Reflection on “Notes from N.Y. Nov. 1922”

_HMP3640-Edit_1

As I am following the advice by Ansel Adams as quoted in my last post, I am basically reacting to what I read in Edward Weston’s daybooks (I try to read one entry each day and reflect on that). Sometimes it is directly related to what I am reading, sometimes I just ramble on about what popped up in my mind after having read the entry.

Today the entry was mainly about meeting Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1922. There were some remarkable things Stieglitz said and altogether it reads like both handled it quite well. There was some praise from Stieglitz (and O’Keeffe) about the prints Weston brought, but not only praise. Although Weston seemed to handle the criticism very well (as we all should, as just praise might lead to feeling too comfortable at where you are and might keep you from pushing it further).

“I took my work to show Stieglitz. He laid it open to attack, and then discarded print after print, prints I loved. Yet I am happy, for I gained in strength, in fact strengthened my own opinion. I was ripe to change, was changing, yes changed, when I went to New York. I had shown my portfolio of photographs all over New York, had been showered with praise, which meant very little to me, for all the time I knew I was showing my past.” – Edward Weston

I was quite impressed by something Stieglitz said about how he broke technical rules for emotional reasons: “I have put my lens a foot form the sitter’s face because I thought when talking intimately one doesn’t stand ten feet away …” But let me put that in context:

“The struggle is to live an express life untouched by the ideas of neighbors and friends. After all we only know what we feel, and I have been unafraid to say what I feel. You see that in my work. I have broken every photographic law, optics included. I have put my lens a foot from sitter’s face because I thought when talking intimately one doesn’t stand ten feet away; and knowing that it takes time to get deep into the very innermost nature of matter, I have given exposures of several minutes stopped way down. You see my prints, the eye is able to wander all over them, finding satisfaction in every portion, the ear is given as much consideration as the nose, but it is a task, this desire to obtain detail and simplification at the same time.” – Alfred Stieglitz

Emotion comes before technicalities. Of course. It is why I decided to not frame my images anymore and to do nothing bigger than 13×19. So there is a chance for an intimate relationship to form between the viewer and the print. Is it possible that the size might overwhelm you? That a huge print might hide some imperfections even better than a small one? A huge print might intimidate you, might suggest greatness just because of size.

I also liked something Stieglitz mentioned about his attitude towards photography:

“A maximum of detail with a maximum of simplification.” – Alfred Stieglitz

That quote has been in my head all day. Even when I wasn’t thinking about what it means, it just sat there and I felt it. How full of meaning it was and at the same time carried a promise of freedom and fulfillment. I wonder how many months it will take for me to really take this in and understand it. Another one to be pondered is this:

“Nothing must be unconsidered, there must be complete release.” – Alfred Stieglitz

Of course this was about photography, but just consider what else this could be about …

One last bit Stieglitz left Weston with was “My last message to you is work, seek, experiment.” Which seems to be obvious, but can’t be repeated often enough along with assuring oneself that it really is that simple. It doesn’t seem that hard if you remember that you are a photographer, a human being, an artist (if you need that label) all the time. Every waking hour and maybe even in your dreams. Not only with camera in hand. I listen to photography-related podcasts while I drive, the last thing I read in bed at night is probably about photography and even if it isn’t, it is about some aspect of life and so at the end of the day, it will be about feelings and that means (for me) photography. Immerse yourself in photography in every way you can think of and eventually everything will fall into place. You do, see, feel, hear something and remember something else you did, saw, felt, heard maybe years ago and you can actually can hear it click as it finally makes sense even though at the time you might not have had the slightest idea what it was all about.

I leave you with an anecdote about something that happened in the summer of ’18:

I had been working with Harold Davis since September of ’17 when I offered to send him a print as a token of my gratitude for everything he had done for me. Here is what he wrote back:

“Hi Holger.

The thought is very much appreciated.

When I was a young photographer in my twenties I was privileged to meet Ansel Adams at his home in Carmel Highlands along the Big Sur Coast of California. Ansel spent quite a bit of time with me, we spent some time together, he looked at many of my prints, showed me his darkroom, and we drank a bottle of whiskey together. Ansel was already very famous at that point, and in his seventies. We kept in touch, he invited me to a museum opening of his in New York (where I was living), and so on.

