There Is An Artist In All Of Us

I Remember Everything (2014)
Waiting to come out. Waiting to be given a chance to express something. Everything.
Whatever way creativity finds, there is always more you bring to the table than just what you feel in that very moment or moments of actual creation. If you want it or not. There is a history. Everything you have ever done, said, felt, heard, seen and dreamed of. Your particular idea of life and your existence, your perception of the world around you. Your joy and sadness. Your expectations and disappointments. Your wisdom and stupidity. Your knowledge and ignorance. Your empathy and arrogance. Everything you are.
And given that this combination which underlies constant change and evolution, I think it is safe to say that you, as anybody else, are unique. And that whatever you create is also. Or at least it can be. If you don’t take shortcuts in the process, as I have written about here.
It is not enough to just do something and assume it will be unique just because I am. It is essential to know what you are doing, why you are doing it and to reflect on such things that have to do with the way you express yourself using whatever medium or combination of media you have chosen. Or that seems to have chosen you.
“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
It might sound strange, but I guess being an artist entails doubting you actually are one. So you have to go back and re-evaluate all over again. Not to be in constant fear not to be good enough, but to never get too comfortable with where you are in your evolution as an artist.
The simple fact that you are thinking about this, contemplating this very moment and you in it, will show you the way, Which will always lead you to the next moment. And the next. And along with the practicing of your art, the daily dealing with the craft that your art is as well as aesthetic undertaking, this will eventually make you a more aware person. And the artist inside you will be free. To take any direction, live all your dreams, tell all the stories and to breathe life into everything you create.

Yesterday Wasn’t Bad If Tomorrow Is Promising

I had a lot of input over the last weeks. More concentrated and more significant than ever before. One thing it changes it the way I look at my work so far.
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
— Henri Cartier-Bresson
When Cartier-Bresson said that, that meant by the time you had used up 300 rolls of film, today it depends on the resolution of your DSLR, but a couple of memory cards will hold these. Be it as it may, what he meant was that by the time you have taken all these exposures you should have learned the basics. And that you could have already created a foundation for what someday could become a unique style of your own.
It might take you a couple more or less, but eventually, you should not worry so much anymore about technical questions. You should know when to use which aperture, what to do in post and on which paper you’ll print that pano of the mountain range.
But what I found now (and I totally am beyond that 10,000 image mark) is that I start asking myself questions which I either have no answer to or the answers don’t satisfy me.
One book I have read was “The War Of Art” by Steven Pressfield, which is a definite must-read for everyone who is doing something creative and artistic. One might not agree with the connection to the divine he makes in the final part of the book, but there is much to learn about what holds you back. And that most of that holding back is done by yourself.
So far, so good. No awkward questions there, although I asked myself how I could not have seen that myself. Why I didn’t start really fighting that without someone having to explain that to me.
But the frustration that I feel now really started when I started to read “The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook” by Harold Davis. Of course, it is not the intention of this book, which is a wonderful source and a beautiful book no doubt, to frustrate the reader. But it is now that I gain more knowledge about black and white composition, using negative space, framing, patterns, contrast and shades of gray, that I realize that I have done what I have done without knowing in depth about all this and so much more (Another Davis book, Walker Evans’ American Photographs and the first part of Edward Westons Daybooks are sitting on the shelf waiting for me).
So for a moment, a long moment even I felt frustrated today. Like I had wasted my time. I felt bad that my images had not been better. But then I thought that they weren’t bad at all. And that I wouldn’t like them less because now I knew more. Instead, this should make me feel better because eventually when this knowledge sinks in and becomes second nature, my images will be better.
What I will do now and since I have been reading and reflecting on what I read (and will continue to do so) I will have the necessary tools, is to reevaluate my own work. Respecting that they represent my knowledge, craftsmanship and artistic level at the time, but defining what needs to be done to make me a better photographer and a more meaningful artist. And just as when being confronted with the changes one has to make to become a better person, these changes will also cause resistance, fear, and frustration.
“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I ‘m going to take tomorrow.”
— Imogen Cunningham
But as long as there is momentum, as long as I keep growing as a photographer, as an artist, and as a human being, I don’t have to worry about anything.

