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VIEWS NOT NEWS

Does it matter who did it first? or does it matter who does better? I don’t feel originality matters if you are making art for yourself and having fun. I think that happens to bands as well. Paralleling. I’ve done that a lot and made a conscious effort not to. ‘You know who you sound like?’ – worst thing ever to say to a band. With artists if I noticed a parallel I would maybe ask if they know of that artist in the head space of great minds think alike at different times. I think people over use their reticular cortex before sussing out someone else’s feelings or asking questions about intent.

I think David Hockney’s collage photos are so simply brilliant – time capsules of beauty. I don’t know that I could write how much I truly love them all. I never really thought to have a go myself, but I was trying to get a student I was teaching to do these photo collages – it seemed like a project she’d enjoy. My colleague who taught photography before me gave me a hand out she wrote on this technique which she called neo-cubism. Love that. And, then I thought – the best way forward is to experiment and make a bunch myself. I never thought that it would become so addictive. So much to learn still about best lenses and distances to find a formula to what might be the most effective technique for the scene.

The local win here is views that we see on regular basis. To see something so familiar in a different or clever context will never go out of style. Am I the first person to photograph that building? Highly unlikely. Did I photograph that building the best? Highly unlikely. Did I photograph it for me? Highly likely.

My favorite comment so far about this series, “what app did you use to do this?

 

 

 

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HAITI – A DEFINING MOMENT

Every semester class I teach I talk about Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer considered the master of candid photography, and an early user of 35 mm film. More specifically, the phrase he coined ‘The Decisive Moment’ – which, I am hoping you know all about. And sorry to bore you – I think I may have written from this direction before.
Unlike The Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton, Cartier-Bresson did not need a story to support his images. Perhaps that’s what we want now, more of a story to guide the viewer’s imagination further. And perhaps that’s a smart evolution of imagery to include the editorial on the image.

Haiti is an amazing country – the people, the landscape, the culture – and every breath I took there was filled with all of that. I was flown out to document several schools in various states and stages of development. A small group I traveled with were going there to teach classes, train teachers, plan for wells to be dug at the schools. The Haitian students were so wonderful to be around. First of all, they all dress so smart, love learning and going to school – they are all so happy. And then second of all, once they got used to this tall, white, stranger they were so playful – making fun faces for the camera – constantly posing and, pulling friends into group photos – for hours.

I shot with my Mark III and this new Fuji mirror less camera I’m still testing out. The Fuji has several interesting tricks and in camera processing (hence the harshness of some of the color images). I am still divided about robbing many images of color, but there’s no turning back with the Fuji (unless you shoot in RAW) – so for the massive amount I had to shoot, I’d change modes several times from black and white to processed to natural. I took several thousand images: a series of The Teachers, a series of The Classrooms, many panoramic photographs of the landscape, and a ton of street photography. I think this is my largest broad edit I have every shot and it will take ages to organize. This set posted are my favorites for the terms of my phrase, ‘A Defining Moment’ – an image you hope effects a viewer as much as it did you when you took it.

The boys in yellow and blue were not from the school I was working with. They came from a neighboring school, and were so curious and excited to see what was going on. They posed for ages and ages in this abandoned truck. I suspect these kids are rarely the subject of many photo shoots, let alone see themselves immediately on the camera’s screen. Not much of a ‘selfie’ generation to worry about in this part of Haiti, they have many other concerns – such as doing well in their exams. The future of education in Haiti is in good hands, thanks to the three selfless and tireless teachers that asked me to document one of their continual visits to a country rebuilding itself.

Visit Haiti.

 

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ANGELS WITH DEMONS

Is there a direct relationship with torment and seeking the will to create art? or are we creative first, and then tormented as our demons seek to destroy us?

