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.

Printing the "Under The Same Sky" folio

For a while now I wanted to create a folio, a collection of about 10 to 12 smaller images not to be framed, but to be held and enjoyed sitting in your favorite chair listening to Bach. Or Pat Metheny.

As I was putting together a selection to submit to Brooks Jensen, the publisher of LensWork, I felt that those images would be perfect for my first folio, so I selected ten and re-edited them all over again. The outcome was quite different from what I did with them originally as I switched RAW processors from Lightroom to Capture NX and used some Photoshop techniques I hadn’t known before.

The theme “Under The Same Sky” is about realizing that that is where we all live. That a religion or a nationality are just labels and that at the end of the day we breathe the same air, our skins are warmed by the same sun and that eventually, we all go home just as we lived under the same sky. I think this is even more important to consider in these times as leaders are actually dividing nations and trying to separate countries from a community that was so hard to build to begin with. There really is no “America First!” or “Deutschland uber alles!”. There is just one mankind after all.

What I show you here are the first three prints. All of them are done on Canson Baryta Photographique 310, a paper that looks and feels fantastic. These ten prints including a certificate of authenticity and some information about the prints will come in beautiful hand-cut covers and should be available in late December 2018. The exact date will be announced on this blog and there will be a video showcasing the folio on the website holgermischke.com. You can also order the folio there.

Zoom in. Breath out.

I’ve known anxiety as long as I can remember. Sometimes it was just a thought moving past in the endless stream of thoughts. Sometimes it was so intense, it feels like there will never be any happiness in my life anymore. For me, as a person and as a photographer it is very important to try and live in the moment more and let go of the past and the future as much as I can. So that’s one reason for me to be dealing with photography, but that reason is just one word in this whole story.
I’ve mentioned this before and I will again and again – my life and my creativity depend on each other. I think about both more or less constantly, I think about life, happiness, creativity, expression and anything that I associate with it and sometimes I manage to not let that stream swallow me and leave me paralyzed, dumb, deaf and blind.
And actually, create something.
Don’t get me wrong. I need that stream. I need all of the 60,000 thoughts we have on average every day. Make that 90,000 for me. Most of these are associations, thoughts that arise triggered by an input. And I am an input junkie. I see, I read, I hear, I feel, I use any kind of sense to get it all in, to try and understand and not miss anything and know I will.
But with all this in my head, with that circus ride that is going on up there all my waking hours, I wouldn’t be able to find that moment when I need to release the shutter or better let the moment find me.
That’s where – again – meditation comes into play. I need to be in that moment right here and right now. This one. And this one. Because that’s all we have anyway and that’s the one moment in time I can do something about my life. The one moment when life actually happens. I need to be open to that moment, observe what’s happening without judging it. I don’t need to evaluate whether this is the moment to take the photo or the next one. To just be there in this state and to wait is all I need to do. Sometimes nothing happens and there just will be no shot. But when it is there, when the planets align when everything falls into place and you as the person you are in that very moment with everything you have ever seen, read, heard and felt are the soul that will be receptive to that moment, the picture will beg you to be taken.
I believe all of us can come up with images that nobody else could produce, even if we’d be standing next to each other in the same spot at the same time. My moment will always be different than yours. As my life is. As my thoughts are. As everything me is.

Who You Looking At? A Fine Art Marketing Approach

One of the most enervating questions I found I had to answer for myself was the question of how I was going to price my artwork. You can find a lot of answers on the internet because of course this question has been asked many times and will continue to be asked as long as artists create and publish. But of course, no resource on the net can actually name the price. The problem is that you’ll have to find out for how much you will be offering your art.

So I studied a book about Fine Art Marketing by Alain Briot, which was quite interesting and after reading that I came up with a price for my prints. Which was still a bit under what I should have taken according to the calculation methods of the book, but here is the main problem. The Ego.

At that point, I wasn’t sure people would want what I do. I wasn’t even sure it was any good. The only reference I had were the opinions of family and friends and that, of course, is not enough. Today I am more confident about my work and I could ask more. But I won’t. I think actually I’ll ask less. Why?

I found some interesting lectures by Brooks Jensen, the publisher of LensWork magazine and in them, the question was asked, which market you were going for? Would you be trying to sell for a higher price to a few who could afford that or would you ask a lower price to reach more people? I must say that the second market agreed with me a whole lot more than I think the first one ever could. Don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t mind selling a print for a million bucks, but then again I always hated it when I heard that a vintage guitar was auctioned for a ridiculous amount of money because that meant that guitar would never be actually played again anymore. The same is true for prints sold at very high prices. We are talking investment here, not art to be framed and hung in walls.

But even if your art is not selling at investment prices (mine sure isn’t), it is worth thinking about selling for a lower price or at least selling something for a lower price. If you are selling your prints for say 500 Euros, you would have to ask yourself what that means for other people. For some, it is a month’s rent or food for two months or a quarter of their monthly income. For somebody else, these are the proverbial peanuts. The group of people for who 500 Euros are mere peanuts is probably a lot smaller than the other group, who would have a harder time shelling out that kind of money or more for our art.