Photography And The Truth

“You Can’t Go Home Again” by Holger Mischke (2014)
In the 1800s, newspapers were featuring drawings as a means to illustrate stories and even though photography was invented around that time (the earliest surviving camera photograph is “View from the Window at Le Gras” by Nicéphore Niépce from 1827), it wasn’t until the 1890s when halftone printing was perfected that photographs appeared in newspapers. By the beginning of the 20th century, drawings were completely replaced by photos.
I believe it is this connection of photographs and news that ultimately led to the “pics or it didn’t happen” attitude of today. Pictures taken by a camera were supposedly showing how it really happened, what it really looked like. Mostly because it is more expensive to print in color, most newspapers kept printing photos in black and white until the early 1980s (the New York Times and The Washington Post even remained in monochrome until the 1990s. Even though a black and white photograph seems to be even further from reality, from the truth.
I say “seems”, because at this point you have to ask yourself what reality and truth really are if you want to discuss whether a photograph can really represent them. Growing up we were lead to believe that there can only be one truth. That it is (as the dictionary says) “the body of real things, events and facts”. But if you wouldn’t stop at that and doubted that “real things” or “facts” were just as “the truth” nothing you could really rely on, you were in trouble. Or about to free yourself.
To be open-minded (among other things) means to be able to accept the possibility of things to happen although they shouldn’t happen. Because science says so. Or religion. Or your parents. You could even go as far as to say IF you consider an outcome as at least possible, as far-fetched as it may seem, the probability of it actually happening, increases.
We must also keep in mind what an impact one’s own perception of the world around us has on what one considers to be real/true. And this perception is, of course, a mosaic composed of everything we ever did, felt, heard, saw and experienced. So I guess it is safe to say that everyone has to some degree a reality of his own.
So even though photos have been considered “the truth” for so long, I find it important to realize they really aren’t. Even if I try to reproduce the scene I saw as true to reality in terms of color, light, depth of field and distortion as possible, it will not be the same to all, we will all see it differently.
So should this frustrate me? That I can’t get the same message across to every single person that views my images? Absolutely not.
I do write some lines for each of my photos and publish those along with them. Which doesn’t mean that I want what I feel looking at the scene or at the image and writing the words to be what the viewer feels. And not only because it is not possible, to begin with.
The photograph must find a viewer who is touched by something in my printed photograph. The viewer and the photograph have to find each other. And in a way, this viewer who feels something looking at my work and I share something on a level of intimacy that mostly will not be acted on, will not be a part of the real world. But will nevertheless be true.

The Making Of “I Hated You”

“I Hated You”, 35mm, f/5.6, 1/4000s, ISO 100. Lens: 35mm f/1.8, Camera: Nikon D3200
The photo was taken in September of 2014 on the island of Santorini, Greece. I was there working as a tour guide which meant I was traveling back and forth between Athens and the islands Paros, Naxos, Samos, Ikaria, and Santorini. On tiny planes or sometimes almost ancient ferries. On Santorini all I usually had to do was take the group from Thira to Oia along the caldera’s edge.
Oia is that place that everybody knows and it has been “shot to death”. If you want that famous view that you will recognize the moment you get there, here is what you do: Go to the Ekklisia Panagia Platsani. It’s a small square a couple of minutes walking from the bus terminal. Go west on the alley on the south end of the square. After about 50 yards take the alley to the left and walk down to the end, which is another 50 yards. Turn southwest and you’ll see it.
Anyways, on that day I had left Thira already with the group and we were taking the alleys with what always feels like thousands of steps. If you want to make it even worse, you can walk down to the old harbor in Thira, which is supposed to be 600 steps. I never bothered walking down there. The hike up to Oia was long enough.
After you leave the houses of Thira behind, it is only about 100 yards to the village of Imerovigli and if you stay on the path that is closest to the caldera’s edge, you’ll inevitably come to Agios Georgios church.
It’s your typical greek church, very white and usually it is surrounded by a very blue sky. Or if you get the angle, you’ll see the very blue sea. I didn’t want that kind of Santorini shot everybody had. So I went for black and white and forgot all about the very blue all around me.
I didn’t have too much time as I had the group with me, but at least they were taking pictures too so I had a few minutes. When we walked through the gate onto the platform where the church was located, I had already seen what I wanted.
Standing outside the gate the image had four layers, giving it a quite some depth: The wall on the right with the lamp attached to it in the foreground, after that the gate with the cross on top, then the church itself and finally the sky with the clouds.
There is also a lot of texture in the image, rougher on the foreground wall and the gate, a lot smoother on the church in the distance.
The eyes are drawn to the bright roof of the church and the cross on top of the bells, which contrasts nicely with the darker sky and clouds. Once the eye has focussed on the white cross against the darker sky, there is this connection to the darker cross on the gate against the brighter church building, so the view goes to the gate in the foreground. I think there is a strong axis between those two crosses.
This was the first year with a DSLR, so I must admit at the time I wasn’t really sure what I was doing and I simply got lucky I guess. I wouldn’t have been able to explain as I am now, but at least at that point, it wasn’t necessary. I saw something and took the picture.
I took the image with my first DSLR, a Nikon D3200. Luckily I didn’t just stick with the kit lens, an 18–55, but I got a 35mm prime lens, which I am still using a lot. The file was developed in Lightroom and converted to black and white using Silver Efex Pro.

