else is grown here besides wheat: garbanzo beans, alfalfa, lentils, safflower, etc. It is late October so this isn't a time of flowing golden wheat with a hot sun blazing down from above. The fields are stubble, turned under or lying fallow this time of year.

Why be here now? Because this is a time where the land itself has no covering to soften its contour. This is the much photographed area called the Palouse, where workshops meet, where vans criss cross the terrain filled with photographers looking for that iconic " shot", the one that's a keeper, the one that ends up over a mantle to wow the house guests at the party.  And yes, in July or August at harvest time this is an exquisite place, but in late October? Not so much. 

That's why I am here, to make essential photographs.

I've only been here a few days but working here now is proving challenging. "Dodging rain drops" is how I would describe it, although the fog at dawn this morning was something new.  

I will make good pictures here, for the 18 or so times I've been here have me well prepared, perhaps better than anyone.  I also will not be repetitive. The late time of year helps to insure that, of course, but also I am seeking to do some things here differently than before. 

I am sure you have found this too but to be someplace familiar where you've made pictures before and to think through a different approach, to try something else, to challenge past assumptions seems key to me. Much has been written about how we always make the same pictures, over and over. This is all too easy, to be in front of something with similar light, similar content, and a similar frame of mind to something you photographed in the past with some success and then to repeat that same image. I am trying not to do that while here. 

It would be rewarding sometime to assemble some of the pictures I have made while here that are not of the fields specifically, the outtakes, if you will (hint hint you curators out there). Honestly, how can you not make a picture of an oil tanker sized hay stack three times your height stranded in the middle of nowhere?

So stay with me for the next few posts as I take you through my trip out here in late October 2016. Next up? I flew yesterday with brilliant blue skies and bright sun at 10 am. The first day since getting here that it has been so. We used a Cessna 206, a four seater airplane, with the door removed. I was harnessed and strapped in, sitting in the seat right next to the large opening. It was 45 degrees. Totally worth it. This is me, still strapped in, after we landed.

How did I do, up there at 1000 feet skidding along at 90 knots, pointing down at this amazing landscape? 

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Wheat,Digital,Northwest,Aerial

Permalink | Posted October 29, 2016

MTG with Sarah Kennel

Now that I am feeling better since hip surgery 5 weeks ago I've been shooting a little (but I still can't get through a full day as my endurance isn't up to where it needs to be), printing and I find myself in a few meetings as well.

I met this past week with the new-since-last-September curator of photography Sarah Kennel at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Sarah came to my studio to look at my work. This was the first time we'd met. Sarah comes to the PEM from nine years at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

We had a great time. I used to dread these presentations, feeling nervous and insecure and probably wanting too much from one meeting. But I realized over the past few years that I really enjoy them now. What a great opportunity to have a one on one with someone who has invested in spending the time to look at your work, to discuss it and to fit it into a larger sphere historically, culturally and aesthetically.

Sarah was terrific; telling stories, looking with real concentration at the work and sharing from her own experiences both in Washington but also in her new position. 

When someone has had a long career such as myself it is challenging to know what to show a curator for the first time. What I do now is ask them to choose a few portfolios from the gallery page on my site. That's just what Sarah did and she listed them in an email before we met so that I could make sure the portfolios were ready to view when she arrived. We started that morning with the Oakesdale Cemetery series from the mid 90's (here). This was a good choice as it brought Sarah into an approach to making photographs that spans over forty years of making series work. While Oakesdale is certainly not the first of the series work it is as close to seminal as anything I've done.

(When we laid out the book the designer and I used four from Oakesdale Cemetery for the cover of  my monograph published in 2006.)

From there Sarah and I moved on through a few portfolios she had mentioned she wanted to look at. After those I had pulled two more I hoped she'd be willing to see. This can be tricky as people get fatigued by looking at too much work. Invariably they say that they can look at more but one can only absorb so much. So what we did was too look at one series that were lighter, simpler, perhaps prettier or less substantive. These gave us a chance to simply enjoy pictures without needing to do any heavy lifting. The pictures were the aerials from Martha's Vineyard known as "Waves" (here). They are simply a visual and sensual delight and gave us a nice break. This led us to a discussion of Sarah's move from D.C. to the North Shore of Boston late last summer and how she has yet to explore the area with her family. She is from California. Can you imagine being new to this area? So beautiful here. She has much to discover.

