What Color Are You?

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Transits 3, Untitled 4

“I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.”

Henri Matisse

I like a lot of negative space in my figure work – I usually shoot the models against a black backdrop and like to print in fairly high contrast to accentuate the difference between the skin and the background. It allows me to focus the attention of the viewer on the figure so that it becomes almost an abstraction.

This is such a foreign concept to most painters, particularly watercolorists (one of whom I am married to!). There is generally so much white in watercolor. I don’t think I am a person who could tolerate that much white.

I suppose each of us is drawn to certain colors or a particular palette and that this reveals something about our personalities. I wonder what my use of pure black in so much of my work reveals about me – perhaps my own dark side is coming forward. I guess I feel the need to leave nothing of the paper revealed, I want to make my mark on all of it.

I am thinking again about all that white in so many watercolors – have you ever encountered angst in a watercolorist? I haven’t…

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Do You See Me?

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Oakland Bay Bridge

“I believe that a spectacular photo of something ordinary is more interesting than an ordinary photo of something spectacular. The latter is about something else, the former is something else.”

– Jim Coe

My photography as evolved over the years toward more ordinary subjects. Initially I sought out spectacular sunsets, unusual places, unique landscapes. But I found that these images were about the place itself, not about the photograph and certainly not about the photographer. As an artist, I felt that there was not enough of me in these pictures. There was too much of the place or the scene.

In order to make a photograph of an ordinary subject interesting, you have to figure out how to make it different than how it is usually experienced. That only comes through the addition of your own personal vision into the process. It isn’t about the scene as much as it is now about how you are expressing the scene.

When you look at a beautiful photograph of a spectacular landscape, you learn little about the person behind the camera. Perhaps it is not the ambition of all artists to give the viewer an idea of who they are, perhaps that is a self-indulgence, but is one that motivates me.

The next time you look at a painting or a photograph ask yourself, “Am I looking at the subject of the piece or am I looking at the artist?”.

Before the Moment Passes

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“A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there — even if you put them end to end, they still only add up to one, two, perhaps three seconds, snatched from eternity.”

Robert Doisneau – Weekend Guardian (London, 4 April 1992)

An arresting thought – over a lifetime a photographer is lucky to take two or three hundred really fine pictures, Considering that each one represents the merest fraction of a second, a life’s work in truth captures just a few seconds of eternity. Even if you add together all the photographers who have created good work, only an infinitesimal fraction of time has been recorded in these works.

What of the rest of time? Was it not worthy of recording? Or was it simply that no one was there with a camera, or they didn’t recognize the significance of the moment? It’s likely that the best photographic opportunities slip by unnoticed.

The lesson here is to pay attention! It’s one of the traits most artists possess – an obsession with paying attention to what’s around them, to small details, to everyday things observed from a new angle, to looking more closely or from further away, to fleeting light, to juxtaposition.

You only have the ability to capture a very few moments in time – choose them carefully!

Just for a Moment

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Transits 3 Untitiled

“A still photograph is called a still photograph because the picture doesn’t move, not because the objects in the picture are not in motion. The photographer’s mission, should he decide to accept it, is to capture motion with stillness.”

– Vincent Versace

Photography (and art in general) is such a contrary activity. We try to depict three dimensions in two, motion in stillness, the passing of time in a moment. Perhaps someday all these limitations will go away and we’ll be able to use holographic technology to recreate reality almost as we experience it.

Will this spell the end of art? Does art exist partly because the artist has to figure out a way to make his/her point within the confines of the constraints of the medium? I don’t know.

When photography was first developed in the 19th century some thought it meant painting was no longer necessary. In reality, since now there was a way to capture reality more literally it freed painting to move into more expressive directions. And photography itself quickly moved past it’s own literal tendencies.

I suspect holographic artists of the future will find ways to use that medium to do some very interesting, artistic things. In the meantime, I’m happy to keep capturing motion with stillness.

(This photo is part of a new series of figurative work I am working on. The effects are all done in camera by photographing figures in motion with special lenses.)

Does This Look Like Me?

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“Cafe Stroll”

“.All photographs are selfportraits.”

– Minor White

I’ve never done a literal self-portrait – but considering the idea presented by Minor White, I guess I’ve done nothing but.

No matter what you photograph, how you photograph it, or what style you finish it in, you are turning that work into a form of self-expression. It is not a selfportrait in the literal sense but in the sense of stating what you like and don’t like, how you feel about things, what you take on them is. Of course, that is also there in a literal self-portrait – plus you get the added bonus of seeing the physical you. Maybe I’ll try one of these soon…

What has your experience been of selfportraiture? Do you think you other work reveals something about you that would not be possible in a real selfportrait? Is there some dimension tapped through the indirectness of the subject that would not be available if you were the subject?

Is it possible to make art that is not self expression, not a selfportrait of some form? Perhaps that’s what makes it art  – the degree to which you have allowed the picture to say something about yourself.



Art Disease

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Open for Business

“Hardening of the categories causes art disease.”

– W. Eugene Smith

A clever play on words… with more than a grain of truth.

How easy and comfortable it is to stay within the confines of the categories we know. How often do you sit down and intentionally attempt to create a new style, a new approach, a new technique? It can be so unrewarding – those first awkward attempts rarely produce the satisfying results we’ve grown accustomed to when we sit down to do our art.

There is a fine line between developing expertise or a defining one’s signature style and falling into the trap of endlessly repeating what we’ve already done. How do you know the difference for yourself?

Lately I’ve been exploring more radical interpretations of images to find the boundaries of what I like. Lots of color, contrast, texture, nothing too literal or well defined. I’ve been looking at the work of a lot of other artists and getting inspired by some of their work.

How do you prevent “art disease” in your life?

For Better or for Worse

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Transits III – #47

“I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.”

– Diane Arbus

How true this is for me.

Many photographers talk of previsualization where they compose the final product in their minds before they snap the shutter. Perhaps I’ve never developed sufficient technique to manifest my artistic intentions exactly – thank goodness!

My work of late heads in an opposite direction – I intentionally use subjects and techniques which defy intention. This makes it much more interesting for me – there is mystery and discovery involved. Of course, I have something in mind in advance. I have to make certain basic decisions – what to shoot, where to shoot it, what camera/lenses… But by introducing variables I cannot completely control, I can enjoy the delicious anticipation of what will result.

There are parallels in the painting world. As a painter, you can mix media in ways that can produce unexpected results and, in fact, the world of mixed media in particular is full of artists experimenting with materials and techniques just to see what happens.

I think having your work ending up better or worse than you intended is just right – otherwise, wouldn’t it all feel a little boring?