At some point in the next year I mailed him a couple of 20X24 prints I had made, thinking they would be a gift and a way to say Thank you. Ansel had an assistant mail them back to me, carefully packed, with a note thanking me for the thought, and saying he really didn’t have a good way to store all the work he was sent, and that he was sure I would have use for my own work better than he did.

So this was a good learning experience for me…”

It felt like the circle was complete and I was well on my way to be able to not just call Harold a mentor, but my friend. Which he still is today.

Basically What?

_HMP7054_HDR_A4_191219
Thines, France 2018

“Look at his photographs, look at them carefully, then look at yourselves – not critically, or with self depreciation, or any sense of inferiority. Read the material from his Daybooks and letters so carefully compiled, edited and associated with the photographs by Nancy Newhall. You might discover through Edward Weston’s work how basically good you are or might become. This is the way Edward would want it to be.” – Ansel Adams

What Ansel Adams wrote seven years after Edward Weston’s death in 1958, touched me in a special way. Here was something that I had felt and wanted all along, but could never put my finger on. Could never name it. “You might discover … how basically good you are or might become.” By looking at the photographs, reading the daybooks and letters. By getting to know the man and his work. I like that.

I like that not only as something I want to do myself (as I am looking at the photographs and reading his writing. For quite some time now). But I like it to be something to live and convey in my work as well. Not by copying Weston’s style of work and way of life. I have been talking about how unfulfilling copying somebody or their work would be, but being influenced by and sharing a basic principle with someone is legitimate.

What I have been thinking about for a while now was how whatever they call art seems to be something that needs to be provocative. How simply showing something beautiful does not seem to be good enough. Not important enough, whatever this means. I wouldn’t even care to deliver “important” work if that label is needed to be featured in galleries and museums. I think where great images should be is in people’s homes to enrich their everyday lives. And what else would someone hang in their living room or elsewhere in their home than something beautiful, something you would love to look at?

And by looking at those images and reflecting on why you like them, acknowledging the beauty and what this beauty does with you, you might realize that there is something inherently good in you and always has been.

I came back today from a few days in the Eifel nature reserve near the belgian border and was walking in the forest this morning before driving home. And as usual on New Year’s day, a lot of people are out in nature. Even those morons showing up in big-ass SUVs while everybody is dicussing climate change. But even those enjoy nature. We are eventually all coming home. And being aware that this nature is part of us, is where we came from and go back to, might make us realize there is something good in us. Even though we feel lost and detached from it. Even if we feel the need to drive an unnecessary big car.

Right now this whole concept is an intellectual exercise to me which I need to connect to my actual feelings. Up to the point where these aren’t just thoughts anymore, but feelings which will find their way into my photographic work. I am so looking forward to the moment when I realize how it actually works out. Or has worked out, because sometimes you are already doing something, you’re just not aware of it. As in all things, self-awareness is key. Or at least one of them.

Photography, Therapy and Red Wine

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” – Ansel Adams

In his video “Three Guys Talking About Photography” Kevin Raber says: “Photography – for me it’s my passion, it’s my joy, the one thing I have fun with, it saves me on therapy bills and, you know, I get to drink a lot of wine when I am processing my images.” 

I can subscribe to all that, and even though I do not know too much about wine I like a french red when I am editing and writing. But what I feel most passionate about in that quote is the therapy bit. Now I don’t know whether Kevin is seeing a shrink and less so because he is enjoying photography. But I do know that it changes all of us who are what they call “serious” about this, have been changed forever and will continue to change as we keep recording the world around us and along with it the world inside of us.

_HMP1464_A4_271019

The beauty of it is that you don’t need high-end gear to do so. Any, really any camera will do to get you started. Actually what matters even more than the gear is to get infected by the ideas, the thought process, the philosophy of those who went before you. So all you really need is any camera and a library card (or just internet access as this is the 21st century). You will find images you like, photographers you like, their biographies and articles about what they had to say about how they got to where they are. Or were.

