Topic: New Work (35 posts) Page 1 of 7

Going to Paradise-Day 1

Flight from Boston to San Francisco uneventful. Stayed in the Bay Area with my sister in El Cerrito then drove north to Paradise through the flat agricultural Central Valley filled with row after row of fruit and nut trees. Everything looking tinder dry and brown as I drove up the ridge into town. 

Initially, I wasn't sure I was seeing the effects of the fire, not until I noticed trunks of trees that were charred. Because of high winds a firestorm may be moving so fast it can leave trees singed but still standing. This is the case in Paradise, the site of California's worst fire on record. 

The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date. The fire started on November 8, 2018, in Butte County, in Northern California. After exhibiting extreme fire behavior, an urban firestorm formed in the densely populated foothill town of Paradise.The fire caused at least 86 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing, injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres , and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. As of November 19, insured damage was estimated to be $7.5–10 billion. The fire reached 100 percent containment after seventeen days on November 25, 2018.*

*Source: Wikipedia

First Impression

As I approached town, it quickly was clear where I was, as almost everything had burned.

The central street of the town sits along the top of a ridge and as I drove up the town's main street called Skyway the devastation is everywhere.

The Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant

A motel

Here I was just scouting, trying to grasp the extant of the damage, thinking what it must have been like, having to flee, Skyway Road backed up with vehicles,  homeowners and businesses alike, everyone evacuating, leaving everything behind, raging fires on either side. Some were trapped in their cars, gridlocked, some abandoned their vehicles and escaped on foot, nowhere to go and nowhere to escape. Imagine. The fire raging around you, looking like night in the middle of the day, your own town, propane tanks exploding, plastic signs melting, embers flying over you, the air thick with smoke. And the wind, fanning the fire, urging it on to the next and then the next, the fire raging through the town, consuming everything in its path. A nightmare.

Paradise, California, a town that doesn't really exist anymore.

I will be back again later this morning and am flying today to make aerials out of Chico Airport, the closest to Paradise. 

Topics: West,Color,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted January 3, 2019

What if?

What if a photographic artist went back to a place where he made work before? What if he was working within the overall definition of "landscape photography"? What if he took the opportunity to make the final prints a divergent opinion from what he had done before? 

That's what I am working on, as a recently turned 72-year old career photographic artist with close to a thousand separate printed portfolios of work made over my career. Another way to pose this is: what would be the point of going back to Utah to make the same pictures you made before?

Spoiler alert: I am looking at the trip through a different lens.

We all know we can do anything we like. We all know we have the freedom to express ourselves however we choose, the only penalty being how our work will be received. I am working on these files to  alter the subject more, to apply a more individualized set of controls, to interpret and direct more, rather than hang on to a factualized record of time and place.

I also made some panoramics, something I don't do often. Let me share with you how I do them and why.

Of course, there are two ways to make these. One, to simply crop a wide angle image top and bottom. The other is to shoot multiple frames, usually from left to right and then bring those files into Lightroom, Photoshop or another software to merge them all together. This has advantages and disadvantages but for me is the only way to go. A downside is that this then ends up being a very big file (this one is 830 mb, for instance). This takes some serious grunt and time for the computer to work through. But the fidelity and ability to make this a very large print is unsurpassed. I have one in my studio from Iceland that is 86 inches long!

Another approach I  am working on is to minimize the photograph in content and skew its colors to divorce it from reality. This is tricky as the work can be easily dismissed as gimmicky and contrived:

I have some history of doing this. Last winter's "Washed Out" from Malibu, CA made pictures that were distinctly not pretty (here). BTW: Washed Out are from the same canyons in Malibu that burned due to recent fires.

And finally, as I was at Thompson Spring a couple of times this trip, revisiting the site where I made the series

 Thompson Spring (2010)

I noticed the loudest and most prominent aspect in this almost ghost town was the train going right through at high speed.

So the RR line became a fascination:

Which, of course, I followed until the road ran out.

(I know, hard to see on your phone so small is the evidence of the RR track going though. This is a little easier in a 22 inch print.)

