Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a Finnish photographer who has lived in the US since 1951 and currently is a Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. I first came across Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s work through a documentary on PBS. I can’t find this program online but it is worth checking out to watch Arno in action. His photography has a sense of whimsy to it and is often slightly surreal, reminding me a little of Jerry Uelsmann’s work. His photographs are largely self-portraits: A naked Arno (or at least the part you can see is) integrated into the landscape. What is quite interesting to me is that all of his images are captured in camera on a single frame of film. No digital hanky panky here! In looking at his work I find myself trying to work out the ‘trick’ to how he pulled it off. His camera has a cable release and a 9 second timer, which allows him to get in position before tripping the shutter and throwing the cable release out of the frame. Even so, some still leave me wondering.
Check out the video at this link to hear Arno talking about his work.
I’m not sure whether Michael Zide would consider the image above to be his most iconic but it was the image that first caught my attention when I was leafing through a Maine Media Workshops catalog a while ago and then the one that I rediscovered last week. There are a number of things that I like about this image but I think the thing that struck me the most was the combination of ice and the ocean – I really got a sense of the cold when I looked at this image. It was also fun to realize that it was taken at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my favorite places to photograph, and perhaps Michael’s too since he lived there for over 10 years.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to have another go, to reinterpret and reimagine their work. The more that I understand lightroom and photoshop the more possibilities there seem to be. In an interview with Michael Kenna I recently read he said that one of photography’s greatest strengths is that it is (or at least was) tied to reality. That tie is clearly broken for those that wish it to be. While I’ve yet to push reality hard, I have started to play a little. The image at the top of the page is a reworking of the image that I posted a few weeks ago based on the feedback that i received here and to fix a few things that bugged me which I didn’t know how to fix at the time. So a mulligan, a do over, let me know your thoughts.
Getting basic techniques down and being able to replicate photographs that others have made is all well and good. But how do you advance beyond that to make photographs that are unique, that express your unique vision.
Many people use the struggles and creative processes of writers to help guide the photography path. Skeptical? Take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ and change his mention of writing for photography and you’ll see what I mean.
My development as a photographer has paralleled the way I learned to play the guitar. I spent many hours learning how to play songs and even more time how to play blues riffs. At first this was following along with instructional books and CDs, as an aside David Hamburger and Dave Rubin produced some phenomenal instructional books and CDs, and then later working out riffs for myself from the CDs that I had. This let me build up a series of phrases that I could be dropped into either my own songs or the songs of others, in many ways like learning elements of photographic technique that will later be pieced together to make an image.
For both writing and learning to play the guitar there comes a point where progression comes from studying the work of others. Either reading more in the case of writing or listening more when it comes to learning an instrument. The same is true for photography. We’re surrounded by images but I suspect that few of us take the time to really look at them, to really see. When was the last time you went to an exhibition of photography or painting? When was the last time that you pulled one of your coffee table photography books down and spent 10 minutes looking at a single image?
If you’re like me, more engineer than artist, perhaps part of the reason is that you don’t have the language to describe what your seeing and you could argue if we could use words we’d be writers. The very act however of simply describing the image in front of you is enormously useful first step in becoming comfortable with describing photographs and identifying elements within them that you could use in your own photography. The more time you spend looking at other photographs the more photographs you’ll see when you have your camera in hand.
So how to start? Start with a very basic description: What is it a photograph of? Color or black & white? Shape of the frame? Where was it taken? When was it taken? How was it taken? Then go beyond the basics: Why was it taken? How does it make you feel?
I’d be interested in your feedback and comments if you run through this exercise with the image above.
I’ve been thinking about learning in the last couple of weeks and have become increasing comfortable with the notion that 20% of our efforts give 80% of the results, or knowing 20% of something can get you 80% of the way there. For many people this is good enough, with the disproportionate amount of effort it takes to go the last 20% of the way not worth the effort it takes.