I’ve always enjoyed what Francis Bacon paintings do to me (the Irish one). The first time I saw an exhibition I had to sit down right away – I couldn’t move. Time stopped. The paintings pulled me apart. I felt similarly when first seeing some of Francesca Woodman’s photographs. To me, Francesca Woodman is to photography as Francis Bacon is to painting – seems logical in perhaps an obvious academic comparison. Well, whatever I don’t know about them I’ve fallen for the capture of motion in their dark worlds. The ability to capture time at a slower rate than it passes is one of the more useful tools a camera can offer up. I’ve felt like describing my profession this way many times – stopping time for a living.

So, what to do when you want to take a portrait of a friend and gear and lighting is limited? You slow down time over and over and see what happens and do everything you told your students never to do – copy Francesca Woodman. Now I think about it, does it matter anymore if it’s right for whom you are photographing at that moment?

My friend, a New York artist, has survived many harrowing times – I’ve learned over the years, and layers of personal data is embedded into our friendship. Even if these images parallel or are influenced by Woodman and, or Bacon, if you can’t exercise demons through art, then how would you?

 

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THE ENVELOPE

One of my all time favorite photography assignments this year was documenting a series of concerts at the Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall on the Princeton University campus. The plan was a really good one. The artist, Marsha Levin-Rojer was commissioned to make a series of sculptures that would hang above the stage over the performers – and, the audience seating was on the stage! Creating this dynamic and intimate experience of connecting the audience with the performers and the art. It worked very well. All the shows sold out. And, the art was very beautiful.

The final of the three performances was magical beyond my words could ever describe. David Greilsammer had flown in that day from Switzerland to perform ‘Scarlatti/Cage Sonatas: Journey Between Two Worlds’ – two Steinways facing each other, but one filled with screws, bolts, erasers and bits between the piano strings. The modification gave it a dulled but percussive sound – was amazing.

Photographically it’s a challenging project – very low light, long exposures, only tripod work. Lucky for me I could sit in the on the rehearsals and capture the majority of images needed before the audience was seated, and then retreat to the balcony – only able to move or shoot when there was applause. And, most frequently and in this case it was at the end only. You basically have to be a photo ninja to not disturb anything during the performance – moving step by step on old creaky floorboards. They would hear the shutter click from up there and it would ruin the quiet moments of the performance. Advised discretion.

During the rehearsal David had a few requests – lower the lights (oh no I thought) and turn up the heat a bit – which meant tuning the piano again right before the performance. Lower light I thought – oh well, he wants it dark – dark it will be. I switched over to black and white and underexposed many of my shots to make them as moody as I could. During these final stage edits everyone had left to prepare for the show. I sat nearby and watched David play the pianos forever and took the occasional shot so as not to disturb him. It was just me and him.

I travelled that journey between two worlds – twice, and I highly recommend looking up his schedule and going to a performance. Not only was the Cage part elevating – the whole experience opened my creative envelope never to be sealed again. I love what I do for moments such as these.

 

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A PEPPERED PERSONALITY

Did you ever read the story about Edward Weston and his best-known photograph of Pepper No. 30? I hope you do. So much intellectualizing over the emotional relationship to a vegetable. As well as the Wikipedia entry (which I encourage you to review), I have heard accounts from some of my senior photography contemporaries – perhaps a more detailed account about the reality of that day with that very special pepper. It’s a lesson in try, try and try again – or – never, never, never give up.

My day was a classic disaster. With photography, many times as the scene changes – you have to adapt and perhaps revisit what your plan may have been. The planned shoot was a failure, but I did have a back up pepper. Much like a writer would be disciplined to rewrite, a photographer must be disciplined to reshoot – until it’s right the way it should be, and consciously continuing to experiment. Only you know what is right and why.

During my comparison of creating a forgery, I found a Sotheby’s web page – Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30 sold for $341,000. Here’s the link if you have feelings to see it with your own eyes. Sotherby’s.

So the pepper I happened to have handy was from a local farmer where I have a share, hence its real smile. Peppers in the supermarket are grown to spec without personality, and those peppers will likely never be photographed as an object of beauty.