That's what I am working on so far and links you to my current thinking as well. This is a process that takes time, thought and perspective. And finally, and this is big, I am relying upon literally decades of experience as I sift through this new work. Past efforts are at play here, as I reference these pictures to ones made in Utah before and a broad array of my work, both from earlier analog days to current digital practice. I also have no interest in being repetitive. The very best part of having done this so long, I really know what I am doing. As well, the adjustment and configuring tools are so amazing these days that I find it a miraculous world of possibility and opportunity to explore, interpret and invent. Are you an artist or a documentarian? If the former, you really have amazing freedom of expression. Use it.

Topics: Southwest,New Work,Utah

Permalink | Posted December 2, 2018

Utah Update

Since I left Utah two weeks ago you haven't heard a thing from me.

This is just a brief update to tell you what I am up to with the work I made. Job number one is to edit files, and begin to print the work. Some people like to wait a while, let the new work settle in a little, allow some perspective on what was done and I agree, this is important. But I also like to make some prints of files I know I want to see, not only a determiner whether I was on or not but to see if I was technically where I needed to be. 

This I have done. 

Life does intrude and, especially when returning from a trip like I took to Utah to photograph, all that life entails came flooding back. A little medical, some friends and family, a meeting or two, time spent online judging a grant competition (with a fast looming deadline!) and long hours at the studio working on files and making work prints.

Also, I spent a week on Martha's Vineyard with family for Thanksgiving.

Within the overall number of pictures I made, there are subsets, chapters in the overall body of work that will be from Utah. While I did make "incidental" photographs (the term I use for photographs made without any effort to make a series or any kind of narrative, pictures that stand alone), I also made separate series. These need a longer view and are far heavier lifting than just skimming through a few thousand flies to see what things look like.

Let me share with you some of what I am working on:

This is Factory Butte, a few miles west of Hanksville, Utah, at dawn. I photographed there one afternoon until the sun went down and then was back again the next morning at sunrise. If I had to give one reason for going to Utah this time it was this.

Something about this huge hunk of rock and eroded desert appeals on a deep level for me, for it is so shocking, so primitive, so large and such an anomaly.

I also find it challenging. How do you photograph just one "thing", perhaps it is a little like a still life.

I learned a long time ago, that when confronted with something truly amazing do not just make one or two photographs and hope for the best. If you can, follow though on your commitment to really work on your images, using every idea you have, perhaps over hours or even days, to return back home with the best you can. There's nothing worse than regretting what you didn't do when you are now thousands of miles away.

Are these finals? I have no idea. At this stage I make prints to just see what I've got. It will take time to finalize this work, trying different approaches, looking at all the files I shot. Already I've begun to print some in black and white, for instance. 

Next up? There is far more in this same huge valley in Utah than just Factory Butte. Stay tuned.

Topics: West,Digital,Colorl,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 28, 2018

Utah Day 3

Yesterday was remarkable. I left Moab early and drove about an hour to Thompson Springs to revisit a town I'd photographed in 2010. Little had changed. The series is here.

From there I drove east on 70 to Green River which I will write about later then on to Hanksville, and then west to Factory Butte, where I spent the rest of the day.

Something from another planet. Factory Butte is close to a wasteland of epic proportions. In fact, it is an"Authorized Play Area" allowing all sorts motorized vehicles to do whatever they like to it.

I had photographed here before. It is safe to say that this one place was the key motivator for me to come on this Utah trip in the first place.

Factory Butte itself is difficult to describe. Thanks to the miracle of photography I can let the pictures show you.

I will stop here as it is getting lighter out and I want to be back at Factory Butte for early morning light.

Topics: Color,New Work,Digital,Southwest

Permalink | Posted November 6, 2018

Utah Day 2

I'm going to try to post daily for this trip. In the context of showing you what I am photographing I want to do a couple of other things too. One is to speak about how these trips work, how my experience is my guide to know what to pack, where to stay, how to bring home meaningful pictures and how not to screw up.

This may sound like advice to photographers who take trips to photograph, and it is, but it will also address overall professionalism and the discipline that is entailed in making work that is first rate.