The Making Of “A Wound That Would Never Heal”

“A Wound That Would Never Heal”, 35mm, f/4.0, 1/200s, ISO 100. Lens: 35mm f/1.8, Camera: Nikon D3200
“As I came back to Piraeus, I found your parents’ house locked up and abandoned. You left no word where you had gone. The word had been said, the promise broken. The door is shut and nothing anybody could do would ever make things right again.”
This photo was taken three years ago in Athen’s harbor Piraeus, southwest of Greece’s ancient capital. I usually got there by bus after I flew into Athens, to catch a ferry to Paros or any of the other islands. Things would change often and I was never too sure how I would get to my destination on one of the Greek islands in the Aegean. I always stayed at Faros hotel on Notara although it was a rundown neighborhood with abandoned houses, discos and strip clubs. There was a certain sadness about that place that had everything to do with me coming and going and not staying long enough in one place to have any relationship that mattered. It was something I wanted and despised.
I didn’t walk the streets too much, but I took pictures of some of the abandoned houses, defunct clubs, and cafes with old men. I wondered who had lived there and what had happened to those people and why they had to leave. And what would happen to Piraeus?
I did some basic adjustments in Lightroom, then adjusted contrast and temperature as a Nik Color Efex layer in Photoshop, then highlighted the brighter areas around the door in Nik Viveza and sharpened the metal on the door using selective LAB sharpening. I finally converted the image to black and white with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

The Making Of “All You Could Ever Ask For”

“All You Could Ever Ask For” 35mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 280, Lens: Nikon 35mm f1.8, Camera: Nikon D7100, edited in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro
While we were visiting Mallorca in October I went to see Robert Graves house in Deia, as I have written about here. I already said that the kitchen and Mr. Graves’ study were the most impressive rooms in this very lovely house, but there was at least one more sight that I really liked and that was the small table in front at the window in the room with the printing press.
On the table was a Smith & Corona Standard typewriter which I figure to be some 80 years old and although mine was not that antique, I do remember how different writing was on a typewriter. It was like you had to be writing as if you really meant it.
And I think of this as the equivalent of what we call “distraction-free writing” today, meaning the software will just go to full screen, eliminate all menu bars and such and all you got is your words and a blinking cursor
In those days it meant a clean desktop to which you would just bring some paper. And maybe a cup of coffee, maybe tea in the case of Mr. Graves. And that would be all. The typewriter and your thoughts. Those already on paper and those still in your head. And the window would be so important. So that when you sat back for a moment you wouldn’t just look at a wall, which is probably one of the dumber things man came up with. Always sit somewhere where it makes sense that you have eyes.
“All you could ever ask for was this place. Where you could sit all day and everybody in the house was used to you typing away on that old Smith & Corona and when the words wouldn’t come you’d look up and out in the garden or to the trees beyond the road, feeling the sea behind all that. And at some point, the muse would touch your shoulder, kiss your neck and remind you of dinner. Bliss.”
— Holger Mischke
Anyways I was in the house and although I was alone for the better part of my visit, I didn’t use a tripod. I didn’t even bring one because I wasn’t even sure I would be allowed to photograph in the house (which I was told would be perfectly alright) and out of respect for the house I didn’t feel good about setting up a tripod in there. So ISO it was, but this room was so bright, that I didn’t even have to go to extremes.
Still, the window was pretty bright and I had to bring down the exposure a bit to bring back the trees and plants outside the window. I thought of Multi-RAW processing, but bringing down the Whites and Highlights in Lightroom was good enough. I had to remove chromatic aberration manually and apply the lens correction, but that was pretty much it in Lightroom and I exported the image to Silver Efex Pro for black and white conversion.
Starting out with the Full Contrast preset, I used a red filter and lowered the contrast a little bit until I liked the tones in the image and had some detail in the darker areas of the chair and desk. I still had to place a control point on the upper part of the window frame to brighten it up just a touch. I burned the edges to somewhat “frame” the image and I was done. I like experimenting with layers and filters in Photoshop and I thought because of the bright light coming in through the window this would be a problematic image, but this time I think this simple approach worked well.

And Then There Was Nothing

“Bricked Up” Shot with the LENKA app on iPhone, no further editing
As I mentioned in my post “Looking Back Over My Shoulder”, I am putting together sets of images for an assignment so I was out again today with my camera and our dog Ben. We went to the same forest as we did yesterday because that is the only one in walking distance and our car was not available today.
The weather was still the same — overcast and very little sun. But as I was shooting with the 35mm only yesterday (not on purpose, it just happened that way) I thought I’d use the 50mm today and just get closer, for which the even light of an overcast day might be okay.
So again we walked all over the place and a few times I saw something, but it never really talked to me. So before I got really frustrated I thought why this was happening. I couldn’t believe there were no images in the forest that day. And I also couldn’t say that on my second day out for that assignment I’d be all stressed out already (I got at least two months for doing this). So why didn’t I see anything?
The day before it was totally different. Both Ben and I were very enthusiastic and walked through nature looking left and right, up and back all the time. And I found at least two things I liked, photographed and published. But today — nada. Zilch. Niente. Nothing.
And at some point, I thought it just had to be me. That somehow I wasn’t open to views that day. Maybe the mostly overcast skies of the past few weeks got to me, a cold that was neither really there nor done with. Whatever. But most importantly I thought that I shouldn’t beat myself up over it.
You can’t force art. And for something like this you certainly need to be in the mood. Usually, I am thinking about life and art and all the good stuff most of my waking hours. But sometimes the magic just doesn’t happen and all you bring home is a picture of a bricked-up window on your way home.