For the longest time I wanted to take better photographs without really a notion of what better really meant. Even now I’m not sure what better really means but I’ve settled on it being sufficiently skilled that I can conceive of an image and realise that in the final image. I’ve started to realize that for me this is a little bit like looking for the end of a rainbow. What I’ve found is that the more skilled that I become, the more that the technical stuff falls away allowing me to spend time on the artistic piece, the further and harder I push. What was difficult becomes easy and uninteresting. The new challenge is the thing that stretches and tests your abilities both technically and artistically. Failure, frustration and disappointment remain part of your everyday existence. Perhaps those failures become more spectacular as your skills develop and you try and push to bigger things. But failure remains a constant, intermingled with some successes and it’s those successes that make it all worthwhile.
So how to get better when better remains an unachievable goal. There are of course stages to this growth. Arguably imitation is the foundation of all that we do. We look at those artists that are making the kind of work that we’re interesting in and ask the question how do they do it. We work the technical side of things and figure out how they did what it was that attracted us and make servicable copies of the work of the masters. Great examples of this are the multitude of photographers that make the pilgrimage to Yosemite each year to make their own copy of Ansel Adams great photographs. That’s pretty cool – execute one of these photographs immaculately and you’ve got a pretty nice looking photograph that your friends and family will most certainly coo over.
I would argue that the next phase is to build a familiarity with the things that appeal to you. This covers the gambit of design sensibilities, aesthetic qualities in everyday life – furniture, tools that you use everyday – computers kitchen gear, dishwear, cutlery etc. as well as becoming encyclopedic in your familiarity with the medium that you work in – landscape photography, portrature, etc. and perhaps digging depper to sub specialties such as water in the landscape.
The final and perhaps hardest step then is to combine the technical and the artistic to create something that is truely your own.
I’m going to unpack my thoughts around getting better over the next few weeks. Comments appreciated as always. Thoughts on the 80/20 rule in relation to skill development? I’d love to hear them.
When I was working with Bob Korn to learn the rudiments of printing, Bob would take some time to show me what he was working on or to talk about some of the work that was on his wall. I was blown away by the photographs of ’60s music icons that Bob had up on the wall. It was work of Rowland Scherman. I like the photos of the Beatles at Shea Stadium but was stunned to recognize and realize that Rowland’s photograph of Bob Dylan was used for the Dylan Greatest hits album.
Chris Szwedo is now working on a documentary of Roland’s work and has a Kickstarter project to help with funding that is now nearing the last few days. Click here to find out more and contribute. Even if you aren’t interested in contributing I hope that you’ll check out a clip from the documentary below.
I’m intrigued by Thomas Joshua Cooper’s work, made with a 100 year old field camera, particularly that which documents the atlantic basin. In this project Cooper is charting the extremities of the land and islands that surround the Atlantic Ocean. As I understand it each photograph begins as a location that he finds on a map, this is then further researched before the trip which because of the typically remote location often involves difficult journeys by air, sea and land. Once on site Cooper makes only one photograph, the product of a lot of gazing and waiting.
Some of this work is captured in his book ‘True‘ that I’m now waiting for to arrive.
Check out the video of Thomas Joshua Cooper below:
On my regular trawl looking for interviews of photographers talking about the creative process, the future of photography etc. I found an interview with Cary Wolinsky, a 30 year veteran of National Geographic and one of the founders of the Center for Digital Imaging Arts from the Press Pause Play Project. Check the interview out below. I’d be interested in your thoughts and comments about Cary’s view of where things are headed for today’s photographers.
Jerry Uelsmann is well known for his masterful photo-composites that are achieved in the traditional darkroom. While it is true that this kind of composite can now readily be created with the help of Photoshop, for me, few are able to create the kind of surreal masterpieces that Jerry has been able to produce over the years.
I plan to visit the exhibition of Jerry’s work ‘The Mind’s Eye: 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann’ at the Peabody Essex Museum in the coming weeks. Check it out on-line here and read the Boston Globe review here.
Listen to Jerry talk about his photographic process in the video below:
Increasing I find that while I’m happy to get up for the sunrise, I’m often less than pleased with the results. The vibrant colors that come with the early morning sunrise are increasing dissatisfying. While I can’t quite put my finger on why, purple bugs me the most. While I deal with my issues with purple, the most ‘European’ of colors, I’m trying out many of my images in black and white to see whether they can stand up on there own. I’m not totally sold on this solution but I’d be interested in your opinion of the black and white image above with the color ‘before’ image below.