Deconstructing Vision

I have been thinking about a framework that I can use as scaffolding for my on-going and future projects.  In other areas of my life I have found that having a flexible road map for what you’re working on to be enormously helpful in actually getting projects out of the door.  As part of this process I have been deconstructing some of the basic assumptions that have served me well up to now and trying to reassemble them.  Unfortunately I have parts left over which means either I’ve found a better way or broken something.

I started with vision, which I had interpreted as the way that you see the world. Looking at a dictionary definition of vision I found that vision was described as:

  • the faculty or state of being able to see.
  • the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.
  • mental image of what the future will or could be like.

Or to put it another way vision is the change that you want to cause to happen.  For instance it  could be telling the story and raising awareness of a disenfranchised group of society, shining a spotlight on the growing crisis of climate change, or mobilizing people to stop using the ocean as a dumping ground.

Vision therefore is not really unique, I know there are many others that are concerned about the state of the oceans and share the vision of clean oceans that will be able to support a diverse population of marine life.   How you express that vision and work to effect change most certainly could, and should be, if you draw on and incorporate the experiences that have shaped you.

Friday Inspiration: Victoria Sambunaris


After running through a string a contemporary landscape photographers in recent weeks I could help but recognize that all of these were guys which made me wonder who were the women active in this genre. It was then that I remembered the fabulous book by Victoria Sambunaris, ‘Taxonomy of a Landscape‘ that I had recently came across. The book documents a decade long exploration of the American landscape and our place in it. In fact it’s two books, the companion volume collects the associated research materials and other bits and pieces that Sambunaris accumulated during the course of the project. A fascinating behind the scenes look into her process.

For more information on Sambunaris and her projects check out the video here and the embeded video below.

Victoria Sambunaris lecture, February 7, 2013 from MoCP, Columbia College Chicago on Vimeo.

At The Pool


Growing up I spent an awful lot of time at the pool and it looks as though I’m going to be doing so again, although not in the water this time.

While sat watching my kids do laps I wondered whether I could use the time to develop a project, one that goes beyond the snapshots of the kids at the pool.  It’s fun to start these projects, I find finishing them much harder.

Friday Inspiration: Alec Soth


In my stumble through contemporary landscape photographers I recently found Alec Soth, and particularly his recent photo book ‘Songbook‘ in which he is exploring physical social interactions in a world of social media.

I’m still digging into the rich world of Alec Soth, there’s lots to go at! His self published book ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi‘ caught the attention of the curators of the Whitney Biennial in 2004 and his inclusion in the exhibition launched him on a larger stage. The image above from his ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ project was used for the poster for the exhibit. He became a nominee of the Magnum Photos agency in 2004 and a full member in 2008. Since his first book in 2004 he has produced over 20 others, including Songbook, and a number in collaboration with writer Brad Zellar. He founded the publishing company Little Brown Mushroom in 2008 to publish his own books and those of others interested in a similar narrative approach to telling visual stories. A very busy guy!

See Alec talk more about his work in the videos below.

Alec Soth et Roe Ethridge (April 28, 2013) from Paris Photo on Vimeo.

A Formula For Making Meaning with Photography

I am just about moved into my new office which while exciting means that I have piles of magazines and books that I have to sort through, organize and get on bookshelves in a semi-logical order. It’s more work than I would like it to be and also means that in the interim I have to hunt for books that I need for reference.

I was recently looking, unsuccessfully I might add, for some books on alternate processes when I came across Terry Barret’s ‘Criticizing Photographs’. I’ve read and reread ‘Criticizing Photographs’ multiple times over the years and struggled each time. I feel that it’s not that complicated and yet continue to struggle. On this visit I found an interesting equation buried in one of the chapters:

Meaning = Subject Matter + Medium + Form + Context

While I’m not going to argue whether this is right or wrong it’s useful to occasionally stop and think about how the choices that we make as photographers influence what we’re trying to say with our photographs. There are a couple of takeaways for me from this that mostly relate to context and medium that I want to dig at a little here.

By my own estimation much of the photography that I deliberately look at is in that collected in books. While this should have rung some bells for me it took the above equation for me to realize that the way that we present our work will have a significant impact whether we fully realize our intent for it. A single image from a series may work just fine but may not have the impact if it were seen as part of the larger project presented in a book. It also struck me that regardless of how you arrange images for a gallery show there’s still not the same strong physical connection between images that can be achieved by placing images on facing pages in a book. It’s not necessarily better, just different and certainly worth paying attention to as you’re developing projects.

The message is in the medium or not. Perhaps as much or more than most I can get sucked into the technical aspects of photography and forget that you’re supposed to actually be saying something. At the end of last year I took a brief detour into the world of photogravure. Even though I had read Brooks Jensen’s piece on testing the quality of inkjet prints against traditional photographic prints including photogravure the tactile experience I had with the Norman Ackroyd print I had recently acquired drew me on. That and the fact that what I knew about photogravure seemed to me to be ‘real’ printing and involved an element of craft that I had come to believe that making an inkjet printing lacks. I even went as far as meeting with a local expert to discuss how my photographs would translate to photogravures – her answer they wouldn’t. Too much open white space. The nagging feeling that I was chasing a gimmick pushed me to abandon the idea and focus on finishing something – any of the various things that I’ve started would be a good idea right about now. I wonder how many other people get sucked into a similar technology vortex, chasing something that doesn’t necessarily add to what they are trying to say.

I’d be delighted to hear what you have to say – add your voice to the conversation in the comments

Japanophile Monday


If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may have realized that I’m deeply interested in Japanese culture and arts. Even so, I generally don’t consciously seek out Japan focused activities but they do have a tendency to jump out at me. Over the weekend I realized that there are a number of exhibitions and seminars going on at the moment that it would be worth capturing them for anyone else who’s interested.

The headliner of these events has to be the Hokusai exhibition at the MFA in Boston that runs until August 9. Even before I started learning more about Japanese arts I recognized ‘The Wave’ shown above. This exhibition promises to be a comprehensive look at Hokusai’s work from his 20s through his 80s. Check out the MFA blurb on the exhibition here. There is a corresponding exhibition catalog that would be worth a look even if you’re not able to get to the exhibition.

Also at the MFA is the exhibition ‘In the Wake’ which presents the photographic response of 17 Japanese photographers to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting enormous wave of water swept through towns in the Tōhoku (Northeast) region destroying virtually everything in its path including the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The exhibition catalog can be found here.

Finally at the MFA, ‘Playing with Paper’ in gallery 278A looks like it will be fun. This is an exhibition of woodblock ‘toy prints’ that shows how the 19 th century Japanese toys and games were enjoyed.

In New York of Friday and Saturday of this week there is a symposium: ‘Shashin Symposium: Photography from Japan’ that looks to have a good program. Of course the popup bookshop caught my eye – it would be worth going just to get an advance copy of Yoshihiko Ueda’s retrospective photo book “A Life With Camera”.

Also in New York is the exhibition “Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection” which runs until June 7.