It is no question that you will have to learn how to operate your particular gear, that you will have to learn about general photography techniques, which you can do on your own (I have downloaded about half of YouTube to do this) or actually study it at university, art school or workshops. Either way, eventually you will be exposed to photography history and the likes of Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand and everybody after that leading up to the current day and you.

DSC_5640_8X11_280719

It is not only interesting to find out what it is you like and to find your place in all of this. To realize what influences you in the images you are creating to get a sense of direction, of where you are going with this. Not to be able to sound intelligent as you are trying to come up with a somewhat decent speech for your first gallery show opening. But for you. Just for you is good enough. Because it will help you when you get to the next part.

And that part would be to realize that while you are getting more and more into this, your photography and you are feeding off each other. A better you will create better photography. And better photography will create a better you. And realizing that will give you an opportunity to work on both. By doing things consciously in both photography and life, which will eventually be hard to separate. At some point, you actually can’t anymore. Really, you just can’t.

_HMP5214_8x12_180819

“One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and on. It’s on all the time.” – Annie Leibovitz

And that’s really where the therapeutic aspect that Kevin was jokingly talking about, kicks in, even if it’s not on your prescription. With the quote by Ansel Adams above in mind, look at images you have taken when you let photography into your head and ever since then. Granted, they will differ because of new gear you acquired and/or techniques you have learned. But it is interesting to see in what situation you were at the time, what happened in your life, how you felt. Because if you feel anything at all, it will show in those images who you were then and who you are now.

So you came from realizing what touches you to defining why it does that to finding out what of you is in your images, living a more conscious and therefore fulfilled life. That is the reason why we do this even if we wouldn’t get paid and never sold a single print. If I only had those prints on the wall in my house, it would be okay with me. Those are my memories, the way I felt them, the stories how only I could tell them.

_HMP2585_13x19_141018.jpg

“Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.” – Paul Strand

Taking this a step further means publishing those images, telling your stories to the world hoping anybody will care. Baring your soul like this is something brave as you are making yourself vulnerable in doing so. But as far as I can tell, the risk is totally worth it.

See, I am a picture maker, I don‘t like calling myself an artist. Art is such a vague term, how should it describe me or what I am doing? I’m having a hard time describing myself as it is. And if so, I do I like sharing the task. I give you an image and you tell me who i am. Because I am in there and if I gave it my best making it and you gave it your best looking at it, you might reward me with the best of reactions. Laughing and crying at the same time. So happy to have seen it and so touched by it.

_HMP0607_A4_031019.jpg

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” – Don McCullin

I remember a day when a woman I had never seen before came into my studio, looked at my images and stood in front of one for quite some time. Then she came over to me and said that she didn’t know what it was, but something in that image spoke to her, stirred up a memory inside her. Any bad comment on 500px or Flickr, any criticism about what I ever had done creatively were forgotten instantly. If I can touch somebody like that, I can’t be that bad at what I do. And looking back on my life, the ups and downs, the drama and the joy, I must have done something right. That’s what I thought when that lady left the studio leaving me behind with a sense of gratefulness. And a bottle of red …

This article was also published on photopxl.com (https://bit.ly/2Qk5oOJ)

Take What‘s Yours

“That’s Me On The Other Side” (Greece, 2014)

The picture above is one of the few I brought back from the island of Santorini and actually developed and printed. Although I had far more, I really wanted something like this as it was totally mine and not what people usually bring back from the island: HDR shots of Oia and Thera with the blue in the domes of the churches and in the sky and water oversaturated. (Another image from Santorini is “I Hated You”, which you can read about here – there even is a description of how to get to the place, Santorini was shot to death from. If you really, really need that.)

I know it is hard to do something different, but it is totally worth it. I’m not talking vacation snapshots here. If that’s what you do, lining up the family in front of the Eiffel Tower is perfectly alright, but that same Machu Picchu shot again? It doesn’t matter at which time of year you set up your tripod at either Inspiration Point or Tunnel View – you’re trying to do “Clearing Winter Storm”. But why?

Practice? Maybe, but that’s one hell of an effort for a practice shot. No, that won’t do as an explanation I’m afraid. But it’s not even me that you have to satisfy with an answer. It’s you.

Ask yourself why you want to do something that has been done before and more than once. And with those iconic shots there’s not really much you can do to make it look different I guess. People will always see the original image and not yours.