For the last series, as we were well into our second hour and we both had commitments coming up that same day, I chose to show her the Benson Gristmill Series I made last fall (here). Why those? Because they show the way I am working in series now as opposed to the Oakesdale work from 1996 made twenty years ago. Hopefully, the refinement shows. They are very much "the same but different". The same: black and white, high print quality, tightly sequenced and describing a walk through a given and defined space. Different: digital, rectangles instead of squares, a wider lens, bigger prints and a different sensibility informed by what photography is now and my perception of it that has been altered by the past twenty years. The Gristmill series is also very dense and takes real concentration. Sarah gave it her full attention.

BTW: I wrote a couple of posts about the series after I printed them:

Benson Grist Mill

Benson Grist Mill Part ll

This was one Sarah liked very much.

Unusual for me to admit this but as we were looking over the last few prints in the series I shared my lack of resolution about how to end the body of work. Sarah had an idea that made a whole lot of sense, why the series should end a certain way. Now the last image in the series is this one:

The reasoning is hard to appreciate on a small monitor on line but the print drives the point home. The prints in this series are made on 22 x 17 inch paper. Only the center branch and leaves are sharp in this image, as though the intent is to hone in on one small part. This is something photography can do so very well. Notice the way the photograph is laid out, the out of focus building in the back serving as the backdrop for the small leaves in the foreground, the two trees there to frame the image. It's a fitting end to the series for the whole body of work is about this, this hyper way of looking at things, something so many of us do as we really photograph, as we turn our attention to the ordinary with a heightened sense of awareness.

I have Sarah to thank for this revelation. She found a strong conclusion rather than something that read like a run-on sentence. That's it right there. What good curating is like. You know how an author really needs a good editor? Well, that's it. Often artists need good curation. 

Thanks to Sarah Kennel for a wonderful and insightful meeting. I look forward to more.

Topics: Digital,Black and White,Northwest

Permalink | Posted March 15, 2016

Benson Grist Mill Part ll

In the previous post (here) I introduced a new series of my photographs called the Benson Grist Mill north of Salt Lake City in Utah. I made these in September 2015. This post will continue to look at these new pictures.

We left off having just made a picture of the log cabin and we were clearly heading someplace new. I walked down a slight incline and across a foot bridge that crossed the stream and up the other side.

This is the only vertical in the project and now you'll see the connection from the power cord in the previous frame to this one, I am sure. Usually I don't move things in my pictures and this was true here. I have no idea why the rope was spread out along the gravel like this. In pointing down with this lens I've made another picture that is not neutral or "straight" but it was necessary to follow the rope from its start to its end. To me it is pointing us somewhere and the next picture puts us in place to see that.

By repeating part of what was in the vertical we have no choice but to pay attention to this part as, in effect, this is a crop. Minor White was known for finding the picture in the picture. It was his way of telling students to move in and "essentialize" the picture.  I learned to do this in my own work with a fixed lens camera photographing a series in Newtown, CT (take a look at frames 19-24 here). I like the plane created from the side of the building on the right and then sliding along the back of the truck. The wide lens, held level here, makes for what I call a "fast "picture when taken out of being parallel to the subject. All that convergence on the right and then extending to the back of the truck sweeps you through the picture in an almost accelerating nature. Finally, you can't see what else is on the truck unless you move in very close and if you're reading this blog on your smart phone you can hardly see anything, so I'll show you:

and enlarged more:

I like the "Power of Pride" on the truck. Presumably it indicates pride in the USA. I searched for it and found it comes from a bumper sticker that looked like this: 

This photograph also hints at the greater world outside of this small park as, screened by a row of trees, you can see a mountain range off in the distance with clouds hovering over it all like an umbrella.

So here we are, back in "pairs" again and we are also now in the center and core of the series. 

Next up is another pairing and I used a device familiar to many of you, shooting and then turning 180 degrees to shoot again.

With first the sun at my back and then turning to photograph directly into it.

I recognize that among those of you that are purists there is no way you'd allow your  hand to be in the picture but let's be clear about who made those rules. Among  more conservative artists there are rules, I know, but really, in this day and age doesn't that sound a little ridiculous that you can't do something? These rules are more like long standing traditions. I think of Ansel Adams standing next to his 8 x 10 view camera making one of his iconic photographs. He might throw his hand up there to shield the lens from the sun so it wouldn't flare but he would make damn sure it was never seen in the photograph.  And that's fine, for photography was in a very different place then, in the 1930's and 40's, but that isn't far from being a 100 years ago, a very long time in this medium.

And let's be clear, I am in no way a documentarian. And this was an essential picture in the series.Why? Because of the path through to the world at large way back there in the frame. This is the only frame in the series where I allow you to see out with clarity and it is remarkable back there:

with layered content in the field to work your way through and mountains in the very background that give you a sense of the scale of the place. This is the land, after all, where this is: Great Salt Lake,

which was literally less than a mile from where I was standing at the Benson Grist Mill.

