Topic: commnentary (3 posts)

A Problem with Landscape Photography

I have friends and colleagues who are curators and gallery owners who are bored to  death with most present day landscape photographs and I think I know why. I got a hint of this while watching a landscape photography "how to" video on You Tube the other day. I am not going to name the teacher but it was about as bad as anything I've ever seen.

You've probably seen them. They sound like:

-The 10 best ways to shoot travel photos

-10 killer tricks for landcape shots

-The 10 best ways to bring back the photos your friends will love

-Leo Lapaluzi's 10 ways to make your landscapes snap

-10 Photoshop tricks to make your photos sizzle

and so on. 

They are usually sold and promoted as being by some photo "guru", some all knowing "master" of the landscape photograph. The last thing the world needs is another oversaurated Monument Valley sunset picture or another "awe inspiring" slot canyon photograph. This takes me down another path and that is the one that says you too can make pictures just like this with me as your "guide". Yuk!. The key is when the teacher shows you slide after slide of  "killer" pictures he made when he was teaching the workshop in "name your exotic locale". The idea, of course, is that you can emulate him (always a "him") by just paying the fee of something like $1500 for three days; lodging, meals and airfare not included. This results in 12 photographers standing in a row shooting the same great "scene". Give me a break. Trophy landscape photography. Art? Not in any definition I have. Actually, gives landscape photography a bad name, I think.

How about this. Go someplace, try to tune into what is there and what you can say about what is there. Try to really look and understand. Try to grasp an inkling of a place's history, culture, resonance and presence. Do some homework perhaps. Research a little. Make your pictures of place through some knowledge rather than first impression or to impress friends back home. Do "Art" proud. Share your innate intelligence with us. Make a contribution and work to extend the medium and also the viewer's sensibilities. Share freely but do not add just another generic cliché, please. Innovate if you can. Be fresh rather than standard. Emote but for Christ's sake don't be cloying, an overtly and sappy romantic, or assume that sterile minimalism means substance, for it probably won't. What's that leave you? Honesty, mostly. You can do a lot worse than being clean and straight and not obtuse. Not clear what something says very often results in it not meaning much. Take a risk but don't pander, condescend or disrespect your audiences' intelligence. After all, who anointed you as being superior?

Sorry. Kind of a rant here. I am not sure the World Wide Web has helped photography that much because it has produced a community of know-it-alls that are really terrible and who show off. So many more photographs now in this digital age means so many more bad photographs from bad photographers. Maybe because of the web we are subjected to more of it as it all can flow into our desktop by just Googling "landscape photography".

Where do you go to find good landscape photography? Sorry if this dates me but here: Frederick Sommer, Ansel Adams (yes, he was very very good), Joe Deal, Edward Weston and his son Brett, Robert Adams, Wynn Bullock, Edward Ranney, Eliot Porter, Andreas Gursky, Emmet Gowin, Linda Connor, William Clift, Eugene Atget, Henri Cartier Bresson, Harold Jones, Todd Walker, and on and on. So many greats. I am sure you have your own list.

As always, thanks for reading. You may respond via email here.

Topics: commnentary,teacher rant

Permalink | Posted August 28, 2014


In the last post I discussed some new pictures I am working on called: Monsters

If you haven't read that one you might want to before you get to this one, as this post refers to the new work.

Mutter Museum, Philadelphia, PA

If you've read my posts before you know I like hypotheticals and this one will do that again.

Lucy is a mid career professional artist with some serious shows to her credit, a strong following of repeat collectors of her work, several pieces in museum permanent collections and a local gallery that represents her. Her work is categorized, defined by what she's done and therefore people think of her art in a certain way. Her gallery also does this, choosing to combine her paintings with other similar works by other artists in shows that fit a certain look. She seldom gets one person shows. She sells work occasionally and derives some income from her art but supplements this by also having a day job working for a flower distributor in the office handling shipping and placing orders. Lucy is relatively content but realizes that she is also a little trapped in the safety and comfort of being successful and held in high regard by her peers, colleagues and fellow artists. She'd like to do something different but is insecure about how new and different work might be received. She's experimented with making new work in her studio but knows that it lacks conviction due to her timidity about putting it out into the community of those whose opinions she respects. To some extent, the work she's done confines her to making new work "fit in"to her former self, or at least to the work her former self made. Lucy feels that as she's grown and matured as an artist she has changed but she has been unable to allow her work to change as the constraints placed on her previous successful self prevent new manners of expression. Lucy feels trapped and afraid to take risk.

Wheat, near Pullman,WA (this image recently acquired by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)

Cabelas, Prairie Du Chein, Wisconsin

Meghan is also a mid career artist with a very similar profile: museum shows, a gallery, some sales, collectors buying her work and so on. Meghan is different, however, in that she hasn't fit into any particular category in her art. This has both  benefitted her as she has been free to pick up different forms of expression throughout her career as an artist but it has also hurt her. Each time she changes her art, she does gain a new following but also loses some of the former group of people that liked what she did before. She knows this, but wants her art to be a reflection of her present life, not be held by a definition of her former self. Meghan's game is one of embracing risk in all its forms and the hell with the consequences. She is okay with losing some people that follow and like her work. However, her lack of conforming has hurt her most with museum curators who are often impressed with what she shows them but then, when delving deeper, find a career that has produced work that is erratic, disorganized and difficult to categorize.