Just like we don’t want to copy the style of a photographer, we don’t want to copy their images either. When I play jazz guitar, you can tell who I listen to. you can hear Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, and Barney Kessel. And I do hope you can. As I am not ashamed to have been influenced by them. But when I play the same songs they play or used to play, I don’t play their solo. So, of course, you might go where Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Walker Evans or whoever it is who influenced you went. Just don’t take the same pictures. Take what is yours and yours only. There is no satisfaction in trying to be someone else.

But realizing why you are doing something and where you are going with this will give you a sense of direction of your work and of yourself as a human being. You don’t want this to be just happening to you. Even if you let outside influences partly determine which path you might take, it is always your decision which influences you like to play a role in your life and which to neglect. This is a dynamic in your artistic and personal life which you are in control over.

So go and look at all these images you like, see why you like them, go to all these places you like, see why you like them and when you have found the place, the moment and the mood that feels like you just have to hit that shutter right then and there, please feel free to do so. Just like in love you’ll know when it’s right. And even if not – recompose and repeat.

Where Are You Going With This?

“Looking East” Vlissingen, The Netherlands, 2018

The other day I was going through some material about a digital Fine Art workflow by R. Mac Holbert (who is by the way currently adding a series of excellent videos called the “Mac Holbert Advanced Series” to the YouTube channel of the Epson Print Academy) and I found the second item in the list one of the most important. It said, “Frame A Destination – Analyze the image”. In part 8 of the video series (https://youtu.be/9F4vpv8uHkU?t=43) he describes how he looks at the image in Lightroom (hit L to hide all tools and menus and view the image against a neutral background) and just previsualizes what he wants to see once he’s done.

It seems so obvious and simple you might not have thought about that one at all. To have an idea about where the whole editing process will go is important as you need to plan how to achieve the look and feel you want for your image. It would be even better to have that idea at capture. To already have a plan of what is going to happen in Lightroom and Photoshop (or whatever it is you are using) will enable you to make the right decisions when taking the photograph. Like do I need bracketed shots for an HDR or focus stacking? And once you are working on it you need to figure out exactly what you need to do (and maybe use a device like an image map to keep track of it as described by Vincent Versace here.)

But it is definitely – at least for me – about more than just identifying whether the image needs luminosity adjustments or local sharpening. I want to find what the image is telling me, what the story behind it was and is and whether this has changed between when I captured the image and the moment I sit back and look at the image on the screen, which should be quality time. I like to listen to music when I am working on my images, have a cup of coffee and then I need to go to full screen, sit back and take it all in. And sometimes I see things I didn’t see before or something happened which now with this particular picture on the screen, makes sense and gives the image another meaning for me. Which needs to be addressed in a way that brings out hopefully exactly what I see in it.

Later on in the optimization process, as Mac Holbert call it, he recommends to re-analyze the image. After cropping, clean up, foundational issues, major retouching, and global color adjustments, he reconsiders the destination. Why not? If at some point on the way you find that something else might work even better, of course, you should follow your instincts. This, of course, would mean that it is highly advisable that you apply a non-destructive workflow meaning you always have an exit strategy so you don’t need to start from scratch once you change destination. In Lightroom, everything is non-destructive anyway and in Photoshop you can use Smart Filters, Smart Objects, and Layers to be able to go back and make changes if you need to.

Having said all this, do not neglect the need to experiment. If you can only draw from the things you have done so far, your idea of destination will always be the same and your images might all look the same, which isn’t necessarily called style. If you keep working non-destructively, your imagination is the limit.

 

 

Going three-dimensional

In the signature of my emails, there is my name, the place where I live, my phone number, the URLs of my website and this blog. And it says “Photographer, musician, and writer”. That’s who I am. That’s what I am.

I have been writing forever and at some point playing jazz guitar became my second passion. Those things have been sharing center stage for decades of my life. Sometimes the focus went to other things, but there’s a thing about passions – they just stay with you. Whatever I did, wherever I was. at some point I would write something and if it was only for me. And I always had a guitar.