Gear: bring what you need and only what you need. Always travel as light as you can but don't leave crucial things out either. Don't bring stuff or lenses you won't use. Figure out some way to move your gear safely. I use a Think Tank rolling case and always bring it with me on the plane. I also bring two hard drives with me (one is now an SSD) and my laptop on the plane as well. As nice as it would be to not bring a tripod I always bring one and don't skimp on its quality (RRS carbon fiber and large ball head). This is so important. Nothing will help your work more than using a good tripod. And, oh yes, don't bring new equipment on a photo shoot trip unless you've throughly vetted and tested it before you leave.

Rent a car, unless you're staying in a city and shooting there. For this trip to Moab I rented a Jeep so that I could go on 4 wheel drive trails.

 You should rent a vehicle that is suitable to the kind of driving and photographing you need to do. I used to advance reserve a white car so it would stay cooler when I shot film. Like that. Also, I like unobtrusive here, something that will fit in and not stand out.

Research your destination and then lodge as close as you can to that place. Whether a motel or  AIRBNB-type lodging, it should be comfortable and a good place to crash after long days shooting  and/or driving. We can't photograph all the time. What are you going to do with down times, bad weather, the wrong light? It's good to think of that in your planning. Another kind of trip is driving, shooting every day with a new place every night. Those are harder, of course, at least for me. I find I can get one thing done in that night's place, if I am lucky. 

I use my destination as the hub of the wheel, and think of day trips from the hub as spokes. At times, I'll go farther from the hub and spend a night on the road. While I may have gone to an area for one thing I consider it my job to look elsewhere, to try to find other places to photograph. Stay flexible and creative. A trip like this is your chance to stretch, breath and experiment. There to make landscapes? What about a day at an amusement park, a subway ride to a different part of town, a ride up a chairlift, a Saturday flea market, etc.

If possible, plan the time of year and the kind of weather you're likely to encounter. When I fly to the Palouse to photograph the wheat fields I have to choose what stage the crops are at, where they are in relationship to harvesting.  As a landscape photographer the time of year you go is the most important decision to make. Then, on any given day, blue skies and bright sunlight is hugely different than a cloudy day. For the most part, cloudy and flat is what I prefer for it allows longer days shooting, with less difference from am to pm and avoids the problems of shooting midday on sunny days when it is bright, harsh and not very pleasing. Flat light models form better without the deep holes of shadows. On the other hand, contrasty days can show depth better and can add drama to your photographs. Mostly, I don't care for spectacular light, highly dramatic scenes and honey highlights with the sun going down, although there are exceptions. My pictures are perhaps quieter and rely on  intention more. 

I look at shot files every evening when I download my files to my laptop. I then back those up to a second hard drive. I can then format the card, charge the camera battery and start fresh the next morning. Old habits die hard. I used to have to unload and load my 8 x 10 film holders every night or I couldn't photograph the next day.

What else? Mostly, I do these trips solo for I am there primarily to work. This is just me, but I am not particularly social or outgoing on these expeditions I take. I am shy yes, but I am also focused on an objective, to make the best work I know how to make. This takes concentration but also means I am a little single purpose, inside my own head. That makes it hard to relate to others, strike up a conversation or meet new people. That's okay. You may be different, or may want to do a trip like this with someone else, not me so much. My worst nightmare is to be in a group, standing in an epic location, all making the same photograph as if from a check list. 

Last, days like these and the trip I am on now, days spent looking for and making photographs, can be as several days in one. At dawn, into something specific, the sun just touching the top, a break for breakfast or coffee, then driving, coming across something new, photographing that, from a long lens on a tripod reaching across a valley, to hand held with a wide lens and a higher ISO down a back alley in town, to some graffiti along the RR tracks, to some wild flowers in the grass of a rural cemetery. So amazing, this thing that has led me to a lifetime of discoveries, of a life rich with experiences and as rewarding as I could ever wish for. This, of course, is the foundation of the trip to make photographs. To be open to new experience, to be a clean slate to what is around the corner that you've never seen. To understand that it is up to you to make art from all this, there for you to figure out the puzzle, to work with it in sympathy for all it has to offer, to coerce meaning from the banal and ordinary. To make special that which is not.

I leave next for Hanksville for one night, then back to Moab for several more. Weather's been good so far, flat and not too cold, with little wind. So far wonderful.

Topics: Southwest,Digital,Color,Landscape,New Work

Permalink | Posted November 5, 2018