Friday Inspiration: Elizabeth King

Pupil Pose 1

“Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.”

I am currently reading Seth Godin’s new book ‘The Practice’. More about that when I actually finish it. I was struck by the quote in the front of the book from Elizabeth King shown above and went on a hunt to find more about her. Frustratingly I couldn’t find the exact source of the quote but many people who attribute it to her but the journey was fun.

Elizabeth King is a sculptor who taught at Virginia Commonwealth University for 30 years before retiring to focus on her work. She is best known for her figurative sculpture that she combines with stop motion animation. Perhaps remarkably she was creating the articulated sculptures that were perfect for stop motion animation long before she had the idea for animating them.

I am always fascinated to watch artists at work, regardless of the medium that they work in. The behind the scenes look that you get in Olympia Stone’s documentary “Double Take’ is a real treat in this regard. It shows Elizabeth at work in her Church Hill studio as well as installing her work at various shows.

What is evident in the documentary is her attention to detail. She really cares about getting the sculpture right, capturing the imperfections in joints on the hands of her sculptures so that the fingers end up a little wonky. I thought she was describing my fingers as she described this detail in the documentary. She’s clearly looking and not just going through the motions and means that her sculpture stands up to the closest of scrutiny.

Of course her attention to detail doesn’t stop with the creation of the work. It’s interesting to see how much attention she puts into the installation to make sure that the pose of the sculpture is correct and that the lighting is just so to provide the correct emphasis to the face and hands. This is what separates masters from the journeymen.

Check out more or Elizabeth’s work at her website here and listen to her describe her work in the videos below. You can watch the full documentary at amazon.

Backup Your Catalog! My Hard Won Approach to Protecting My Digital Life

I have done many, many dumb things in my life fortunately none have been fatal. But they have been varying degrees of painful!

Nov 25, 2019 is a day I will remember for a while. On the pain scale this was a day of about an 8 or 9. I introduced my old computer to you last week – A tower Mac Pro from about 2010. A beast of a machine. A rock solid performer right up until it wasn’t.

I thought I had a pretty good set up – 3 internal drives, a pair of external drives and a pair of Drobo’s. I kept my Lightroom catalog on one of the internal drives and the actual images on the drobo that was mirrored to the second drobo. So far so good. Then the internal drive with the Lightroom catalog on died. It was then that I realized that the Lightroom catalog backups were on the same drive. Ouch!

What a drag to loose all the edits that I had made to 1000s of photos over the course of 5+ years. Well I won’t make that mistake again!

An Effective Back Up Strategy

The core of my back-up strategy is to have at least one physical copy and one cloud based copy of my files. A physical copy because I can quickly access the files that I need and get going again. A cloud copy because stuff happens – it’s a hedge against a break-in, fire or a natural disaster.

So how am I currently set up. I have an internal drive in the mac mini – this is where my lightroom catalog lives. This is the file that has all of the data for edits that I’ve made, images that I’ve starred, flagged or colored. That file is backed up from the option in lightroom to an external drive. The whole internal drive is backed up to another external drive using TimeMachine and the whole drive is also backed up to iCloud.

So where are the photos. The actual image files both raw, jpeg and photoshop edited images are on an external SSD drive and also on a regular external drive. These files are then backed up to a drobo using CarbonCloner. I am also using back blaze to store these images in the cloud. It’s not fast to upload the whole catalog to the cloud but once it’s done it’s done.

Writing this now it seems so simple and yet I never managed to get my act together until it was too late. Perhaps this is the only way to learn powerful lessons. Who knows. In any case don’t be like me – spend an hour or so putting a simple workflow in place, automate it and then you’ll never need to worry about the safety of your creative work again.

The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Friday Inspiration: Kenro Izu

We’re still in various shades of lock down here in Connecticut. I certainly won’t be traveling beyond the local area until at least the second half of the year which leaves me wondering what to do to scratch the photography itch. I’m spending time making plans for photography trips and also filling the well by looking at a lot of photography on line and in my ‘library’ of photography monographs.

I’ve been exploring the idea of doing a still life project, something that I’ve thought about over the years and even made some tentative attempts. In thinking about still life projects I came across the work of Kenro Izu and got his book Still Life (it’s out of print so you’ll have to hunt a bit) to explore more.