The other day I was at the opening of an exhibition of my images and a reporter for a local newspaper asked me how long I’d been doing photography and I said I was sorry I couldn’t tell her something like I picked up a camera when I was nine and got instantly hooked and that’s that then. It wasn’t like that at all. I discovered photography for me about five years ago and it had become my major creative outlet. Although I kept writing as I publish a short text with each photograph. I try to get across what I was feeling and/or thinking at the moment of capture, while editing it or when I saw the final print. The text would serve as an invitation to whoever would be looking at the image. Now you tell your story.

But also music would have an influence on what I do and would be connected to what I write and how I feel about my photos. When I work on the images in Photoshop, I mostly listen to classical piano, but also Jazz. When I think about the moment I want to capture in an image and how I can tell the story about that very moment, I think about the moment in improvised jazz. The moment I hear something and react. When I hear the bass player talk to me or the saxophone quoting me, there is a story told together, communication taking place.

“Everything dovetails into everything else” Vincent Versace

Everything is indeed connected. From the environment I am trying to capture and me, the person viewing the image and the image, that person and me, that person and the environment. And photographing, writing and playing in me. Whatever creative skill you have, if you have others as well (which is very likely), don’t go and make one the only one you will cultivate. Those skills can and will benefit from each other as long as you are mindful about them, reflecting about what it is you are actually doing. There will be times when I am more of a photographer. There will be weeks when I need to write more than doing anything else. Or I will be happy enough playing a gig with my band so I am wiped out for days. But it will all be there all the time and make me a better photographer. A better musician. A better writer. And eventually a better person.

That D feels different …

This is totally no shot to show off or the beginning of a “What’s in my bag” story. First, the cameras and the glass in the picture are good for what they are designed for, but they are freely available for everyone and pretty affordable. And for the in-my-bag stories: I don’t need those at all if it is really just listing all your gear without any explanation why you use that in particular and what you do with it.
What this is about is how cameras feel different regardless of their specs and price. And how I think that certain glass fits on one camera better than on the other. Again, not from a technical point of view, but considering emotions. And after all, that is something we as photographers need to consider more than anything else.
The D3200 with the 35mm / 1.8G was my first DSLR. I bought the kit with the 18-55mm, but after a month I got the 35mm prime cos I didn’t want to zoom but walk around to find the shot. It made me feel more like a photographer and I guess I learned a thing or two about composition and working a scene this way. The 50mm prime doesn’t feel particularly good or bad on this body. When I started out, the 35mm and the 18mm end of the 18-55mm was all I wanted. The D3200 feels too plasticky and light now that I got my hands on other cameras, but it has the nostalgia bonus of being my first camera. I tried to sell it, but I take it as a sign nobody wanted it.
The D7100 was my second and I thought long and hard whether to wait and invest more into full frame or go for this one that has almost all of the pro features, but I went for this DX camera and never looked back. It felt like a choice to be serious. It is heavier and bigger and even though everybody is going for smaller and lighter these days I was and still am happy with the 7100. The 50mm / 1.8G feels right at home on this one, but mostly these days I am using the 18-200mm with it as a walk around camera in the streets or out in the field.
The D300 was actually part of a deal when what I really wanted was the 18-200mm / 3.5-5.6G. When I got it, it sparked the thoughts about what a camera feels like. In some ways, it is like the D7100 as it has a lot of the features the D700 (which was a full frame camera), but with being 11 years old, it feels almost vintage. I am still trying which glass fits best, but I think it is the 50mm prime. The 12.3MP is great for portraits as is the 50mm.
When I go out I don’t really know what to expect and I don’t actually want to. The choice that would make the most sense would be the D7100 with the 18-200mm so anything could happen. But it’s not that. Sometimes I like to limit myself by taking just one prime and I’d have to deal with that. And that wouldn’t have to be the first choice for the particular body. So I could go with the D300 and the 50mm prime and it would feel so much different and have an impact on what kind of pictures I’d take.
I could also try combinations which don’t make too much sense, to begin with. Say I’d take the mentioned D300 / 50mm combo out into the country. Or the D7100 with the 10mm/2.8 into the woods. I think we need to experiment with our gear to get to know it for real. And observe not only the data we produce but also the feelings we have using it as this directly influences the emotions that we convey with our images.