Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Guest Artist, Melissa Stallard

Hi everyone and happy Spring! I am back after a short hiatus to share the work of a great photographer who had a great deal of influence on my color pursuits,  Melissa Stallard.

I met Melissa in 2009 when she was an instructor at Radford University's Art Department. She had recently completed her MFA at Columbia and I was tremendously impressed with her grasp of technique and fluency in photographic history and was proud to have her serve as the chair of my master's thesis committee.

Her images represent a visual sophistication characterized by careful observation and unique balance. The color of the images is the result of film translated into digital information which results in richness and subtlety, lending itself to the credibility of these places.

THE SHRINKING CITY (2011 – current)

These photographs document the results of a long-term economic crisis in Youngstown, Ohio and the city’s transition into a more stable, smaller city surrounded by the ghosts of its prosperous industrial past. Until now, the economic climate and its long-term effects on the area, has not been a subject of serious photographic investigation. This is particularly significant since no other community in the United States has purposefully set out to downsize its topographical footprint in order to remain viable. Rather than focusing on urban ruin, this series documents the measures taken by civic leaders and community activists to improve the quality of life for their city’s residents.

Youngstown has an astounding 22,000 empty lots and 7,000 abandoned homes with only 66,000 residents remaining. The vacant areas within this community simultaneously stand as a reverent and melancholic reminder of the city’s former glory yet also grant it its future. The city’s East side, emblematic of more hopeful times, was developed after World War II; streets were carved into the landscape, lined with utility poles, and fitted with a water and sewer system in anticipation of economic growth. The expected surge of industry and people never came, leaving the area under-utilized, and finally, abandoned by its planners. Many of the existing streets are overgrown and blocked with concrete barriers. Expansive plots of land, once the promise of Youngstown’s future, stand silent, overgrown with trees. Other neighborhoods plagued with blight are razing
unoccupied structures. Only footprints of former structures remain, evidenced by sunken earth, overgrown sidewalks and driveway aprons; an indication of the passage of time.

Amidst the decline, there is hope. The city has designated some areas to return to the natural habitat or public-use green space while others will become urban farms or raised-bed community gardens. As the nation’s poorest city, with 49.7% of its residents living at-or-below poverty level, these gardens provide a safe place, and through free education, enable the residents with the skills necessary to cultivate their own food. These things strengthen the fractured communities by empowering the people: improving their quality of life and increasing property values by reducing unsightly blight and crime.

--Melissa K. Stallard

melissa stallard

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Studio Lighting

Am I over-complicating my studio lighting? This question occurs to me when I see many contemporary portraits and fashion photographs. In the studio I normally use a three light setup with a lighting ratio on the face in the neighborhood of 3 or 4 to 1. So, I try to get my fill light to around 1/4 of the intensity of the keylight that defines the facial shadows.

I use this method to exaggerate the highlight and shadow effect on the subject. Just like a representational painting or drawing, the illusion of three dimensions on a print creates a sense of presence and realism. I feel that the illusion of space is often taken for granted in photography because of it relationship to the actual. It is possible for a print to look flat, after all, it is a flat object.

The example below utilizes a keylight on the side of the face closer to the camera (sometimes called broad lighting), a fill light on the other side of the face, and a subtle backlight that outlines the hair.

When going for more of a fashion or glamorous look, I often place the keylight high in front of the model and a fill low in front to add detail to the shadow areas. The result is often very flattering and is sometimes called clamshell or butterfly lighting. A third light outlines the hair from the back.

For a recent shoot I decided to limit myself to one studio flash and use no backdrop. Perhaps this minimalistic approach would be stylistically similar to some contemporary magazine shots. The model works under the name Cyrin Calypso. For more of her work, follow the link:

Cyrin Calypso Official Model Page 

Here are some of the one light results:

I feel that these were quite successful. For me, a diffused light with careful placement worked well to create some glamorous and dramatic images. Hope you enjoy them, too.

Instant Karma

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chinese New Year

As part of Radford University's celebration of the Chinese New Year, generations of students from the Cantonese Master Chi Chung (Simon) Kwong demonstrated forms from his system Dragon Tiger Eagle Kung Fu. I took the opportunity to photograph some action shots in the auditorium of the Hulbert Student Center on RU's campus.

Raising the camera ISO to 1600 allowed me to use a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second for the shots, which was still not fast enough to freeze some of the explosive movements of the scene. Martial arts practitioners utilize choreographed forms in order to develop technique, balance, and power. They often emote a flowing visual beauty. Unlike dance, each subtle movement can be applied to sophisticated aspects of personal combat. After many years of growth, the techniques can go beyond pure physical movement and demonstrate the channeling and manipulation of a form of energy sometimes called "Chi."

Chip Reeves demonstrated a form with a very large and intimidating weapon. According to Chip:

 "Form utilizing the Kwan Dao, a chinese weapon designed primarily for use from horseback. Many of the techniques in the form are also designed to cut down an approaching enemy on horse back, such as cutting the legs and/or head off of the opponents stuff!"

James Houston is seen here in an empty-hand form that was fast and whirling:

"I was doing the wind demon fist form, I had to cut the form a little short because of the small stage. It is a form showing technique common to northern styles of kung fu, particularly Buk Pai."

Along with James and Chip, we saw Tom Altizer in a form called Ba-Gi:

and Thai Chi stylist Paul Pallante with an elegant Chinese sword form:

As a final demonstration, we see Paul strike Simon Kwong repeatedly in the stomach with a 40lb dumbell. Simon , who is well known for his ability to withstand attacks, seems to find this amusing.

The New River Valley is enriched by this group of martial artists. They are genuine adherents to the traditions and realities that have evolved over the long and complex history of these fighting styles. Their knowledge is shared generously with a true goal of art over any financial gain. Its a great privilege to know them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More from the Old World series

Hi all. There are no shortage of cutbacks these days, so it is more important than ever to continue your work, whatever that may be. Your work is not necessarily what you do to pay the bills (but it can be). It is what you do for your spirit, what your inner life drives you to do. Pursuing your work aligns you with natural order. It pays dividends to your friends, loved ones, co-workers, and community. When times are tough, it does not become less important, it becomes vital to your being.

Part of my work right now is to make these tiny images and share them with folks. Here are some 6 x 9 centimeter direct positives on multi-grade resin coated silver gelatin paper.

My next step in the process was to produce images on fiber based photographic paper, which has a longer exposure and processing time and, I believe, a richer tonal range. I am happy with the results so far. An hour and 45 minutes per print gives me some time to blog.

its only castles burning

Have a wonderful day, friends.