Kenro was born in Japan and moved to New York City in 1970. After a short period of time working as an assistant he established his own studio. I have struggled to find a comprehensive biography of Kenro – as one might expect each one I’ve read presents a slice of his life that is relevant to the project that is being exhibited or presented. I came to Kenro’s work through his still life portfolio but this is very much one facet of his art life. He has travelled widely to explore the spirituality of Buddhist and Hindu sacred spaces – creating bodies of work in places such as Angkor, Bhutan and Fuzhou.

As I understand it many of these projects were completed using a large format camera that produces 14×20 negatives. What a hulking beast of a camera! The negatives are processed using platinum palladium printing process. Platinum palladium is an interesting process, it results in images with a distinct brown to off white look. The chemistry is UV sensitive which means as long as you stay clear of UV light you don’t need to work in a dark room. Watch Kenro developing a print in the video above.

I understand that Kenro used a medium format digital camera for his project ‘Requiem’. It’s possible to make digital negatives by printing onto Waterproof Silk Screen Positive Film and then developing these in the normal way. An interesting option for those of us that are committed to digital but want to explore more traditional printing techniques.

Check out the interview with Kenro in the videos below and see more of his work on his website here.

New Computer Day!

When apple announced they were releasing a new desktop Mac Pro I was absolutely jazzed. I had skipped the ‘trash can’ mac pro and was planning on updating my aging Mac Pro in this cycle. Then I found out how much it cost. Ouch!

Much hand wringing followed. Could I really justify the expense of the Mac Pro? It was 2-3 times what I had paid for the computer I was using. Was it really worth it for me and how I use the computer? Hmm. Probably not but what were the options? Do I switch platforms and go for a super fast gaming PC? Couldn’t bring myself to do that either. I didn’t want the Mac Pro with the integrated screen. I’d been down that road before and didn’t like the lack of flexibility around the monitor. What about the mac mini?

We’ve had a couple of mac mini’s in the house – they were great for email and word processing but good enough for processing large image files in lightroom and photoshop? What about video? Then Apple announced and released the M1 Mac Mini. This seemed like the answer to my problems.

I was a little wary because I had seen lots of comments about bluetooth connectivity issues causing problems with keyboard and mouse/trackpad connections. Other than that the reviews I’d seen raved about the power and speed. There aren’t a lot of options really for the mac mini – really just to increase the size of the internal hard drive, which I did.

One issue that I had in thinking about the switch was the numbers of ports and hard drives. I got a thunderbolt hub from Anker to increase the number of connections – this gave me some extra thunderbolt ports, some USB ports and an Ethernet connection. This allowed me to connect everything that I wanted to and gave me a SD card reader!

The other concern was hard drive space. I had 3 internal hard drives in my old mac so I supplemented the mac mini with a 2Tb SSD thunderbolt hard drive to replace one of the internal drives and a 6 Tb USB drive to replace the other internal drive.

I must say that after a couple of weeks now of playing with the M1 mac mini I couldn’t be happier. I don’t have any sophisticated speed tests that allow me to compare the two computers but I know that the mini is much faster. Opening lightroom or photoshop with my mac pro had gotten to be so slow that I could wander off and make a coffee while the program was loading. The catalog that lightroom could handle was relatively small and that meant that I had to split my catalog into years which was increasingly a pain given that I now have images going back well over a decade. Very exciting to have things in a single catalog.

What about the bluetooth issues? I’ve certainly experienced some drop-outs with the trackpad or mouse. It’s almost as if the connection goes into sleep mode when I’m not using them and then quickly reconnects when I try to use the trackpad again. So not enough to be a real bother for me.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely!

Using Your Notebook to Document Your Art Practice

I am an unabashed striver – I want to continue to learn and grow in everything that I do. I am continually looking for ways that I can push myself and my work forward. I’m finding that one effective tool for this is my notebook.

As I said here I have multiple notebooks that I use for different purposes. Perhaps the most important notebook is the one that I carry around with me which is the notebooks I have in the Paper Republic Grand Voyager Pocket. This notebook allows me to capture ideas in the moment, to note the things that catch my attention and could be useful later.

My notebook is a ‘sandbox’ where I can play – develop ideas, ask questions and generally go down rabbit holes. It is a place where I can reflect on the photographs that I’ve been making, the things that I’m noticing and the choices that I’m making. Are there connections that I didn’t recognize in the moment that with some time and space become apparent?

It’s a place where I can make notes on some of the composition and post-processing experiments I’m trying. This week for instance I’m trying out split toning again and also playing with using tree branches to frame subjects. One example is shown below.