So either you are trying to find those few that don’t have a problem paying higher prices for art AND who do like your photography. Or you try to find the larger group of people who pay lower prices for art AND who do like your photography. Which is probably easier.

But it doesn’t stop here. You don’t have to just lower your prices. You can offer a range of products with lower to moderate to higher priced items and reach all of these people. I find this idea of reaching more people with my art by making it affordable for everyone very appealing.

To do this, I am looking into possibilities of publishing other than just the framed inkjet prints I am doing right now. Postcards, folios, zines, canvas prints books or digital publishing are all valid means to get your work out there and the customer can choose how much they are willing to pay for enjoying your art. It is not just “This is what I have — take it or leave it.”. I like giving everybody a choice how much they can afford and/or are willing to pay. This way my artwork will be seen and hopefully enjoyed by more people, what at the end of the day might even just mean more profit.

And even though we are calling ourselves artists and insist that we’d do this anyway — profitable business or not (and I do claim this is true for all artists who consider themselves passionate and serious about their art) — profit is not a bad thing. Although the sales will never pay for all those years of studies, all the equipment, the travels, the creativity, and whatnot. And they shouldn’t have to, this is not part of the actual costs. But even if your price is not a four- or even five-digit number for a 13 x 19 print, you will be making money, because the actual cost for paper and ink isn’t even that high. Even if you factor in the time spent in post-processing, those high numbers are — again — an Ego problem. Are you only a serious artist, if your prices are very serious? As mentioned above, there might be a few people who can afford that AND who like your photography, but those are hard to find and you might even have quit printing and publishing before you have found them. So I think it is best to cater to people from all walks of life and with all kinds of income. You can increase your price at all times if you find your printing can’t keep up with the demand, But until then why not sell for a lower gross margin and just see more of your images go out in the world where they can actually be enjoyed by real people?

Play, Write, Photograph — The Interaction Of Creative Endeavors

Photo by Jörg Wüstkamp
In my article “The Narrative And The Photograph” I have written about how in my opinion stories and imagery are very much connected and this being said it doesn’t surprise that many photographers are or have been writers. Be it to pen instructional books or more prosaic works as Edward Weston’s Daybooks, which I can’t seem to stop mentioning.
But of course, there are more creative disciplines and this here article deals with the interaction between those disciplines when a person devotes herself with more than one.
I will try and describe this for two disciplines that don’t seem to connect that easily — music and photography. I have been playing the guitar off and on for 30 years and after Funk and Rock finally settled with Jazz, playing in a trio with a bassist and a saxophone player.
The output, of course, is very different in both cases. One creates a piece of music, the other a print or at least an image we can look at on a screen. In the creation of these, I play an instrument to produce the first and operate a camera and a computer for the second.
So how do these two interact? It is not in the most obvious way, it is about the attitude, about the way of thinking. And I think it provides a very good way to reflect on what we are actually doing and how we do it.
As an example: A lot of Jazz musicians hum along when they are improvising. Both Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis (two old-school jazz guitarists) strongly recommend in their instructions to do the same. Is this something that I can use for photography?
First I need to think about why the jazz musician would do the humming in the first place. It is a means to get out of the head and into the “real” world what the musician hears internally, as it is much easier to play what you actually hear than what you “only” have in your head. It almost sounds like you’re humming along with the melody, but the humming ever so slightly happens before the actual plucking of the string (or whatever you do to produce the sound on your instrument), and it really helps to keep you from playing patterns and scales you visualize on the fretboard.
So it is about hearing what you will play before you actually play it. The next thing I will have to do is to figure out what the equivalent in photography might be. Which I think, would be visualization. According to Ansel Adams in “The Camera”, it is a concept, that “… includes the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure, so that the procedures employed will contribute to achieving the desired result.” Translated for jazz, this would read: “ … the ability to anticipate a sound before playing it so that the procedures employed will contribute to achieving the desired result.”
Now you might ask, what does that do for your photography to know that there are these similarities? I think first it opens your mind so you don’t just dismiss concepts or ideas from other disciplines as useless, to begin with just because they are based on sound or creating three-dimensional objects or stories or what have you.
I have been playing music much longer than I have been making photographs. So in transferring the truths, I found in music, I can maybe accelerate my development as a digital artist in photography. And as I am using concepts and ideas from my other disciplines (writing and music) and can embrace their interaction, I can think, feel and live neither as a writer, musician or photographer, but as an artist. And since my creativity flows in all of those three directions and they feed off each other, I not only amplify each but also make them more unique, more my own because they are also influenced by the two other components.

