Friday Inspiration: Paul Strand

Tir A'Mhurain, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, Paul Strand | Mia

One of the great things about being ‘self-taught’ when it comes to art and photography is that it is a choose your own adventure type of experience. I have, and continue, to explore the things that capture my attention. I will go on deep dives into particular areas until I hit the limit of my attention span and then move on to a different topic. That’s the great part. The not so great part is that this approach leaves large areas not just unexplored but untouched.

I recently rediscovered Paul Strand. I say rediscovered because I’ve certainly heard the name before but couldn’t think of a single iconic image of his when his name recently came up in conversation. I thought that I would spend a few moments this week to have a bit of a read and exploration and share a bit of that here. As an aside, the Metropolitan Museum has a good set of essays on the History of Photography, important movements and photographers including Paul Strand.

Strand was born in 1890 and died in 1976 and as such his photographic career spanned almost all of the 20th century. His early work was very much in the mold of his mentor, Edward J. Steichen – pictoralist – focusing on life in the city. Fascinating to realize that this was at the time when the use of cars were on the rise and so it would have been a period of great change.

Paul Strand: Portfolio Three | Aperture

His later work focused more on communities. I’m currently looking for a copy of ‘Time in New England’ to complement the book he created from his time in the Outer Hebrides – Tir A’mhurain: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

I was surprised, or rather amazed, at the quality of the reproductions in this book. Digging further I learned that Strand was committed to the print and worked hard to be able develop technical expertise that allowed him to capture images with good tonal range. Learn a little more about Paul Strand in the videos below.

Screenprinting Your Photos

I’ve been exploring the world of graphic design in recent weeks as I thought about books and book design. It was not too many steps from graphic design to screen printing, which is something that I had thought about before.

I liked this intro to screen printing that I came across trawling through YouTube.

I was curious to understand how I might be able to apply this to photography. Could you? There’s a great course on Domestika that goes through how to use photoshop to make CMYK separations and then do a four color screenprint. Check out the trailer below.

Moving a step beyond photorealistic screenprinting to something more imaginative I realized that Andy Warhol had done this already.

And you can too…

I also think that Charlie Barton is doing interesting things combining screen printed photos with graphic shapes such as the Ferris wheel sunset below.

Ferris Wheel Sunset

Definitely food for thought and I will certainly be exploring how I could print my photography and extend it through screen printing.

Exploring New (To Me) Papers for Printing

I’ve been having fun with my printers in the last week. I made several prints of the tree in fog that I had taken recently trying out different papers.

Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art, Epson Hot Press Natural, Epson Exhibition Fiber and Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. It’s hard to tell the difference between the papers in the photo above and video below.

For my prints I have previously preferred a Matte paper but for this image I really like the fiber based photo paper leaning towards the Hahnemühle Byarta. I know that there are general rules of thumb when it comes to choosing paper – glossy images do better on glossy paper – with the final choice being an aesthetic one. For me this image seems to have a bit more depth on the byarta paper, so I’m going to stick with it for now.

Are you printing your images? Do you have a favorite paper? I’d love to hear what you’re using and why.

Friday Inspiration: Susan Bein

From ‘Slightly Bonkers’, Susan Bein

Susan Bein is a teacher, graphic designer and photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I first came across her work on Instagram, although how I found her there I’m not sure. I think I was following links from one person to another to another. On Instagram Susan is @Wizmosis – check out her work!

In her bio she says:

I was an art kid who began photographing as a teen because I couldn’t paint or draw what I could see in my mind’s eye. I took classes from many of the photo giants of the time; Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Caponigro. I used black and white film and large format cameras.

What an amazing opportunity to learn from the masters of photography a veritable who’s who.

Susan drifted away from photography and into graphic design and teaching. Falling in love with photography again with the advent of the iPhone.

I love her iPhone work that is on Instagram and featured in her book Slightly Bonkers. The book is more magazine-like which gave Susan an opportunity to include a large number of the images that she made during the craziness that was 2020. I’m glad she did. Take a quick look in the flip through below.

Check out Susan’s presentation in the video below and learn more at her website here.

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 lose 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.

Layers of Looking – Ian Fennelly

Ian Fennelly Layers of Looking

During the break between Christmas and New Year I took a deep dive into the world of urban sketching. It’s always fun to look at the world through other view points and how other visual artists approach their work can inform how I make photographs.

Drawing, and particularly the ink and watercolor approach is something that I’ve been interested in for years. Not being able to draw always held me back from pursuing this kind of work but it is often on my radar. I particularly appreciate the looseness that is found in the work of many ‘urban sketchers’. As I have thought about this I recognize that for me the starting photograph is just that, a start, a point of departure, and how I interpret the scene could then go in many ways.

One of the artists I’ve been learning from has been Ian Fennelly. Ian is an exceptionally talented and patient teacher. You can get a sense of his approach in the video below.

His new book ‘Layers of Looking’ provides the thinking behind the work rather that being a step by step how to. I enjoyed each of the chapters, taking away something that is relevant to my work from most of them. I liked the section below from the section on the factors important to choosing a subject:

…finding something visually interesting, something that grabs me and makes me feel I can tell the story of that place.

… it needs to have a rich variety of content; interesting perspective and shapes, patterns and storytelling potential.

Have a quick look at more of the book in the video below.

Friday Inspiration: Mandy Barker

I think it’s hard for anyone who spends even a little bit of time around the ocean to ignore the fact that there is a lot of trash in the water. Whether it’s stuff visibly floating or at the tide line it is there in larger quantities every year.

Mandy Barker grew up on the east coast of England and experienced the growth of plastic trash washing up on the beach in increasing amounts when she was young. This spurred her on to document it and bring it into the public conversation. Her work however is not just simple documentation but rather uses the images of the trash that she has collected to create images that resemble images of that natural world such as the image above.

I really enjoy seeing behind the scenes, to better understand how other people create. Mandy provides that with a look into her sketchbooks that she uses to develop ideas that she may then work up into a final piece. Take a look at her sketch books here.

Listen to Mandy talk about her work below and do check out her website and books.

Friday Inspiration: Michael Kenna

Looking at my notes I was surprised to see that I have never included Michael Kenna in my Friday Inspiration series. His minimal landscape work resonates with me in a deep way. I enjoy the space that he provides the viewer for their own thoughts. The range of subjects that Kenna has photographed is quite impressive from minimalist Japanese winter landscapes to a power station in England to his daughter’s kindergarten classroom. Quite an inspiration.

I was excited a few years ago when I saw a short trailer for a documentary following Kenna as he photographed in Shinan in Korea. Yet I never was able to find the full length documentary until recently. Check out ‘A Letter From Shinan’ below.

Moody Monday

I’ve enjoyed editing images on my phone over the last couple of years. The game I play on instagram is that I can only post images there that have been taken and edited with my phone. This is less impressive than it was say 5 years ago but I’m sticking with it.

The apps that I have on my phone for image editing generally push me out of the zone that I would be otherwise be in if I were editing the images on the computer. I’ve been wondering over the last couple of weeks whether I’ve really been exploring the full potential of my images with my conservative image editing and so I’m going to play and push a little. As Brian Eno says go to an extreme and retreat to a useable position.

The first image is above. One version in color and one in black and white. With do you prefer?

More to come!