My knowledge is fragile in these early stages and if I don’t write things down I am likely to have forgotten what I was trying when I look at the work later. The very act of writing, physically using a pen on paper also helps me to remember more effectively.

My notebook is also a good place for me to write about the other photographers and artists that I’m paying attention to and what lessons I’m drawing from their work. How can I apply these to my own work?

This is not an onerous process that takes ages – just a few minutes reflection when I have the time. More if I have more to say and the time to say it in.

I hope you are capturing your process and having fun doing it. I’d be interested in hearing about how you use your notebooks to develop ideas and projects.

Friday Inspiration: Sean Tucker

Photo by Sean Tucker in London, United Kingdom. Image may contain: one or more people and indoor.
Sean Tucker, Way Out

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the algorithm that determines your feed on social media sites such as instagram and YouTube. I was a bit slow to realize that Instagram no longer shows you posts as they appear – in chronological order – but rather in an order that’s determined by a mysterious algorithm.

On YouTube the situation is a little better there are the subscribe and home sections. When I’ve caught up on everything that subscribe to and want to watch I will flick over to the home section and see if there’s anything interesting there. That’s how I found Sean Tucker.

Sean has had an interesting journey. He was a pastor in South Africa until he was 30, when he was asked to leave the church because his views contradicted those of the leadership. He then had to reinvent himself. I can only imagine how it would be to start from scratch after 10+ years of dedication to a particular path.

Fortunately for us Sean had been shooting video and photos on the side to supplement his income from the church and took the opportunity to focus on his photography. He’s pretty candid about his start in photography – it didn’t go exactly as he planned – but has been able to leverage his experience as a pastor to create some very inspirational videos. He’s tried his hand at a number of different genres and seems to be settling into being a street photographer. Sean publishes a book of his best images each year. I was lucky enough to get a copy a few weeks ago. It’s excellent. A quick flip through is below.

It sounds like true ‘street photographers’ bridle a little when that label is applied to Sean. That he’s not a proper street photographer. I suppose I understand it. Sean’s images have a strong sense of light, geometry and graphics. The more that I look at them and use words to describe them they remind me of Jay Maisel’s images – great sense of color, shape and line and perhaps some of Saul Leiter’s photos. Are these street photographers? I think that all three are doing the same thing – wandering around the streets of the city that they live in and taking photos of the things that catch their attention.

Find out more about Sean Tucker by visiting his website, YouTube channel and Instagram profile. Watch Sean in action as he pushes himself out of his comfort zone and does some landscape work in Snowdonia and then shows us how he thinks about post-processing in the videos below.

Virtual Photo Tour: Nostalgia Edition: Part 2 – Snowdonia

For the final leg of our nostalgia edition photo tour I want to visit Snowdonia.

Sarah Edmonds Illustration of Snowdonia National Park

I lived there at the end of the 80’s. Photography was still all film and way out of my financial reach. I lived for a year in a mountain hamlet, taking the bus into Bangor every morning. The view from my living room window was something like the image below. It could be quite spectacular. I remember that the mist used to really swirl around the mountains that you could see in the distance. On days when it was sunny the mountains would also catch the light in an amazing way.

Approximate view from my living room window courtesy of google maps

I didn’t have a car at the time and so even though I lived on the edge of the national park things were tantalizingly out of my reach. Because of that I feel like I missed out on a lot.

So where to go on our tour? My first introduction to Snowdonia was a school trip to Betws-y-Coed so I would like to start there.

https://www.gonorthwales.co.uk/explore/betws-y-coed

With school we went to Betws-y-Coed on a science field trip and stayed at the Draper Field Centre. Betws attracted British artists when they couldn’t travel because of the Napoleonic War and eventually in the Victorian era it became the site of the first British Artist colony. I’m keen to visit the Fairy Glen shown in the image below although I understand this has become a bit of a tourist trap.

Fairy Glen, Betws-y-Coed

After a couple of days to explore the area around Betws – including the gwydir forest park and swallow falls – lets move on to the area around Llyn Ogwen.

The Llyn Ogwen area is what we might think of as a subject rich environment. Here there’s Llyn Ogwen, Ogwen falls, Llyn Idwal and Glydar Fach (if your up for a climb).