Reggio Emilia, Italy

In each scenario both artists have parts that are good and parts that are not so good. In the life of a professional artist risk needs to play a large role. Taking risk makes new. For an early artist all is risk, each time is something new. To a seasoned artist, risk is most likely taken in a more calculated way, bending and massaging one's work to effect an outcome that is rich and diverse. But risk, making work that is different and edgy and visceral, is essential.

Costume World, MA

Risk averse? Afraid you'll be scorned or ridiculed by those whose opinions matter to you? Think about it this way. You've already established real credibility. The work     you've done, the platform of work that is finished and in your past is the very foundation with which you can branch out and feel free to play or do something new, different and edgy. You already are "valid". Now use that validity to go kick some ass.

Topics: commnentary

Permalink | Posted May 3, 2014

Back from California

Skate Park in Healdsburg, CA a couple of weeks ago.

I have returned from Santa Rosa, California and have had one of those couple of weeks where I was scrambling to fit stuff in. We had a reception at 555 Gallery that was wonderful, I also went to a lecture at Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD) on Tuesday by the author Christopher Benfey and then out to dinner with GSD faculty and Chris afterwards. Chris and I are co-teaching a two week workshop this spring in late May at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. Before the reception at 555 Gallery I also went to Peter Vanderwaker's gallery talk at Gallery NAGA on Newbury Street in Boston. Peter is one of the real heavyweights in architectural photography these days and makes great pictures to hang on your wall too. In this show he included prints from work he shot in the 80's and 90's while the Big Dig was under construction. Finally, there is some big stuff going on to do with the PRC (Photographic Resource center) that I can't write about just yet.

At any rate, I also managed to get started on what will turn out to be a large amount of work printed of the pictures I made in California.

I want to show you some of these but first speak about how we get our work done. My life is sometimes quite full. I always say that "life intrudes" and it does. We have commitments, deadlines, many others in our lives that are important and crucial to us.  You may have family, work, bills, errands, places to go, people to see….. and on and on in a blur of activity and conversations and requirements. So how do you carve away enough time and mental freedom to make your work? You get your shit together, is what you do. You get organized. You make it so you can pull a print quicker with better results and get whole bodies of  work out amongst all this other "noise" in your life. Face it, you will practically never have long expanses of days free from distractions to make your work. And let's be honest, you don't want that. 

Step number one is figure out a place where you can work. If you work digitally is your computer and printer at the top of the stairs with your kids running by? Is it an email computer, a family computer used for paying bills, signing permission forms for your kid's school, printing out directions from Google Maps, researching when was Thomas Harding president and for scanning your dog's paws? Not good.

Make yourself a space, make it work with a computer and printer that is for your making pictures and make sure it isn't for much else. Dedicate your resources and commit to a real printer, not a small inkjet that will print snapshots at 8 x 10 inches. Invest in the necessary software to complete your tasks and commit to learning it as thoroughly as necessary to know how to use it. These days, as a minimum, it is Photoshop in some form and Lightroom or Aperture. And then, get in a groove. This means get the sizing thing figured out, stock in enough paper and ink so you have backups that mean you don't run out in the middle of printing a group of pictures. Get your files set in Aperture or Lightroom by date and so that you can find your past and present work. Don't know how to do all that? Get some help and be willing to pay for it. Commit. You either are or are not an active practicing passionate photographer and/or artist or you are not. Period. Whew! That sounded like a rant, didn't it?

Then, move it up a notch. Set yourself a goal and then work towards that goal. It could be a show, a competition, a portfolio review, a group getting together to look at prints, a friend coming to visit who hasn't seen your work in a while, a café that has exhibition space and shows you can submit to, a gallery, a museum, and so on.

Finalize the work, make the prints the best you possibly can in an appropriate size (not 8 by 10) and put them, sequenced, into a real portfolio. Include a title page if you like. Include an artist statement. Show them around, to everyone you can think of. Get feedback and responses to your work. Share your excitement with the work with others and see if they are excited by it too. They're not? Why not? They are? Then use that to show it to others and move up the ladder. Ladder? What ladder? The hierarchy from bookstore owner who shows three prints a month behind the cash register in the store to the photography curator at the MET. Once they are done, think of them as done. Why? So you can clear the decks and move on to the next one. Yes, you can change them later but if you can't put one project behind you, you can't move on to the next one. Think about that. Get one done before doing another, and so on. Project after project. Yes, quantity (tell me about it!) but quality at the highest of possible levels you can make them at that time. Project after project.

That's how it works.

Topics: commnentary,California

Permalink | Posted March 22, 2014