Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Variety of Subjects

This week I have been working on some photos for an upcoming issue of REPTILES magazine featuring Leopard geckos. It will be the fourth collaboration with herpetologist Foster (Chip) Reeves that we have had published in REPTILES, including the upcoming March issue feature here:

reptiles magazine

Chip raises and breeds many exotic reptiles and amphibians, which I get to learn about as I shoot. He is also one of many accomplished martial artists in the New River Valley, certified under Ajarn Chai and Dan Inosanto, and has been my Muay Thai boxing and Kali instructor for the past ten years. I did a series of photos several years ago with Chip and Guro Garry Patricio as Garry demonstrated techniques from his Filipino system. He is featured in the book

100 Filipino Martial Artists

Its a wonderful thing to be able to combine my interest in photography with the interests of so many great friends and to learn about their passions and pursuits.

Stay warm and safe out there in this strange January weather. Find a nice place in the light to sit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Camera Conversion Considerations

To reinvent my photographs from Greece, I decided to project them in the classroom that I often teach in, and photograph the projections with a pinhole camera. I enjoy the idea of changing scale from a gigantic structure to a tiny digital sensor, to a wall sized projection, and then back to a film sized image.

My main pinhole camera is a 6 x 6 square format zero-image. It was given to me years ago by phenomenal photographer Elisha Ornes (who I am sure will be having those New York shows anytime now) and it is a trusty and lovely little camera. For my upcoming project, I decided to go with a different camera for a couple of reasons.

The first consideration is focal length. I have decided to photograph projections and it will be necessary to have the camera at a distance from the projection in order to keep its shadow from blocking the light. The zero-image pinhole is very close to the film plane and has the effect of a very wide-angle lens, making projection photography a difficult situation. It is wonderful for creating an exaggerated sense of space, such as in the image below, but would have to be located entirely too close to my subject to capture it in the way I envision.

The second camera consideration is aspect ratio. The original images that I am planning on reproducing are rectangular and I shy away from cropping to change shapes. The rectangular shape that we are accustomed to seeing in landscape photography can be traced back to ancient Greek mathematics, which could have possibly been applied to some of the structures that I photographed when they were originally built. A 35mm photograph has a 1 to 1.5 length to width ratio and many digital cameras copied that format. The Greek "Golden Mean" was approximately 1 to 1.6, which is close.

One camera in my collection is a Mamiya Universal that happens to have the film ratio that I desire (its a 6 x 9.) A feature that I love about Mamiyas is that with many models, the lens elements are removable! This is a wonderful feature for cleaning and also ideal for pinhole conversion because you can still use the cameras own shutter on a bulb setting. To remove the elements, I made a crude tool with some tin snips and some scrap metal, which worked fine. I was able to remove another lens element using a coincidentally perfect sized putty knife.

I made my pinhole with a needle and a piece of a thin pie tin, attached to a round piece of mat board and fleshed out with electrical tape to fit snug in the lens hole. I then had a 6 x 9 pinhole camera that could be operated with a cable release and featured a removable back with a darkslide. With the focusing ring racked all the way forward, I had plenty of distance to move the camera farther back and still fill up my picture plane with my projection.

I am curios to see how these photographs will relate to the originals. Will they simply be copies, or will they emerge as unique?

The postcards are finished for the Postcard Collective project. Now for the task of addresses and mailing. The paper negative printing process did change the appearance of the image, and sepia toning the RC paper created many unique prints, each one different. 

Warm thoughts to you and yours and thanks for allowing me to share.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Travel photos transformation

Part of my semester of art history study in Greece was, of course, creating a collection of photographic images. Due to the documentary nature of the project, plus the fact that our group would be in constant transition from place to place, the camera that I relied on was small and digital. I came home with around 3000 photographs.

I considered many of these images to be interesting, and many quite beautiful, but I also realized that it is difficult to produce images that are not beautiful in such a place. So, my photos looked like the photos that I have seen in art and history books for most of my life. I have never exhibited these images outside of class history lectures or the occasional web posting. Somehow, they did not seem real to me.

This image is realistic in the sense that we come to expect from photographs:
It is sharply focused
It has realistic color
It is a detailed recording of what was in front of the lens

However; the piece shows very little of the true experience involved with this time and place.
How can it communicate the sense of wonder, mystery, and awe?
Can one fraction of a second from one position through one lens sum up the complexity of emotion involved in this setting?

My decision is to recreate my images(if I can truly call them mine) from Greece in a way that seems more personal and less repeatable. In this sense, perhaps they will become a more realistic connection to that place and to my experience there. I hope that this project allows me to revisit some of the moments that I may have lost while concentrating on capture with one eye closed and the other looking through a small viewfinder.

For me, the image will become more important when it involves more time, preferably in the darkroom where I feel like one who makes marks on a dark cave wall. I will utilize a precious old companion to me, the pinhole.

On a side note, I made thirty prints today in the darkroom for the 2013 Post Card Exchange, sponsorered by the Post Card Collective Museum here:

I felt honored to be among the artists selected for this activity and it was a great excuse to use a pack of Ilford Postcard RC paper that was given to me by a dear friend (Kathleen Linkous.) The process for the image is another in which I combine digital and darkroom work. The original image was taken with a plastic Holga camera, developed and scanned, printed back out as a paper negative, and contacted printed onto the RC paper. Here is the image as it first appeared:

The postcard image will pick up fibers present in the paper negative and lose some detail due to the change of generation. Will that make the image more or less related to "reality?" Maybe we can figure that out. Thanks for reading and more about pinhole next time...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

With the beginning of 2013, I begin a new blog. This one is dedicated to photography (and other art) with the hope of sharing and communicating. Many times we get the visual but no information about process or individual taste. In the information age there are many more levels to explore.

A good starting point would be a blog I began in January of 2011.

People in my own life such as fellow photographers Mark Burnette and Melissa Stallard exposed me to books that I spent countless hours examining. Influenced by artists such as William Eggleston, William Christenberry, and Lewis Baltz, my eyes sought out symmetry and direct balance.

To me, this type of photography validates personal vision and experience. It rejects the grandiose in favor of the common moment, embracing the idea that our time has value that can be seen and explored.

I am setting off for new visual ground this year, the first episode of which will revisit a very old and, by any standards, spectacular place. What is the nature of 'travel photography?' Does it, as Susan Sontag wrote, become a substitute for ownership? Does the act of seeing through a lens prevent genuine experience? How can one photograph classical or exotic locations without the notion of conquest?

My new body of work is titled Old World and I hope to explore some of these questions. Thanks for reading, Happy New Year, and we will meet again soon.