By the way, look at the shadowed barns on either side. See how they aren't totally black? This is simply amazing and attributable to something called "dynamic range" which is the ability to hold detail at each end of the tonal scale in something so very contrasty as this. This degree of dynamic range is new to photography in the past several years and yes, it is a digital thing. It is next to impossible for film to do this.

So, where are we going from here? To this pair:

 which moves us around to the side of one of the small buildings we've just seen as alleys and that is obscuring the others, and to here:

which brings us back very fast across the bridge and leaves those previous pictures behind. We are now placed to turn another 180 degrees to see what lies ahead of us, the final chapter in this little novella.  Forgive me, but this is a way of paying respect to where we've just been and saying goodbye to those pictures I just made. I don't do this often but felt it was warranted here, for the previous two pairs were the core of the series, the primary reason we are spending so much time on these pictures and why I worked on them and printed them over a two week period.

Now that we've moved on and are away from those, where do you suppose we're headed?

To something quite different and that looks, at first glance, hugely insignificant. But let's go closer:

to this which was, quite simply, so exquisite it stopped me right in its tracks, these leaves, a little back lit and floating from a branch above that it took me right out of the pattern of working in one vein that was well established in the 15 pictures preceding this. To add to the exceptional nature of this picture, note how it is virtually all out of focus except for the the plane of the leaves floating in the foreground. There are times when I feel very lucky when I make pictures and this one seems to be thrown in there as a sort of bonus. Well, whatever power (the good luck god?) that may be at work here, it has my everlasting gratitude.

So we are wrapping up now and I must admit we are going to do it in an anticlimactic manner. First here, the second to the last:

which returns us to our second and third frames hinting at something on one edge and then leading us to that subject, this time sliding to the right verses the left as before:

which is this last one and ending with the concept of coming around full circle prevailing as you can see the small cel tower or antenna poking through above the roof on the left. That's the same one we saw first in number four. Also this brings us back to the present due to its roof being modern and the sliding doors looking newer as well. Time has been been skewed a little in this series as there have been very few references or keys to where we are in time and that was intentional. Very often I'll include a present day car or something else to base a series in the "now" but that kind of device didn't seem appropriate here. The photographs being black and white adds to that as well, I think.

I do believe the last three function as an addendum, rather than going out with a  bang, but "it is what it is", that infuriating phrase that indicates that there is no more to work with.  I do find myself wondering if my physical condition (this was a few weeks before I had hip replacement surgery and I was working while in pain the whole time in Utah) played a part here, in that I was tired and sore after making the previous pictures.  When working to make a series I shoot about three or four times more frames than I end up using so I'd been at work a few hours already. Did I lose concentration ? Was I thinking about where I could get a beer, something to eat or just sitting down? I don't know, but it's possible. 

So what's the point with these pictures? What is all this work saying? The answer is locked in each individual photograph and also in how they relate to each other. I would think there could be 17 different answers, one for each picture, or maybe more if you began to address and answer what happens in the spaces between prints in the sequence. I for one wouldn't begin to presume that I could tell you what the pictures are about or say. I feel it is for you to unlock their meaning for you personally. Using this vehicle of the blog I can share with you some of my intentions and write about some of the work I did to make them but I can't tell you what to take from the pictures.

My next to last point: I wrote in the first post about the grist mill pictures that I was working within norms.There is so much trickery and gimmicks used in picture making these days. And I am not averse to using technical aids when I feel it adds to pictures. Take a look at South Woods Farms (which are HDR's) and Baldwinville as examples. But it isn't always necessary, or perhaps even seldom needed. A group of photographs such as these should rely upon the seeing, not technical wizardry used to make them. And my very last point. Earlier I used the concept of playing against a chord or a given key to make when arriving at the harmony more meaningful. That is called counterpoint. That's true here even though photographs aren't music. I would caution you against trying to find the "pictures that work" or that are keepers when looking at my series photographs and to think about the body of work as a whole. Of course, you and I both will have a favorite or two but we shouldn't think of those as standing on their own because they need the ones that precede it and follow it as well.

Once again, you may see these unusual, remarkable, exceptional and beautiful prints (not very modest, but I believe they are) at 555 Gallery practically on demand.  Just ask. For a sense of how they work together without all these words you may see them on the gallery page of this site as well here.

Thank you for looking and reading.

Topics: Black and White,New Work,Digital,Northwest

Permalink | Posted December 11, 2015