Are We There Yet? Photography As An Art Form

The other day I again watched the PBS’ American Masters Special about Alfred Stieglitz and I realized that was being said about Mr. Stieglitz’s struggle to have photography accepted as an art form is still true today, for photography or to take it a little further, for digital photography.
In “The Salon of 1859”, first published in the Révue Francaise, Charles Baudelaire argued that “Photography has become the refuge of every would-be painter too ill-endowed and too lazy to complete his studies … By invading the territory of art, photography has become art’s most mortal enemy.” An uncredited critic wrote: “The photographer has discovered a machine to make his masterpiece of art for him, by sticking his head into a black box and letting the machine do everything.”
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the dominating style in photography was pictorialism. Those images were somehow manipulated by the photographer, so they were not just recorded, but created and interpreted. Which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing, but the editing was more often than not meant to make the image look more like a painting, drawing or etching as in those times only paintings were really considered art and a straightforward photograph would be nothing more than a representation of reality.
In 1888, George Eastman introduced the first handheld amateur camera, the Kodak camera. From then on, millions of images would be produced every year by professional photographers and amateurs alike.
So isn’t the situation pretty much the same as today? The Kodak camera is gone, but the phone camera has the quality of pro or prosumer cameras of not so many years ago and is only limited by size. These cameras can now also take RAW images. And again, millions and millions of images are taken with these devices every year.
And we as photographers and digital artists are doing the same as pictorialists back then — we edit our images, sometimes to the point that they don’t look like photographs anymore. A certain amount of editing is necessary as the RAW photo straight out of camera are not mostly not considered usable. But how are the reasons for editing now and then different? And why do I have to have that discussion about art again and again when I am telling someone the price of my prints and they go “Anyone could have taken that picture!”?
Why is everyone accepting that a painted picture is art although they didn’t see how it was done and yet there is still doubt that digital prints can be art although they also didn’t see me take the image, edit it in Photoshop etcetera and print it, meaning they have no idea how much effort and knowledge goes into that?
Is it all about what was in the Kodak-Eastman ads at the end of the 19th century: “Anybody can use it. No knowledge of photography is necessary.”?
The English photographer Henry Peach Robinson wrote in 1869 about a technique he had been using for some 20 years by then combining individual elements from separate images into a new single image (not unlike blending multiple images in Photoshop) and considered the final outcome “art through photography” as the final image had only come about by him working on the images.
Other artists and critics shared the belief that straight photography was only representational and had no artistic interpretation whatsoever and that the “usually accepted limitations of photography had to be overcome if an equality of status was to be achieved”.
Photography as an art form has sure come a long way, but with all the above in mind, I think there is still a lot to do for that “equality of status” to really happen. Still, the painters and sculptors are considered to be the somewhat more serious artists. With the tools (camera and software) being very affordable today, the flood of images is enormous and especially the up and coming artist has to prove himself time and time again. But the fact that this art form is a very young one is also reason to rejoice — there are so many things that haven’t been tried or done and with technology developing at a breathtaking pace the possibilities seem endless. You just want to find your place in this development of digital art.

The Narrative And The Photograph

“The greatest ride in my life was about to come up, a truck, with a flatboard at the back, with about six or seven boys sprawled out on it, and the drivers, two young blond farmers from Minnesota, were picking up every single soul they found on the road — the most smiling, cheerful couple of handsome bumpkins you could ever wish to see, both wearing cotton shirts and overalls, nothing else; both thick wristed and earnest, with broad howareyou smiles for anybody and anything that came across their path.” And so begins Jack Kerouac’s description of his ride from Gothenburg to Cheyenne in the summer of ’47 on his way to Denver in my all-time favorite “On The Road”. The two farmers and some of the characters riding with him — Montana Slim and Mississippi Gene, the stop in North Platte, the truck zooming over the plains and through the crossroads towns at night with the stars so pure and bright in the thin air and no trees obstructing low-level stars anywhere.
This always was and always will be one of my favorite pieces of writing because it made me feel a certain way. It conveyed the feeling of adventurous travel, of meeting real characters and feeling so darn alive doing all that. Just as I had felt on my travels. And all this left an image in my head. Then take any image you like, I for one happened to think for example of Walker Evans’ picture of a roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama from 1936. There is a mood, there are stories. I think about the five-digit phone number of F. M. Pointer, about the boys out front and the girl inside the store and even the woman (which in my story is the mother) coming from the house behind the stand. What they offer and how sad the fish painted above the door looks. And then there are more details, thoughts, and feelings that make these stories mine.
The average human has about 60,000 thoughts on any given day, give or take. Now we could go on trying to define what exactly constitutes a thought, but let’s not and just assume we do think a lot. Or actually, we are being thought as a majority of those are associations. These are thoughts that are triggered by principles of association as similarity, contiguity, and contrast (numerous other principles have been added in philosophy and psychology). So each and every one of us will have his personal story when viewing an image and an image when reading a story. You might not be totally aware of it all the time, but there is something going on in your head when you are presented with an image and/or story and I do believe that these two belong together. That an image will always start a story in our minds and a story will always create an image before our inner eye. So when you are a writer, photographer, painter or let’s just call us storytelling artists you should be aware of this I think as it will be beneficial in the creative process knowing what you are going for and realizing for oneself what in your work can actually do that.
I once had a woman come into my studio and after she looked around, she came to me and said that she had looked at a print for quite some time, lost in thought. And that was the nicest thing she could have said about the photograph. When your photograph, your painting or your words are strong enough, it will cause a reaction the viewer/reader will actually feel and undeniably connect to your work. And that’s really why I do this. I feel that this falls into the category “Why we came down from the trees in the first place.”.