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carneddau-and-glyderau/trails/llyn-ogwen-circular-walk

There’s a really great walk around Llyn Idwal and across a mountain range called the Devil’s Kitchen if you’re up for it. I probably would’t be but would rather get in a good spot to take photos of the mountains.

View of Devils Kitchen across Llyn Idwal

One more stop before we head for Bangor and that is to see the ‘Lonely Tree’ at Lynn Padarn Country Park. Let’s have a quick look at the map to orient ourselves.

I was amazed when I saw images of this tree in Llyn Padarn. I thought that I would have to go to New Zealand to see a tree like this. Let’s hope that we have great light when we visit Llyn Padarn!

Robert Rhead: Llyn Padarn, Lonely Tree

Finally let’s finish up in Bangor and then head back to Yorkshire.

Here’s the map of our Wales trip. We’ve only scratched the surface and didn’t even visit Snowdon! Lots more to do when we visit next time!

My 2021 Notebook Stack

I thought I’d try out a video of this set of notebooks check it out:

The smallest of the notebooks that I have is a passport size notebook from Travelers Company. It’s an odd size at 5.2 x 3.8 inches, about the same size as a passport, small enough to easily be able to put in a pocket with you to carry around. You can set it up to have a max of three different inner notebooks at the time I got this notebook I didn’t really see the point and so had a diary as one and a notepad as the other insert.

I somehow got into the notebooks from Field Notes. They are too big for the Travelers company leather cover which was a frustration for me. I eventually decided to forgo the cover and switch to the Field Notes notebooks. They were easier to get in the US at the time. The Field Notes books are pretty interesting with a new design appearing every quarter or so.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vienna several times and somewhere along the time I got introduced to Paper Republic. I had been looking at their Grand Voyager XL planner, an A5 leather cover and notebook set as a replacement for the Moleskine notebooks that I use. By mistake I ordered the Grand Voyager Pocket. Turn out that the Pocket size is the perfect size for me. I can finally use my Field Notes books in a system similar to the Travelers Company notebook. I now use one notebook for a ‘bullet journal’ rapid logging section and then the second for notes and ideas. ‘Collections’ in the Bullet Journal lingo.

When

When I want a little bit more real estate than the Field Notes size books can provide I work in the Baron Fig Confidant notebook. This notebook stays in my desk at home. Ideas get transferred into this from the Field Notes books.

Finally when I really want to stretch out I have this A4 size notebook that I picked up on Amazon. Quite often I’ll go over and over the same topics in several places – a habit that I appear to have. I will press on topics until they yield to my meager understanding.

In addition to these analog notebooks I use Instagram as a digital sketchbook where I try ideas out. I limit my Instagram posts to iPhone only efforts. And I use this blog to document the things that I’m thinking about and looking at.

More on this topic to come.

Friday Inspiration: Brooks Jensen

Brooks Jensen, Winter Trees, Mt Erie, Fidalgo Island, Washington, 2003

When I was thinking about what I had learned in the Portfolio Development class with William Neill, one of the things that I was reflecting on is how much you can learn from the other students. A good group that are freely sharing their previous experiences, understanding and viewpoint can really support your growth.

One of the students in the class turned me on to Lenswork – a magazine that I had never heard of and certainly wasn’t carried in the local bookstores at the time. I eventually ended up getting a subscription so that I could see what it was all about. Lenswork is a bimonthly magazine that emphasizes photographs not gear and is exquisitely printed – book quality printing. From what I understand the emphasis on photographs is very similar to the principals that were at the heart of Aperture Magazine when it was established and under the guidance of Minor White. To see some of the early issues check out this anthology.

The editor, Brooks Jensen, is an accomplished photographer and his work can be found at his personal site, Brooks Jensen Arts. The image above is from Brooks’ first Winter Trees portfolio – you can download a pdf of the portfolio here. I continue to be fascinated by this image – it has a depth to it, a three dimensionality, that I have not experience in any other photograph. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a print of this image when Brooks was still selling individual images and it is even more stunning in the flesh, as it were.

Brooks’ thinking about photography that he shares through his writing and podcast have had a profound impact on my thinking about the ‘photographic art life’. He makes really great points about in his article about what size should editions be, has suggested multiple ways of presenting your work to your audience including, Folios and Chapbooks and additionally was an earlier adopter of PDFs. I have learned a tremendous amount from Brooks and think you would too. Go take at look at Lenswork, Lenswork online and Brooks Jensen Arts. Listen to the interview with Brooks in the interview below.